Thinking Like an Academic, For A Moment

While on a semi-hiatus from work, I managed to submit two proposals to the National Art Education Association for the 2015 convention before the deadline this past week. It’s been 7 years since I did so on my own. It felt good to hit the “Submit and Save” button, but it felt like pressure too. Pressure to hit the books and try to get fully-fleshed ideas that have been rattling around in my mind for awhile out on paper.

I’m returning to a line of thinking I was engaged with ten years ago – the artist as public intellectual. (I wrote about that for CultureWork.) I have not, however, ever really carried through the idea of art educators as public intellectuals, though it is something I have been passionate about for awhile and which many of my students are also interested in, as evidenced by their work. (I’ll have to add some project links to these in a future post.)

So, what distinguishes the artist as public intellectual from others? And how is an art educator even different still?

I’m staring my research with two of my favorite museum catalogues from the early aughts. Work Ethic (Baltimore Museum of Art, Des Moines Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts) and The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday (MassMoCA). Both address the question of what it means to work as an artist – the first focused on how artists define the very notion of “working” as an artist, the latter on the role of artist as provocateur.

My essential questions:

  • What do artists make?
  • What does being an artist look like?
  • What do art educators do?
  • How is community gardening like art education?

Looking forward to some time for puzzling over my own ideas. Somewhat sadly, I’ll be back to school in no time.

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 2, No. 7

It’s spring! Here are a few books we’re reading, when we’re not out in the garden planting and weeding and watering.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato (DePaola, 1992) –
Regular readers know we are big fans of DePaola’s signature character Strega Nona. If I hadn’t written about her harvest story a short while ago, it would be on this list for sure. This retelling of an Irish folktale tells a somewhat similar tale of a lazy gardener surprised by the bounty he brings forth from the land. Parents in need of a moment might enjoy sharing this YouTube reading with their kids if they can’t easily get their hands on a bound copy.

Sophie’s Squash (MIller/Wilsdorf, 2013)
This book follows Sophie as she adopts a squash from the farmers market that her parents had intended to cook up for dinner. Sophie tends to her “baby” day and night, bringing her all over town and tucking her into her crib. Reminds me of the home economics project folks did way back when in which we’d carry an egg or a sack of sugar around for a week to get a sense of what it would be like to be a parent. Now that I have a real live baby, I truly understand how absurd that exercise was. But Bernice the Butternut was as real to Sophie as any baby doll might be. The story cleverly wraps itself back to a new beginning while subtly educating readers about the magic of saving seeds and composting.

Tops and Bottoms (Stevens, 1995)
I love the illustrations, as well as the story, in this Caldecott award-winning book. As the dust jacket suggests, they highlight the author’s “talent for painting vegetables of all sorts.” They also inform young readers about the ways vegetables grow and introduce the fact that some plants are prized for what grows above the ground, others for what is buried down below. Again, a YouTube reading is available for those building a library of books on the web for young readers.

Hope you find inspiration to get growing from one of these great books!


Google Doodle: Everyday Visual Culture, Extra-Ordinary Art Education

According to the company’s website, Google Doodle started as a sort of “out of office” message from the company’s founders when they were away from their desks to attend the Burning Man festival in 1998. Since then, Google has used hundreds of these doodles as illustrations for the logo on their homepage honoring famous people, inventions, holidays, and other cultural touchstones. It seems safe to say that Google Doodle is a part of the everyday visual landscape for most internet users. Indeed, some probably go out of their way to visit the site just to see what the doodlers have done next.

While the doodles started out simply enough, with letters from the company’s name transformed into images, they now incorporate animation and roll over technologies. Designs like the 2010 Pac Man 30th Anniversary homage and the 2011 Les Paul birthday post set a new standard for the audience and designers of this contemporary art from.

While the logos we grew up with never changed – think Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonald’s – our childrens’ visual culture is constantly shifting. Google Doodle provides a great example for students to study in addition to providing a gateway into the content those pieces represent. I was thrilled to see the somewhat obscure abstract painter Agnes Martin recognized recently on what would have been her 102nd birthday. No doubt one of the Google Doodlers had a thing for her work.

The artists who make Google’s doodles use a wide range of media and are masterful designers. Their work is always fresh and engaging. We never tire of looking at it because we are never sure what we’ll see from one day to another. If only art education could be so exciting.

It seems the creative team at Google had the same thought. With the Doodle 4 Google program they introduce students to the creative processes employed by Google Doodlers to come up with new logos. Through video chats (on Google Hangouts, of course) students can see inside the doodlers’ studios and listen in on their thought processes. Lessons plans help educators guide their students through the creation of their own doodles and a team of (super cool and diverse) experts cull through the submissions to present the public with 10 designs in 4 age ranges. The public then has an opportunity to vote on their favorite design. It’s one of the most democratic curatorial processes for conceiving a public artwork (of sorts) I’ve ever heard of. And it was designed for kids!

Google 4 Doodle provides parents and teachers alike a chance to talk with kids about digital media and find out what they are paying attention to. Ask yours to share their favorite Google Doodles of all time with you. Be sure to ask them what made it so great. Consider looking through the submissions in your students’ age range with them and talk about what they see. Encourage them to cast a vote. The polls close May 9th.

PS: Sorry, my mom taught me at an early age that voting is a private affair. So, I can’t say which doodle I preferred…