Paper Hearts and the History of Art Education

DSC_0142The course I’m teaching on the history of art education explored the history of holiday arts in school last week. Just in time for V-Day. Students had interesting discussions, based on our readings and their classroom experiences, about whether, to what extent, and how the holidays might to play a role in the art curriculum today. Not surprisingly, there was a mix of responses.

19th century schools operated seasonally and so the holidays were important benchmarks in the academic year. It made sense to bring them into the school as a way of marking time with students whose lives, and livelihoods, were also tied to the seasons. During the industrial revolution, holiday arts served as a respite from day-to-day routines, and as motivation for students trying to conform to a more and more systems-driven society. Holiday projects were also used as a way of acculturating immigrant children to traditions of the dominant culture (read European-descendant and Christian).

But, “contemporary recommendations for a balanced, multifaceted art education suggest that holidays and related arts and crafts should be neither an organizing principle nor a major focus of the art program, whether taught by a generalist or specialist” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 68). I agree with this statement and have worked most of my professional life in accordance with it. However, as I have written about extensively in the past, over the years, I have some to embrace holiday arts and crafts in my home life and art education of my own children. Today I had an experience that could relate to classroom practice as well.

I abide by the Charles Schultz philosophy of holiday gifting, handmade is best. And so over the years I have made lots of Valentine’s with the older kids, mostly Rosa. This year, for the first time, Cora was celebrating the holiday at school, so we got a project going. We used air dry clay to make heart shapes into which she pressed all kinds of materials to create patterns and texture – forks and spoons, a potato masher, seashells, old perfection pieces, a toothpick. She painted them, and added glitter before we glued magnets to the back. She got lots of compliments, and was the only kid with something homemade to share. (Yes, I’m bragging.)

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After watching Charlie Brown’s Valentine specials with her G-Ma last night, Cora woke up ready to cut some paper. So we did. She got great practice cutting along a line and had a chance to try using the scissors in her right hand as well as her left, which she typically favors. She glued the hearts together to make a few of these.

IMG_9354As she was cutting and gluing, I was sewing a pillow cover. When she was finished with her collages, she asked if she could use the machine. She made about 25 passes before we got distracted and moved on, but by the end of the session, she was independently lowering and raising the presser foot and needle and cutting her line so she could start again. Not bad for a four-year old.

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So while I’m not prepared to advocate a return to our roots in which “every day [was] a festival” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 67), I am convinced that a symbol like the heart or a star, or product such as the valentine or ornament, could serve as a vehicle for material exploration and practice. I’m sure some of the T.A.B. adherents reading this will have experience in this department. Any advice for others interested in using holidays as meaningful motivators for student learning?

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#MobilePhotoNow Models Participatory Culture

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 1.17.00 PMThe curator’s talk at the opening of #MobilePhotoNow at the Columbus Museum of Art was a whole lot different from similar talks I’ve been to in the past. While the tone was serious, it was also welcoming. The comments were smart, and thought-provoking, but understandable by folks who don’t spend the majority of their time in white boxes with artists and collectors. Attention was also paid to those who might not speak hashtag as well as Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. This is all in keeping with CMA’s mission: “to create great experiences with great art for everyone.”

The night started with a greeting from museum director, Nanette Maciejunes, who was proud to let everyone know that “#MobilePhotoNow is the biggest mobile art show on the planet to date, demonstrating the power of social media as a means of creative expression and connection.” She spoke about the museum’s commitment to creativity and innovation and how this show fit with their goals of celebrating and enabling participation in the creative process.

She went on to remind us of a show a few years ago that CMA co-created with the Jewish Museum in New York called “The Radical Camera.” That was a fabulous show which featured many images from The Photo League, a group of (mostly Jewish) politically engaged photographers who focused their lenses on the lives of everyday people, doing everyday things from the end of the Great Depression to the start of the Cold War. CMA owns a lot of works from artists in this group who not only recorded the lives of others, but in doing so, reflected on their own. The League was blacklisted in 1947 and by the time it dissolved in 1951, it “had propelled documentary photography from factual images to more challenging ones—from bearing witness to questioning one’s own bearings in the world.”

It’s clear to see how The Photo League’s citizen reporting paved the way for our 21st century newsfeed of events large and small. But Maciejunes described a less obvious, but equally salient connection between The Photo League and mobile picture sharing, “the photo hunt.” In this creative exercise, league members selected a theme and made images around that theme to share with one another. Sound like anything familiar? CMA staff immediately related it to communities of interest on social media and so the first, CMA-sponsored, Instragram-supported, photo hunt was launched.

The CMA strives to be a participatory museum (Simon, 2010), in the context of a participatory culture (Blandy, 2011). “Connectors” appear in many of the galleries offering visitors opportunities to reflect on and respond to what they see through an activity; a game, a puzzle, a drawing prompt, a wall of post-in notes and a question. For The Radical Camera, CMA staff crowd-sourced images through a series of photo hunts and displayed their favorites. Maciejunes recalled that when she walked into the opening for the show and didn’t recognize anyone, she knew they were onto something big. They were connecting with a new audience.

The CMA Photo Hunt helped bring together mobile photographers in and around Columbus. Seeing the exhibition brought to light the potential of social media to inspire artistic practices that are at once personal and collective. But, at the time, I still didn’t have a smartphone so the whole thing was somewhat lost on me. Now I get it. Little did I know that for more than two years members of the jj community were pushing one another to make art, and share it everyday. What art educator wouldn’t like the sound of that?

Recently, in connection with a course I’m teaching, and in expectation of #MobilePhotoNow, I started using Instagram and following the #jj daily challenge stream. It’s intense, and beautiful. These are not a bunch of poorly-lighted selfies and half-eaten meals, they are (on average) well-designed, artfully composed, and intentional images shared with pride and purpose. See for yourself. Here’s something that showed up last night.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.12.23 PMIt was a response to the day’s theme:

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.14.58 PMThis is a kind of formalist invitation (similar to black & white or group shots). Others are more conceptual (where I live, tourist trap, the night) or object-oriented (cars, the beach, woods). It’s a nice balance really. So often art educators struggle with questions of focusing on form or content, agreeing in the end that a balance is ideal. I only scrolled through a few weeks of challenges to get this collection of examples but it suggests a pretty well-rounded “curriculum” to me.

Everyday, people from around the world tag between 5 and 10,000 images with the hashtag #jj. This means anyone who searches for jj in Instagram will be able to find their image. When jj founder Josh Johnson spoke at #MobilePhotoNow, he expressed his personal love for the community he helped create. In a shaky voice he described Instagram as a place where “this buttoned up preacher’s son could be himself.” He reminded the audience of the connection between dopamine and addiction, how we respond emotionally to immediate response and gratification. Try 30 second feedback. “Powerful things can have pluses and minuses. Some of us spend too much time taking pictures. But if you have to have an addiction taking pictures isn’t really a bad one to have.”

CMA partnered with jj community to organize and manage #MobilePhotoNow. They hosted 4 challenges in one month this fall: street, portrait, black & white, and community generating 45,000 submissions from 5,000 photographers in 89 countries. A jury process through the jj community yielded about 600 images with 320 finalists selected by the museum staff. The images were printed locally, for free, by a graphics company supportive of the project whose name I should credit here but can’t recall.

Jennifer Poleon, CMA Digital Communications Manager and organizer of the CMA Photo Hunts introduced contributors in the crowd from Sweden and Iran as well as an older women, who looked to be around 70 years old. Her son, a photojournalist in town, got her on Instagram and soon thereafter she showed up at a CMA “insta meet.”  This is like a flash mob where strangers all show up at a designated place to share some experience. There she met other photographers who welcomed her and offered her tips. I loved this idea. Putting mobile photography in the hands of older folks and encouraging them to take pictures and participate in a community of creators. It’s an idea I want to push my students working with aging populations to seriously consider. For house- and institution-bound folks in particular, Instagram can offer a forum for rich connection, taking them across the Earth and back.

Kevin Kuster, who helps run jj described it as a modern day pen pal project; one which yields responses everyday. “The virtual world is not virtual,” he suggested. “It is deep and personal and when you do meet, you already know one another.” Kuster came to mobile photography after burning out in the world of professional photography. He described this as “the best time in the world for photographers. And the worst time to be a professional photographer.”

The enthusiasm throughout this session was palpable. It ended with a declaration from the museum’s contemporary curator, Tyler Cann: “I want to say. Yes, this is photography, and you are photographers. And I hope this exhibition creates more photographers and more radical eyes.”

An online gallery for the exhibition should be available tomorrow. Google it.

 

 

#mobilephotonow

Sitting in the auditorium at The Columbus Museum of Art for a curator’s talk on a new exhibition. “Mobile Photo Now” brings together Instagram photographers from eighty-some odd countries. It is the latest installation in a series of crowd-sourced shows at CMA.

Due to familial duties I didn’t get to the museum until now, 1 hour and 15 minutes into the members’ opening; 15 minutes before the talk. I didn’t come downtown to sit in overflow seating, starring at a screen, so I’ll have to check out the show another day.

Teaching about globalization, art, and education this term has me pinning and posting all over, using hashtags like never before. I’m still trying to figure out what I think of it all but I like the way Instagram, like twitter, promotes interaction between like-minded strangers.
Just last week I posted this:

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“Composition in Compost” which lead me to meet the compostess, who identifies herself as a NYC master composter. This is one of those specialized interests you just don’t intersect with everyday. When she liked my photo, I felt understood.

More and more our students at UF are reporting on experiments with social media and their students. They find that asking their students to post their artwork on social media,  tagging it in meaningful ways, helps them and their students experience what it is like to put themselves out into the world in ways they never imagined.

I’m excited to hear how mobile photo now came together and consider its implications for art education. But for now, the talk’s starting. Gotta go…

Picturebooks on the Potty: Vol. 3, No. 3

 

DSC_0069Cora was too young to sit through this fabulous fairy tale by James Thurber (1943) when it was gifted to her by her grandmother a few years ago. Joyce selected it because Thurber  hailed from Columbus, OH where we live and she wanted Cora to have an appreciation for her hometown cultural heritage. The princess in the story also share’s Cora’s great-grandmother’s name, Lenore. Cora’s middle name, Lena, is a derivation.

Over time, Cora’s grown into the book and learned to love the story of Princess Lenore and her father’s quest to capture the moon for her. I love it because it honors child-logic, and the “fool” who is wise enough to listen to it. Readers will catch glimpses of the humor Thurber was best known for peppered throughout.

I’m not going to say anymore about the story here. You should read it for yourself. What I want to focus on in this post is the letter, written by Thurber’s daughter Rosemary, which appears at the front of our version of the story; the one on the right above, illustrated by Marc Simont in 1990. In the letter, Rosemary explains how skeptical she was when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers approached her with the idea of reinterpreting Many Moons. The original version, illustrated by Louise Slobodkin (1943), won a Caldecott Medal and seemed just about perfect. What was there to improve upon, she wondered.

Ultimately, she asked her children and grandchildren how they would feel about a new version of the story. She reported, “They are not so old and not yet so attached to things past as it turns out I am. They are wise. They all expressed their appreciation for the original version of Many Moons but the family consensus was that a new artist’s point of view could be exciting.”

We’ve seen different versions of fairy tales before. You can read about a few in this post to compare and contrast with your young readers. But this is different. So many of our most familiar fairy tales are attributed to Hans Christian Anderson and now in the public domain. That means their copyright protections have expired and anyone, including the Disney Corporation, can reproduce and profit from them. In 1970, Rosemary Thurber renewed the copyright on Many Moons, thereby retaining control of her father’s intellectual property and serving as a gatekeeper to those wishing to appropriate it.

Last week, I had a moment to read Rosemary’s letter for the first time. I summarized it for Cora, then proceeded to reserve a copy of the original from the library. Given her recent self-initiated comparing and contrasting of books in a series, it was no surprise that she was excited to see the books side-by-side.

Today, when so many young people are posting and reposting content across social media, photo-chopping found images, and mashing music from disparate genres it’s important that they learn about copyright and intellectual property. Many Moons offers a great example for readers of all ages.

Crossing the Threshold to 21st Century Art Education

“It is ironic that in today’s schools, which depend increasingly on expensive audiovisual equipment to bring secondhand news about the outside world into the classroom, there exists a fine device that is rarely used to its full advantage–the door. This simple apparatus allows students to step outside and encounter a world far richer than the reduced and predigested shadow-of-the-world our schools offer in its stead.”

Peter London
(1994, Step Outside: Community-Based Art Education, p. 5)