Process Art’s Pesky Problem


Mousetrap paper holder. Or, as I see it, surreal assemblage.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot in this space about the value of process art (see for example Doing Food Coloring and Permission to Play: Toddler Paint Bomber). My interest started when I was an undergraduate and developed an intense appreciation for the Abstract Expressionists. Learning about their work and the questions they engaged with in their studios – exploring the inherent nature of the materials they worked with – became an obsession. I developed my own color field experiments and filled huge sheets of paper with marks based on systems I devised. It was visually engaging in an allover sort of way, but I knew it wasn’t nearly as interesting for others to look at as it was for me, with my embodied knowledge of the actions I took to make it.

In the years since, I have continued to develop my relationship with questions like: What is art for? and Why art? I have carried these into explorations of art criticism, visual culture, environmental and installation art, relational aesthetics, and creative placemaking.

This interest also manifests in my advocacy for process art in the playful learning of young children. Really, I believe children of all ages looking for new ways to connect with creative activity ought to focus on process (see for example, Permission to Play: Birthday Parties and Grandma Joyce’s Beautiful Stuff!).

And so it was with a heavy heart that I set about cleaning Cora’s desk yesterday. Stacked on top were the traces of two weeks of summer camps and a few final school projects.


(Note: I took this photo AFTER I had cleaned the desk and decided to blog about it. I stacked the artwork back up in an approximation of how it had been. But absent are the dolls, rocks and sticks, books, and other random crap that had been there too.)

As Dan has observed, all horizontal surfaces in our house quickly become repositories for junk and this desk is no different. In the three years since it has been in this location, I can count on one hand the times that it has been clear and Cora has sat at it to do anything. I have a plan for it in my head related to a pen pal project we’ve been working on (fodder for a future post), so I told her it was time to clean up.

Of course Cora wanted to save EVERYTHING.

The art camp she attended last week at a neighborhood studio (Paper Moon Art Studio – Columbus, OH) was a great process art experience for Cora. She got to work with a range of media from paper mache to assemblage (complete with hot glue, see the top image on this post), and sand painting to watercolor. She was only there three mornings, but she made a ton of stuff. We had trouble carrying it all home! I was so happy to see this evidence of experimentation but what to do with all that stuff? I live in constant battle against clutter – mostly this involves shoving piles into drawers and cabinets when guests are due – but point being, I don’t like to have a lot of stuff sitting around on horizontal surfaces.

I also struggle, personally, with the hidden curriculum we are teaching kids when we give them access to unlimited supplies and let them make things that will ultimately, at least in my house, wind up in the trash. I has this same feeling while attending TASK parties run by Oliver Herring (see A Task, But Not a Chore). I love the energy that Herring creates and the collaborative experimentation I see at these events, But at the end of the day, there are piles and piles of materials left in a jumble on the floor. A few ideas for combating this issue come immediately to my mind.

Art educators will see the immediate irony in this. Many of us have felt the pain of watching students put their artwork in the trash bin on their way out the door at the end of a term. All that time and effort? Don’t they care at all about what they made here? And, by extension, don’t they value me and our time together? Some educators even use this as a litmus test for a successful lesson — Do the kids express desire to hold onto what they made? to share pictures of it in Instagram? to hang it up at home, or give it to someone as a gift?

So now I’m left holding this evidence of creative activity, all of which Cora insists on calling Art (capital A intended) in an effort to use what I value against me. And I’m wondering,

How can we simultaneously teach people that some things they make are precious and others are not? That some creative experiences are about the process of making, and some about the product that results?







Time Has Been My Enemy

How I wish that there were more
Than the twenty-four hours in the day
‘Cause even if there were forty more
I wouldn’t sleep a minute away.”

It was 37 years this weekend since Elvis Presley last sang those lines. Who knows what he might have done with those extra years. I’m nearly as old as he was when he died. What will I do with my next forty years? Not nearly as much as I could if the days were longer, that’s for sure. While it drives me nuts, I suppose I ought to be grateful that I go to bed every night with a list of things I still want to do, rather than sitting around as life passes me by.

And with that heavy introduction, I apologize to myself for not posting anything in this space for almost an entire month. Good news – I have been busy and hope to record and share some of that work with you in the next few days. Here’s a preview.

Round-up of summer capstone projects. So many students doing projects that will be of interest to Art Education Outside the Lines followers including:
Maker Culture and Art Education – Dan Brooks (WA)
An Assessment of At-Home-Art Kits – Danelle Setterstrom (IL)
Art Museum Education Online – Katie Ericson (NC)

Updates from our home studio: Find out what Crafty Cora‘s been up to these past few weeks.

Lots of recommendations for Picturebooks on the Potty!

Report from our West Coast adventures. Finding art education on the beach, in the woods, and on the pier.

Art Education and Community Gardening at Over Fence Urban Farm our community supported agricultural experiment.

And, life with teens; the saga continues…

Stay tuned.


Traveling for Business (& Pleasure)

Three part harmony:
1. Next week I’m going on a trip.
2. To New York City.
3. Alone.

The primary purpose of the journey is professional. I’ll be meeting with art educators who teach in a range of settings outside K-12 schools. This is a focus of my teaching at UF as well as my writings on this blog. You can be sure I’ll post about my adventures and learnings here.

My interest in this area started in New York while I was a student at Pratt Institute, so it seems a fitting place to return for inspiration. While I recognize that there are amazing things happening all over the country – my students’ have done a great job of expanding my knowledge and appreciation – it’s hard to deny there’s still something really magical about The City. I’m looking forward to staying with my friend and mentor, Amy Brook Snider, and catching up with old friends and family.

So far, the itinerary includes the following sites where I’ll be speaking with educators about their experiences as well as observing workshops and other happenings.

Kara Walker’s (2014) installation @ the Domino Sugar Factory “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”

Eckford Street Studios

The Children’s Museum of Arts New York

Scandanavia House

The Artists in Residence @ P.S. 20

Of course, I’ll be in New York so I expect to find inspiration around every corner. If you know of a great space I must add to my itinerary, let me know in a comment. I’ll be sure to let you know what I find.



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.

I Could Be at NAEA Right Now. Should I Be at NAEA Right Now?

I’m missing the National Art Education Association convention this year. While I would have loved to travel to San Diego (it’s snowing in Columbus tonight), networked with old friends and colleagues (Shout out Craig, Elizabeth, and Michelle. Love you Amy!), and heard some inspiring talks by new voices, I have so much going on at home it wasn’t in the cards. Perhaps if the proposal I submitted had been accepted I would have tried harder.

Back in December when I made my final decision to stay home this weekend, my colleagues were bummed and made me feel (just a little) guilty that I wouldn’t be there to hang out together and represent our program. That I could handle. In the abstract, I was fine saying no. I made the call based on issues unrelated to my academic self, for reasons that relate to why I’m a full-time adjunct and not climbing the mountain to tenure. I wasn’t yearning to go.

But then this happened:

Screen shot 2014-03-29 at 10.19.43 PM

Hilary was one of my students at UF. She lives in Northern California and graduated in December. Her project was one of those I wrote about in my inaugural capstone round-up. Meeting her would have meant something. Her project was intense, and important to her personally and to me for the professional challenges it provided.

Our students meet one another during on-campus summer studio sessions in Gainesville. They meet the faculty who teach on campus as well. But I remain, primarily, words on the screen punctuated by a few video chats. Attending the conference is one of the few times we have together, live and in person, at least those of us who show up. This time I didn’t. Next time I will.


Blogger, PhD

When I jumped on here this morning to post a quick note of praise for Nicholas Kristof’s call for professors to share their knowledge and insights more publicly, validating blogs like this, I had no idea how many folks had decried his commentary. I understand the arguments being made against his suggestion that not enough professors share their knowledge with the general public. Tenured Radical, for example, offers a list of historians, social scientists, and others sharing intellectual insights via social media. I’m not quite convinced, however, by her argument that traditional college teaching is a form of public intellectualism – the audience seems a bit too narrow to qualify.

The Huffington Post has published at least four responses to Kristof’s work at the time of this writing. Marshall Duke, supports the call for more public displays of intellectual activity and suggests new channels for intellectual discourse beyond peer-reviewed and jargon-laden journal articles or mass media cameo appearances on CNN. He wrote: “Every professor worth his or her salt, however, also can write clearly, informatively and provocatively.” If only the first and last parts of this were true.

I have long harbored an interest in the idea of public intellectuals, particularly how artists fulfill this role. I even published a little something on the topic in a peer-reviewed journal a few years back following a conference presentation on the subject. This was before the age of TEDTalks, which Kristof points out, have made “lectures by non-scholars fun to watch.” Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were some of my favorite examples of such activity in the early aughts so I found recent news that Daily Show viewers were among the best informed on current events amusing.

While I would never call myself a public intellectual, I’m not that smart, I think it is a useful term to consider with regard to the sharing of our work as trained scholars and researchers with people outside our professional circles. When I started this blog, I yearned for a way to put my education to use, to make my voice heard. I wanted to share my informed observations with others. I sought to bridge my personal and professional lives and provoke thought in the minds of colleagues as well as friends and family. I longed for a place to do all that in a manner that felt creative and rewarding – reflexive for the jargon-lovers reading this. I’ll leave it to you all to tell me how I’m doing in achieving those goals.

Finally Time to Brag About Work Work

Odd as it seems since I teach art education for a living, I rarely write about “work work” in this space. I enjoy teaching and there’s a lot I could write about it, some of which I have, particularly the online aspects which so many of us educators are adjusting to these days. I guess I generally just like to think of this as a space to explore other things, my own ideas and interests, rather than my students’.  The past few days, however, I have been taking time to stop and smell the professional roses; to honor the students I’ve been working with this fall on their culminating projects.

Students in the Master of Art in Art Education program at the University of Florida can design their final projects to be pretty much anything they can imagine, so long as it is doable. The topics are as diverse as our students. They pull me outside the lines into new intellectual and creative territories that I really didn’t recognize until now. I’m grateful for their direction.These projects were all critical, meaningful, and transformative for the student/researchers. My hope is that some of them my prove inspiring to you too.

An art teacher from southern Alabama examined his teaching practice in his very particular Southern, Black, and overwhelmingly poor school community. Jason is a self-described “privileged white man” who graduated from the same high school where he is currently teaching. Through self-study, he discovered that in order to reach his students in meaningful ways, he needs to attend to his manner and modes of communicating with them, as individuals, within a specific cultural context. Conducting this research required some difficult conversations about race and opportunity  which bring to mind Jonathan Kozol’s work – in the field, in our committee meetings, and within his own mind. Jason reported his findings through an altered field journal that can be seen on his website.

“Teaching in a culturally responsive manner takes time and dedication to research and reflect and build interpersonal relationships with students and community members.  For me personally, it means that I have to acknowledge my limitations as a white male teaching to an all-Black student body as well as the importance of introducing culturally relevant topics that my students may not have previously found to be of importance.” (Oulaw, 2013, p. 28)

Hilary, a student from California confronted conflicting facets of her identity in MIrror Changed to Glass. Using expressive arts-based research she interrogated what it means to her to simultaneously be mother, artist, and lesbian. The resulting drawings are hauntingly beautiful, mythic, and engaging as art, not just research.

“LGBTQ educators can benefit from examining the position they hold in society and how the lifestyle expectations placed on teachers affects their identity. If we are too scared to be ourselves, how can we truly model empowerment for our students? If we are too scared to examine our social conditioning, and the ways it has invaded our self-concepts, can we truly lead our students in examining social justice issues?” (McLean, 2013, p. 8)

Trish wondered what homeschooling families in Central Florida were doing in the name of art education. She visited with and interviewed three families, accompanying some to alternative settings for art education where they receive instruction. She wrote descriptive narratives contextualized in a discussion of how these cases compare to the kinds of critical comprehensive art curricula she’d learned about it the UF program. She shared her findings on the self-publishing site ISSUU. In the future, she hopes to develop her own art program for homeschoolers and has already started a  Pinterest Board dedicated to “Contemporary Art Teacher-Approved Lessons for Homeschoolers.” I meet so many people homeschooling their children these days, have thought about homeschooling my daughter, and imagine ways I might play a role in that movement in my own region. I appreciate the background research Trish offered in this study.

“The Internet and ambitious web-users have put sharing and accessing art education right at the tips of our fingers. The issue is in training the user to find the resources relevant to visual arts learning aligned with the NAEA national standards and contemporary art education objectives. This is why I firmly believe that it is in the best interest of art educators and the NAEA to provide high standard contemporary art education programs and resources that are relevant to homeschool students.” (O’Donnell, 2013, p. 58)

Ana conducted research that will form the foundation for a community-based art initiative in her New Jersey town. Through interviews and surveys of key stakeholders, she learned about the history of arts programming in her community and identified opportunities and challenges for future developments. Most exciting for me, were the low-cost projects she developed for drop-in participation at an arts festival and the public library, the latter remembering Super Storm Sandy one year later.

“It is not enough to have public agencies interested in revitalizing the arts in the area if there is not a committed individual, or group, with community-based art endeavors. The challenge would be to find passionate people who would like to commit their time to the town and create, little by little, more community-based artistic projects. From my perspective, by creating small collaborative art projects––such as the one I put at the library––people with the same interest will get to know each other and might foster communication, engagement, and finally support each other in the mission.” (Robles, 2013, p. 26)

Kelly has become a curriculum revisionist, leading her colleagues on a quest for a more comprehensive, contemporary art curriculum. An elementary art educator in Texas, Kelly surveyed her colleagues (members of her professional learning community), about their experiences engaging curricular reform through backward design. She plans to use this information to continue district-wide reform efforts and to help folk sin other areas interested in reform to make changes. She’s starting by submitting a version of her research paper for publication in a national art education journal.

“Surprisingly, teaching experience or length of time in the school district did not become a major factor in the participants’ wiliness to change. Though the art educators involved in the project had different teaching experience, their acceptance of the art curriculum relied on their readiness to change not upon their understanding of their past teaching experiences.” (McGee, 2013, p.29)

Daniela introduced students at the Montessori school where she works to critical visual culture through discussion and analysis of advertisements, documentary films, and artists who employ culture-jamming. While she didn’t get the results she had hoped for, she planted seeds in these kids minds that they may bear fruits later in their lives. Her research  and curriculum ideas are published on her website.

“Popular visual culture is a powerful force in American society. Adolescents have a sophisticated understanding of popular culture, but need mentors to guide them in navigating ethical issues and complexities inherent in its content. Popular culture offers sites of subjectivity, pleasure, and identification for its consumers, who in turn create meaning that are not fixed to them (Sturken &Cartwright, 2001). In the art classroom, these sites can offer rich possibilities for student engagement in critical thinking practices.” (DeSousa, 2013, p. 9)

It’s no wonder I’m tired. I’ve been around the world and back with these students in the past few months. I’m glad we are all now settling in for a long winter’s rest.

Note: References for this page will be updated once these papers have been published through the University of Florida.