Time has not been my friend lately and I’ve been neglecting this blog. I was brought back today by an invitation I received at the end of June from Katie Brickner, Editor of Scholastic ART magazine and online content.
Katie asked for an “honest review,” and I accepted. She sent me a complimentary set of the magazine from 2016-2017 and access to the online resources available to paid subscribers and their students. She’s also promised a 2017-2018 class set which I plan to give away to one of my former students.
I hadn’t seen this publication in awhile. I remember finding a few back issues in the supplies I inherited when I taught high school art classes nearly 20 years ago. At the time, discipline-based art education (DBAE) was still the most celebrated form of comprehensive art education I knew, and the magazine was a nice supplement. It provided readings and artistic exemplars I could use in conjunction with Ragan’s ArtTalk, the text the school owned and I was expected to teach from.
I started this review with a tour through the magazines, posters, and lesson plans I received. While I teach and do much of my research online these days, I am still a sucker for magazines. I like to hold them, turn the pages and see what’s next, cut them up, and send articles in the mail to friends and family. Call me old-fashioned but I’d like to think I’m not alone.
I was impressed to see some issues of the magazine were based on themes like Beyond the Selfie: Self-Portraits through History and Painting Right Now. Others were built around artists like Edward Munch and Ansel Adams – as I remembered them – with emphasis on how that artist’s work demonstrates various traditional art practices alongside the elements and principles of art.
The most innovative aspects of the magazine are the other columns including “Art News and Notes,” “Student of the Month,” and “Debate.” In these sections, the editors introduce contemporary examples of artwork that reflected the main subject of the issue and develop real-world connections between art and life, including “Great Art Jobs.”
I spent the majority of my in-depth critical time with the issue on contemporary painting, Painting Right Now (May/June 2017). The following are some observations I made while reviewing magazine and related online resources.
I was impressed by the collection of contemporary painters the editors presented in this issue and felt certain that most educators and their students would find new ideas and information in its pages. In the “Spotlight” section, I was introduced to contemporary artist Nijideka Akunjyili Crosby. Reading about Crosby’s work, and watching to the interview Scholastic recorded with her (available online), I was drawn to her ideas about layering as a way of building and representing one’s identity. It reminded me of Gude’s (2004) recommendations for 21st century principles of art and design.
However, looking at the related “Hands-on Project,” pulled me back to the 20th. I wondered what Crosby would say about it and whether the editors consulted her at all.
The project and accompanying online video, “Paint an Identity Portrait,” were disappointing. While it started with a reference to Crosby, the project guide focused on formal aspects of making a portrait – choose a subject, develop a color palette, use a range of brushstrokes, work carefully, etc. It didn’t emphasize anything that reflected Crosby’s specific approach to portraiture which incoroprates “layers images, textures, and symbols from many sources [to] visually present her varied cultural experiences” and would require an artist to know or interview her subject and gather materials to weave into the work that would reflect the identity of the subject.
During a quick survey of students and alumni from the University of Florida Art Education program I heard from both teachers who subscribed to the magazine and those who just made use of the samples they received from Scholastic. They reported that they got some good ideas from the magazine. However, most felt it was just a start which they usually had to follow-up with additional research of their own. For example, “They chunk information in a way that is clear yet informative, however, I have found for more meaningful explorations, this is only a starting off point.”
My students reported using Scholastic ART projects as makeup work and as substitute plans. They suggested that it “made life easy” to have something written out in advance that they could leave and someone else could follow. For example, “If it happens to be one of the “artsy” subs of the county they will add some of their own directives. But if it is just a “regular” sub the lessons tend to be more cookie cutterish.” This speaks to my own criticisms of the plans, they are fairly rudimentary and don’t speak to the intellectual or social dynamics of artmaking.
While I wasn’t impressed with the project recommendations, I appreciated the “Debate” column which addresses the oft ignored aesthetic component of DBAE-inspired art education. Each magazine presents an issue for students to consider and debate with their classmates. In the Painting Right Now issue, for example, students read about a pair of European artists who have been painting pigeons bright colors to see if they attract more attention than usual (see below, left). The essential question posed was, “Is it right for artists to capture and paint live animals in the name of art?” Online, students can leave comments, read from others, participate in a similar conversation in a larger public forum with student readers from other schools (see below, right).
In the end, Scholastic ART is a resource, like any other. It can aid teachers in their work, but it can’t replace us. It is a tool, but must be used in conjunction with other materials to successfully build something. One new direction I can imagine for Scholastic ART would be a hosting a forum (on their website or Facebook) for teachers who subscribe and use the magazine to share ideas for how they use and extend the materials presented there. This would help push the teachers, as well as the editors in their future work.
I’m curious to learn more about how teachers are using the magazine. Do you subscribe? If so, how do you use it in your classroom? Do you ask parents to cover the cost using Scholastic’s “Parent Funding Request Letter?” What recommendations would you make to the editors to help them improve and extend their offerings?