Review: Scholastic ART

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.
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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.

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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?

 

 

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A (Virtual) Visit from Art21

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 7.54.13 PM The University of Florida Master of Art Education online degree program is rounding out its fifth year and it’s taking me about with it. I’ve never had a job this long and it’s nice to feel like I’m grounded someplace. And not just any place, but in a program I’m proud to be a part of.

One of the things that we’ve been exploring over the years, and which I’ve written about here before, is how to work as a community of learners. How can we create a sense of togetherness as individuals with a lot in common, and going through a common experience, but with great distances keeping us physically apart?

My colleague Elizabeth Delacruz created a course on “Globalization, Art, and Education” which includes lots of activities to help students find, create, and maintain their own online professional learning networks (PLNs) using social media (Facebook, Twitter, ArtEducation2.0) and bookmaking tools (Scoopit, Pinterest). The connections students make in these venues bring them together in new ways outside the somewhat stifled space the institution provides for coursework. They also bring them in communication with other educators and artists. Relationships in these venues can be more dynamic, visual, personal. They are, to use one of Elizabeth’s favorite adjectives, robust.

From campus, Craig Roland and Michelle Tillander host summer studio courses (taught by studio art faculty) peppered with collaborative artmaking challenges. Students often speak of their weeks on campus as one of the most transformative aspects of the program. This is attributed in part to the quality of the classes and opportunities they provide these busy folks to focus on themselves as artists for a moment, and in part to the time they have with their peers, people they have gotten to know online but have not been, and may never again be, with in person.

They also plan annual lectures (on campus and online) that bring us together in new ways. Some of these have been on campus lectures shared through a live stream, others presentations have been planned specifically for us and delivered through out virtual meeting space. Over the years, we have heard from Olivia Gude, Oliver Herring, Terry Barrett, and just this week, Joe Fusaro – senior educational advisory for the PBS contemporary art series Art21.

Craig crossed paths with Joe at a few conferences and was eager to bring him in contact with our students. In addition to his work with Art21, Joe is the Visual Arts Chair for the Nyack Public Schools in New York. This combination of activities, building on more than two decades in the classroom, made Joe the perfect person to speak to our students about “Teaching with Contemporary Art.” He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.

For many, the idea of sharing contemporary art with students seems daunting, if not dangerous. Such work can be confusing for people unfamiliar with it since it often doesn’t look like art at all. And oftentimes, contemporary artists challenge normative society in ways that make parents and administrators uncomfortable. Rather than seeing these as excuses for leaving it out of the curriculum equation, my colleagues and I see them as reasons to include them. But sometimes students, like children, need to hear from someone other than their teachers, their in loco parentis.

Joe spoke with passion about the artists he works with on Art21. He beamed as he shared his students’ work with us. It was as if he were demonstrating a principle I have tried to convey to students – teaching new artists and ideas is engaging for educators, not just our students. I’m personally looking forward to building on Joe’s talk in my classes and with students working on related capstone projects. He gave us lots of great questions to consider and strategies to try out. The occasion also inspired me to dig deeper into the resources available on the Art21 website, articles in their e-magazine, and to watch episodes of the program I haven’t seen yet. (It’s kind of hard to believe they are on their seventh season). Thankfully summer recess is just a few weeks away.

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.