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.

Finding home away from home

“It’s a funny thing coming home.  Nothing changes.  Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same.  You realize what’s changed, is you.”
from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

At the end of our students’ capstone project defenses, my colleague Craig Roland routinely asks what they will take away from their research experience and time in the program. Tonight I am sitting back at home in Columbus, OH asking myself the same question about my time at the 2013 National Art Education Association convention that just ended in Fort Worth, TX.  Following, is an answer to myself, in three parts.  (Craig, if you’re reading, consider this thanks for your help securing funding to help pay for my trip.)

First and foremost, I am grateful for the chance I had this past week(end) to reconnect with old classmates, professors, colleagues, students, and acquaintances. Although I hadn’t been to the conference in six years, it felt like just yesterday that I saw most of these folks.  Little seemed to have changed. I felt pleasantly welcome back in the clubhouse. Noone was judging me for not being on the tenure track somewhere. In fact it seemed, in many cases like just the opposite was true. People were jealous of some of the freedoms i enjoy, like not having to publish, lest I perish and not having to spend time serving on committees or attending faculty meetings.

Many people asked me about teaching online. Some were just curious about how we organize and manage courses at the University of Florida while others wanted to know about my personal experiences with this kind of teaching – was it really more work (that seems to be the rumor going ’round), did I feel as connected with my students as I did when I was teaching face-to-face… It was nice to feel like an expert of sorts about something. It sounds like more and more programs are adding online and hybrid courses.  Who knows.  In years to come I might just be known as some sort of pioneer.

Finally, I did recognize that I am a bit theory-averse. It starts with the fact that I would much prefer to read and learn through stories than explications of theories.  But it cuts deeper that that.  I am excited by theory but feel it is cumbersome.  Too often, I find it is treated as the main thrust of people’s presentations rather than a bolster for their reports on successful teaching and learning. Theory is most useful when it is put to use, applied to strong examples which it helps elucidate and give meaning.  So, I’m going to recommit myself to identifying theories and theorists who resonate with and help flesh out my thinking here, but I hope to present these ideas in a manner that is engaging not only to people inside, but also outside academe.

Six years ago, when I last attended NAEA I was a bright young thing, focused on one single goal, life in the ivory tower wearing a tenure golden.  Today, I realize I need more, or less depending on how you look at it, to be happy.  So, while I felt surprisingly at home with my academic friends and colleagues, and worry a bit about  the long-term course of my career, for the moment I’m happy being who and what I am, a work-from-home art educator.

What did you take away?

Dispatch from NAEA: The Final Installment

I ended my time at the 2013 National Art Education Convention in a business meeting for the Higher Education Division.  I was lured there by the promise of some conversation about, critique of, and plans for response to the new, forthcoming, common core standards for art education.  But we never got to that.  While I learned a bit more about how the division operates, I left with a renewed feeling that I don’t want to be in a full-time faculty position at this point in my life.  I don’t have the patience to sit through meetings focused on speculative agendas.  I’d rather be focusing my energy on teaching and my own learning.  Maybe that’s selfish.  Maybe I ought to be doing more service to the profession.  But that’s where I am now.  No apologies.

Dispatch from NAEA

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“We Are Inveterate Storytellers: The Role of Narrative in Arts Education Research”
I kind of zoned in and out here as I got to thinking about storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. I love to tell stories, to hear stories. I know that I learn best and remember facts when they are connected to stories. But I’m not sure I have been able to harness the power of storytelling in my online teaching yet.  More homework…

Dispatch from NAEA

Wonderful morning at the Kimbell Art Museum and Amon Carter Museum of American Art. I don’t usually get that excited about works from the Renaissance or Modern eras anymore, but the Kimbell’s installation within a Louis Kahn container, and the absence of any glass separating viewers from the works, gave these paintings renewed vitality.  I had never heard of the Amon Carter before, housed in a Philip Johnson project, but they have a fantastic collection of modern works in addition to a few temporary exhibitions on thought provoking themes like night and large format photograph.  Smart company was also helpful.  For example, when I suggested that the elaborate frames at the Kimbell could have been and exhibition of their own, one of my companions suggested I check out Derrida’s essay on frames as positive space and paintings as negative. Homework…

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Checkout this frame. Now image a gallery full of frames of this kind, filled with blank canvases. That would be hot, right?

Dispatch from NAEA

A shell on the path to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop.  The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

A shell on the path to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) which would alert pilgrims of a rest and refueling stop. The shell oil company adopted this as their symbol in 1909.

We have our students read Paul Bolin’s (1996) article “We are what we ask” at the start of our course on curriculum development at the University of Florida. Today he brought that principle to life when he co-hosted a session with Doug Blandy on “In Small Things Forgotten: Exploring Overlooked Objects and Their Stories for Art Education.” Both men talked about objects in our world in ways that exemplified material culture studies, design thinking, and inquiry-based art education without ever using those terms.  They have always been some of the my favorite storytellers in our field. Without getting bogged down by theoretical jargon, they manage to take us deep into the world of big ideas.

Dispatch from NAEA

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Amy Brook Snider and Paul Sproll reviewing the history of design education.

“The Curious Disappearance of Design in Art Education”
I started my life in art education at Pratt Institute where we studied art and design education. Those studies provided the foundation for my broad perspective of what constitutes a comprehensive art education. Before I ever heard of visual culture or STE(A)M, I learned about Fredrich Froebel and the instructors at the Bauhaus. I hope we can continue the discussion started in this session to trace the threads of these legacies into the 21st century.