Here's the article...

...and my thoughts:

I'm sitting at my desk trying to think of how to articulate my response to that article.  I'm frustrated by this passage especially: "Also, by detaching art making from past necessity of developing hand-skills he made it possible for anyone with an idea to become an artist. What a chess move that was!"  What's wrong with making the arts more accessible to people?  To make becoming an artist more accessible to people?  I think the danger in only teaching about works like The Mona Lisa or Starry Night is that students see the technique involved and achieving it seems impossible.  If the definition of "what art is" is broadened, then students with great concepts have a starting point.  Once they've got a concept, they can hone their skills to execute it well...or not.  But I'm not comfortable with the idea of silencing an artist or individual  - or degrading them - because of their technique.  Maybe part of it is that I'm not an artist.  I don't have much talent for "technique."  When I look at a work, I don't really evaluate the skill-level or technical quality.  I might, however, evaluate how a particular technique brings the work meaning.  What I connect with in a work is the concept behind it, the "idea". 

I can connect this to conversations we've had in my AP English class this year as well.  With both Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, students feel like the authors have no skill, no technique, no craft.  The plots don't advance.  The characters are unlikeable.  The diction is dry or too casual.  And I challenge them to consider that if these works are part of the Canon, clearly they have some merit.  But now - after reading this article - I don't think I'm going to use that justification because it assumes that if something is a classic, it's automatically good.  And you can't use that argument to defend contemporary works, like the one mentioned in the article - Damien Hirst's "spot" painting.  And so in the future I'll keep my defense of Hemingway and Salinger to these other points: cyclical plots might be intentional to show stagnation, aimlessness; unlikeable characters are human and reveal to us the darker facets of humanity; dry diction can show emptiness, lack of emotion, rationality; casual diction might be used to engage the reader, make the characters more relatable.  It's not necessarily that there's a lack of technique; instead, the techniques used might just be different from the norm, make the work ambiguous.

And then - let's just say that the work does have no technique.  The artist made it as a joke.  Whatever.  I don't know that I care, really.  Because more often than not, I don't know the author's intent in making the work.  I don't know what they meant for it to mean or if they deliberately made it to be meaningless.  I'm more interested in my own personal interpretation of the work.  So for those critics who think people who buy into Damien Hirst's "spot" paintings are stupid, that they'd been hoodwinked...maybe they just saw something in the work that neither that artist nor the critic saw themselves.

UPDATE: 3/1/2012
Last night when I got home, I started telling my husband Kyle about this article and we ended up having a great conversation about it.  We talked about how scary and disappointing it is that students' priority is fame - not greatness, not fulfillment, not making a contribution to the world...  And Kyle brought up how if technique becomes less important, replaced instead by provocative ideas, it could lower the bar for students and result in less great art.  My counter-argument to that was if we glorify technique over concept, some students might be turned off to art-making, resulting in less great art.  A catch-22. 

This all reminds me of our conversation on one of the first days of the 2010 summer institute where we got into a heated conversation about teaching art in a way that balances the elements and principles with themes and concepts and ideas.  The answer seems simple enough, right?  That we scaffold the elements and principles within a thematic framework to help students communicate their ideas more effectively through good technique.  But when students see artists or celebrities making the big bucks for seemingly meaningless work - but cute work or provocative work - how do we motivate them to do better than that?  How can we help them to see the value in conceptual work, the value in technique as a vehicle to create more meaningful work, when meaningful work isn't necessarily what pays the bills? 

Earlier this month, I attended an ITL (Integrated Teaching & Learning) conference in Holland.  Most of the other teachers there have participated in a series of ITL workshops, whereas this one I attended was the last in a series.  It was the culminating event where teachers showcased their students' work.  I first learned about ITL form our school's art teacher who had attended their last workshop.  She came back from that workshop with information about "The Great Lakes Project: Celebrative Tall Sails."  For this project, Michigan teachers were encouraged to teach a unit somehow connected to the theme of the Great Lakes.  They were given kits including the following for students to create projects: 12' white tall sails, sharpies of various colors, and drawing paper.  Our art teacher came back to school with several of these kits and encouraged the staff to brainstorm ways to incorporate the sails into their classes.  I love projects and integrating visual art into my English and Social Studies classes, so I welcomed the challenge.  I pondered what to do for weeks, which class to bring the project into, how the Great Lakes or sailing would have any relevance in my classes, etc.  It wasn't until I was wrapping up my AP English unit on "Reaching the Horizon" that it hit me.  We'd spent the whole unit talking about the metaphor of "the horizon" and all of a sudden "sailing" didn't seem like such a stretch.  For my "Celebrative Tall Sails" project, I had students explore the work of literature that most spoke to them, that said something real and compelling and powerful about the human condition, that really spoke to "what blows the sails" of human purpose and progress.  And so we embarked on a 4-week journey with our favorite piece of Canonical literature.  And it culminated with the Black River Art Show on Friday, February 17th where I proudly displayed their sails and artist statements.  

    About Me

    A lover of literature and the arts and an advocate for global awareness and active citizenship, I spend my days with high school English and Social Studies students exploring why it all matters and how they can have a voice in the world.  This is my space to document and reflect on my practice, note happenings in education, and share my appreciation for the arts.


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    Black River
    Damien Hirst
    Online Class
    Spot Painting
    Web Tool Wednesday