New to the city and looking for enriching things to do, I came across the site Connect Savannah. On its home page, it has an events calendar of music, arts, and culture. Last night was the kick-off of deFINE Art, a weeklong event of lectures and exhibitions featuring contemporary art. We attended the Jack Whitten lecture at the SCAD Museum of Art and then attended the reception afterwards and viewed his exhibit "Erasures" in one of the museum galleries.
I purchased this book upon recommendation from a friend and colleague who wanted someone to talk about it with and wanted an English teacher’s perspective on the work. I can’t say I was a great choice for a book club partner, given that it took me many, many months to finish the 900 page book. From March until Christmas, I’d only read about 300 pages; I finished the remainder of the book in the last three weeks. I wrapped up 2666 last night and the ending was not what I’d expected. In fact, the entire book wasn’t what I expected. I don’t mean in terms of what I expected from looking at the cover or reading the book blurb. I mean that the book didn’t fit the traditional bill of what a novel is. Perhaps in an effort to let the reader know this difference was intentional, Bolano, through his characters, alluded several times to what makes great literature and that literature doesn’t have to follow the typical formula to be a masterpiece. In fact, in Bolano’s opinion, any that do follow the traditional formula are just retellings of other, better literature. Bolano values originality, a trait that also defines 2666 and its writing style, qualities that made the book so highly-acclaimed.
As second semester approaches, I need to start pulling together my curriculum for my online classes. Ideas for Arts History have been stewing away for weeks, and where I approached first semester chronologically from the Middle Ages through turn-of-the-century Realism, second semester will be broken down by function of the arts. The unit I'm most inspired to explore right now is the idea of "Art as Play." I've already reflected on this some with artists Oliver Herring and Leo Villareal. But because this is an arts history class, I need resources from across the spectrum, and here's what's stewing as of now:
Oliver Herring: Using TASK to construct a creative, productive play time. Interactive, ever-evolving. It's never the same experience twice. The people involved set the tasks and choose how to execute them. I also want to look at his paint splat portraits. Who's playing in that situation? Herring? The participant? In what way is the viewer playing by viewing the artwork? Because it draws out a chuckle? Because the narrative told by the portrait is so spontaneous and silly and absurd? Is it about the inter"play" between the artist, the subject, the work, and the viewer?
Leo Villareal: His works are a feast for the eyes. They’re spectacles. Why view them? Because they’re fun, indulgent, transporting, etc. They draw you in. Sharing a space with a Villareal work is like playing. It’s like a circus or night club or light show. And all his works are are lights and colors and shapes and the sequence that things light up. But they’re so much more than that. It makes me question our emotional attachment to light and color and how Villareal “plays” to that. His works definitely create a mood, but he seems deliberate in creating a fanciful, playful mood for his viewers to frolic through.
assume vivid astro focus – This team uses bright, bold colors and neons. It uses sexually imagery in a playful, cheeky way without it being offensive or obscene. They “play” with taboo much like Shakespeare and other wordsmiths “play” with language and innuendo and puns and double-entendres. avaf creates works that are festival-party-show-events and bring in the public to participate and bask in the spectacle of colors, lights, sounds, and performances. They create these worlds for people to play in. The viewer moves from spectator to player in these universes avaf creates.
What about artists who make more political statements…who play with norms and turn them on their heads? In other words – artists who work in the carnivalesque. How about Walton Ford who takes Audobon imagery and “corrupts” it with violent imagery? He’s playing with traditional depictions of nature that are so sterile or neutral or peaceful and turns them on their head by inserting Hobbes-like references to the brutality and savagery of nature.
Kara Walker does something similar with her depictions of the Antebellum south. She takes this traditional imagery of charm and grace and genteelism and inserts violence and troubling sexual imagery. Her images play – though darkly – with how media “remembers” Southern history.
Cao Fei is another artist who deals with play, though she did so literally by playing Second Life and creating this other, virtual life for herself. Looking at video games as play is something to think about as well…
Next, I need to consider literature, architecture, and music. Things to keep cooking in that brain of mine: Shakespeare; puns and slippery language (look at book titles and propaganda); Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead; Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me (rhymes, news quiz); and John Stewart and Steven Colbert and how they play with politics.
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.