Friday, October 21, 2011

Aesthetics in the Classroom - Artist of the Day

I feel a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz this the end when she wakes up in bed, surrounded by the ones she loves (who strangely look like the ones in her "dream") and she realizes everything she wanted was right there in her own back yard.  So it is with my Artist of the Day videos and the aesthetic experience.

I started Artist of the Day last spring semester as a result of divine inspiration - the idea just came to me, possibly the day before the second semester started: show a short video (under 5 minutes) of artists' work at the beginning of class each day.  Last semester I stabbed around, searching for interesting, dynamic videos that I thought would capture my students' attention and imagination.  I didn't use it as an instructional tool particularly, but was interested in finding out what they were interested in.  It was a hit.  Even students who were hard to engage would watch the videos, and I LOVED seeing them six times a day!

Fast forward to this semester.  I have launched into an effort to include more aesthetics activities in the classroom for my graduate semester project.  We have been reading Elliot Eisner in my coursework, and when I got to his essays about aesthetics, I stopped in my tracks.  I felt as though I had strayed away from teaching the students about aesthetics, that we were blazing down the trail of making art without stopping to consider nuance and meaning.  My last four posts have recapped beginning aesthetics activities:  liking, finding the words, asking 'is it art?' and ranking art.  This project has inspired me to create weekly themes for the videos, and not only was I hoping that my students were thinking more deeply about art, I was also taking Artist of the Day to a new level.

Last Friday I gave midterm exams and included a question about the Artist of the Day videos.  I wanted to find out what they were thinking about the videos.  What else might they be thinking beyond the activities we've been doing together the last month?  I gave them the beginning of 4 sentences to complete (they could choose two of the four to respond to):
  • The thing I like most about Artist of the Day is....
  • Artist of the Day helps me....
  • Artist of the Day is fun because....
  • I wish Artist of the Day was....
Their responses really surprised me - truly!  I don't think I realized that Artist of the Day was impacting them on such a deep level (hence the Dorothy analogy).  Aesthetics learning was happening and I didn't even know it!  Here are a few of their responses:

The thing I like most about Artist of the Day is....

  • it wakes me up
  • it makes me think of art in my everyday life
  • it gets my creative juices flowing and gives me inspiration
  • seeing how people can create magnificent stuff just from their imagination
  • it inspires me to have a more open mind
  • it encourages divergent thinking
  • it's relaxing and entertaining
Artist of the Day helps me....
  • learn something new
  • meet new artists 
  • open up the creative side of my mind to get ready for class
  • wind down from another class
  • analyze art better
  • challenge my ideas of what art is
  • become more cultured
  • find inspiration to further improve my artwork
  • by inspiring me to be a better artist
  • by giving me something to look forward to
Artist of the Day is fun because....
  • each day it shows divergent thinking
  • it expands my horizons
  • it gives me new ideas to make unusual art
  • I get to see the people in my class vote for the kind of art they like that week
  • it's a behind the scenes look at how an artist makes artwork
  • it shows that we are all unique through our methods, creations and differences
  • it gets me in the mood for art
  • it's the only thing that amazes me
  • it takes just a little time and helps you understand so much more about the world
I wish Artist of the Day was....
  • something we could talk about the whole period
  • more fun, more interactive, that we could try what the artists are doing
  • more interactive so students could tell the teacher what artist they like most and find a video on them
  • longer!
  • was ME
Wow!  Talk about a happy art teacher!!!  Very few of my 170 students had a disgruntled view of the videos.  Some thought that some of the videos were boring (I already knew this - they have a high need for excitement).  There are times I don't get it right - BORING, they tell me.  But that's OK, seeing a variety of work is what matters.  Pushing both our comfort zones has its rewards.

And, how Artist of the Day matters to them (and to me) leads me back to Eisner's ideas about art education (pgs. 97-99).  

I am interested in the contributions arts education makes to both the arts and to life beyond them.
1.  Arts education should enable students to understand that there is a connection between the content and form that the arts take and the culture and time in which the work was created.
2.  Arts education should refine the student's awareness of the aesthetic qualities in art and life.
3.  Students should acquire a feel for what it means to transform their ideas, images, and feelings into an art form.
4.  There should be a willingness to imagine possibilities that are not now, but which might become.  A desire to explore ambiguity, to be willing to forestall premature closure in pursing resolutions, and the ability to recognize and accept the multiple perspectives and resolutions that work in the arts celebrate.

I believe Artist of the Day hits the mark on all points, using a 5 to 10 minute activity to help them understand what's happening in art at the beginning of the 21st century, giving them opportunity to express their opinion, getting them inspired to practice more divergent thinking in their own art expression and opening them to the unbelievable variety and diversity of art being created and being shown on the Internet for anyone to see - here, now, relevant.  Artist of the Day rules!

Eisner, E. E. (1998) The Kind of Schools We Need 


christina bain said... this!!! I'm teaching an art criticism and conversations about art class next semester. I wonder if there is some kind of electronic communication we can do with my UT students and your hs students??? A wiki?

christina bain said...

Love it!!! I wonder if we can do a wiki next semester between my UT students and your hs students---to have conversations about art???