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Re: essential questions for art teachers - Answers


Date: Sat Feb 24 2001 - 21:32:10 PST

Dear EJB Columbia U:
    I'm pleased to respond to your questionnaire. You're the teacher who
returned to teaching after several years and work at a middle school in
Brooklyn, correct? Bed-Stuy, Fort Greene, Williamsburg or there-abouts? I
used to drive a cab in NYC when I was going to art school (SVA) in the 70's,
so know the area you work in.
    1. I'm in my sixth year of teaching.
    2. High School (9-12).
    3. Took art throughout elementary and high school. Have been "into" art,
as my father used to say, "Ever since I was able to hold a pencil".
    4. BA in Art
    5. Painting and Drawing
    6. Musicians, Abstract art depicting music and movement.
    7. Aboriginal art, Kandinsky, Klee.
    8. Yes. Mostly on my own through reading, magazine articles.
    9. Yes
    10. When I was in school, Conceptualism and Minimalism were in vogue.
Not my cup of tea.
    11. I limit students to "appropriate" art for high school. We talk about
"appropriate" and how that means generally avoiding gang insignias and logos,
racist or hate slogans or messages in art work, drugs, drug paraphernalia,
alcohol, tobacco, guns in art work, obscenity, crude pornography. Later, as
students gain maturity in their work, we may have specific projects where
students are asked to depict their view on current events, social/political
commentary projects related to Mexican printmaking such as drug abuse, teen
pregnancy, pollution, domestic violence, etc.
    12. No
    13. No
    14. Yes, I live in a generally conservative community. One must be
careful about showing excessive nudity in art slides and videos.
    15. I go to a life drawing class sometimes and greatly enjoy working from
the nude model. We work from all types of models: body types, ages, races,
sexes. But I treat them as studies, not as finished pieces for exhibit. As a
high school art teacher it would not be something that I would want to
display as my main type of art work. Like I said, this is a generally
conservative community. I often see many of the local artists at life drawing
class as well as other art teachers from nearby high schools. But none of us
have exhibited the nudes we paint and draw, though we've talked about having
a show someday.
    16. Yeah, they have to be because we are role models.
    17. I've "confiscated" student work that had a crude depiction of an
ejaculating penis. I've also made students re-do work that had gang signs in
it, smoking marijuana cigarettes, marijuana leaves in the art work, etc.
There is a specific reason for this. If you let one student do it, many more
will want to do it. Teenagers test you to see what they can get away with. A
lot of it is done to test. It's not done consciously, as a creative means of
expression. You've got to draw the line. I explain that when they get to
college, they can do anything in art work that they want and they will be
asked to explain it and back it up. But, in high school there are "limits".
For instance, latino gangs have been a problem in area schools. References to
gang logos such as the familiar XIV of the Norteño gang is definitely not
allowed. It is often seen engraved in desk tops, spray painted on walls and
scrawled on bathroom walls and hallways. I try to get students, especially
(Chicano and Mexican-American students) interested in Mexican art (Aztec art,
Siqueiros, Rivera, Kahlo, Kronk, muralists) for self-expression and pride.
    18. One piece had a depiction of Antonio Banderas in "Desperado", he was
holding an old gun in his hand and appeared to be meditating. One of the
school secretaries said she was "appalled" when the piece went up in the
school hallway. I know the student did not intend it to be violence or gang
related. The artist, a girl, just liked Antonio Banderas and chose to render
him in charcoal in a very realistic fashion. I realized that the secretary
probably had a good point in light of the fact of the violence we see in
today's high schools. So I took it down. Another time, the principal frowned
when two students did a papier-maché life-sized urinal like the Duchamp Dada
sculpture "R Mutt" urinal in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I saw the humor
in the piece, but the principal didn't. Sé la vie. Or should I say, Rrose
    19. None that was considered controversial.
    20. Oh sure, plenty of it. A lot of contemporary stuff is supposed to be
offensive. Art work made of body fluids, menstrual blood, urine, etc. Art
work with animal entrails showing and overtly graphic sexual art can be very
offensive, Much was made of the Brooklyn Museum show "Sensations". The Ofili
Madonna did not offend me, in fact it was quite beautiful. But, yes, there is
a lot of "offensive" contemporary art out there. I feel that art work should
express viewpoints, make statements and cause people to think about world
issues such as destruction of the environment, torture, ethnic cleansing,
domestic violence, etc. But it should not repulse people so that they get
turned off to the messages that art, as a powerful vehicle of expression, is
capable of depicting.
Good luck with your seminar,
Dennis in Stockton, CA