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Lesson Plans

Re: teaching contemporary art

From: Patricia Knott (pknott)
Date: Wed Jul 19 2000 - 11:43:10 PDT

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    > > art shown at the recent Brooklyn Museum "Sensations" show
    like Ofili's
    > > Madonna.

    I am waiting for someone to address this question.
    My students brought this up in class. I was willing to NOT deal with it, but
    they had plenty of questions. I addressed their questions with an
    investigation of the artist's intent. I ended up talking about Caravaggio's
    Death of the Madonna and how much that was a problem for him.

    When I think my students can handle it, I often talk of the controversy
    caused by Robert Mapplethorpe's and Andre Serrano's photographs (sorry
    about spelling) which led to the whole controversy of NEA funding.
    Especially Serrano's Piss Christ. If you have ever viewed this image it is
    quite beautiful. But when the public found out the circumstances of the
    creation an uproar ensued. But, it seems to me that those that objected so
    adamantly never investigated the artist's intentions. Serrano has a very
    strong Catholic heritage and he was responding to the commandment about
    graven images. But the public outcry failed to investigate his intention.

    I have a very difficult time teaching contemporary art . 99% of it has
    content that is either sexually explicit , or addressing political issues
    that refer to sensitive issues that we have tried to deal with by some new
    form of language that is de-scenitizing. (politically correct speak- you
    know) I am very careful about what I present to students on the current art
    scene. I am constantly being asked by the Institute of Contemporary Art in
    Philadelphia to join student programs. But I was just there last week for a
    show and there is just no way! Penises and vaginas all over the place.

    Perhaps what we need here is a definition of contemporary art. Modern art
    is one thing- the abstract, the non-objective ... we should as art
    educators be able to deal with these. To me, Contemporary means what is
    happening today. And what is happening? Or at least what is the art
    establishment recognizing as what is happening, as to opposed to what may
    be considered "outsider art."

    If you know the situation at Brooklyn and why that whole controversy ensued
    you have to address questions with your students of motivation. Why did the
    Brooklyn Museum distribute "sick bags" on opening night? And why were they
    not not prepared to deal with the consequences of their promotions. So, my
    question is ??? What was the art? The piece itself or the orchestration of
    the response. How many people went to see this show that would not have
    without the controversy? So what is contemporary art?

    Should we being teaching our students to be masters of media hype? The
    National Standards, state and district goals and objectives are asking us
    more and more to concentrate on analysis, critical evaluation, historical
    and cultural contexts, and connections to other disciplines. Is there one
    of us that doesn't inherently recognize these factors and incorporate them
    in our lessons without being told to? I find that the National Standards
    least address process and technique. So what is the outcome?

    Finally, from Henry --
    > FWIW not all abstract - non-representational art is intellectual,
    > meaningful, or even intended for analytical experience. Once
    > medieval Monks approached the visage of flowers and herbs to
    > discover their supposedly inherent religious message in the same
    > scholastic way that contemporary art critics manage to
    > analytically uncover intellectual meaning and entertainment.
    I think, if I interpret this correctly it speaks to just what I am saying.
    We need some new criteria for contemporary art. Obviously the formalistic
    approach does not work. Is it all about symbols today? My take is that it
    is about offensiveness that is pretty overt, but maybe I am wrong. I think
    it is much more about entertainment.

    I am very concerned about teachers going into contemporary art exhibits with
    only a reliance on the museum directives. Be careful!



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