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Lesson Plans

Re: teaching contemporary art

From: brenda jones (oxydol)
Date: Sat Jul 22 2000 - 18:32:31 PDT

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    I'm glad to see this thread. I really like teaching material related to
    contemporary art. I have been reading the discussion of aesthetic scanning and
    I guess I would say that for the most part, my experiences with people using
    this scanning have been somewhat stifling. I read the mention of Broudy and
    remember a book he wrote entitled "Enlightened Cherishing." It's now out of
    print, but (please forgive me for not being eloquent here...some things, as
    mentioned earlier, are harder in words and certainly for me) he, as I
    remember, described the aesthetic experience as one in which we cherish or
    desire the beauty of the object or experience without wanting to "own" it. It
    feeds the soul or spirit without one benefitting in any monetary or otherwise
    tangible way. For example, the quintessential sunset, but also those
    experiences that may be very simple but seem to speak to us on deeper
    levels...maybe the smell of rain on hot, summer pavement; the salty taste you
    get in your mouth when you are about to go on a rollercoaster that you're a
    bit afraid of, the pain in your gut when you feel that you may never see
    someone that you care deeply about again, the color of a reflection on a
    clean, glass window at a certain time of day. These aren't things that bring
    any particular benefit to someone, but they are experiences that in some way
    we may have had that are expressed sometimes in art work and are difficult to
    describe in words.

    Anyway, about contemporary art and teaching in the classroom. I have high
    school students and I like them to early in the year have a sense of what
    might be meant by Enlightened Cherishing, what an aesthetic experience might
    mean. I then like for them to have a feel for reasons that art might be
    created. Now, to contradict myself, I do find it helpful for me to present
    them with some aesthetic theories, such as significant form (formalist works
    of art), mimetic or imitationalist works, expressive works, and
    instrumentalist work (functionalist). In my experience when the students
    realize that there are truly works that were not meant to be imitationalist,
    that there were other purposes for the work, they seem to me to be much more
    accepting, interested, and excited. I really like to introduce the year with
    something very current. I spend some of the summer looking carefully through
    ArtForum, Art in America for things that have recently happened that might
    spark some interest. In the past, I have started the year with looking at
    works such as "Mining the Museum" by Fred Wilson, works by Ron Athey, Laurie
    Anderson, Andres Serrano, Jenny Holzer (I happen to have a set of 12 pencils
    from the Albright-Knox museum with six of her phrases on them such as "What
    will happen now that sex won't save us"), Damien Hirst, Felix Gonzales Torres,
    and more recently Liza Lou. My personal favorite are the works by Ann
    Hamilton. Students are fascinated by her work in which thousands of copper
    pennies were adheared to the floor with honey; a woman sat at the back of the
    room wringing her hands in honey over a felt hat, two sheep were in the back
    with a bale of hay. Aesthetic scanning would be difficult in this case and
    equally hard, it seems to me with students, to make sense of the work from an
    only imitationalist understanding. But when a work may have a functionalist
    thrust, they are forced to consider in what ways the artist may wish for us to
    rethink our surroundings or society. Then, we can discuss why, whether or not
    it is successful, what point it makes, etc. Could the same thing be
    accomplished through a formalist approach, why or why not, etc. I think the
    questions that come from this are fascinating and I have never had students
    complain about discussing the issues.
    By the way, "The Painted Word" by Wolfe which was discussed in earlier posts
    is, I think, helpful in some understanding of more contemporary work, even
    though the book was published I believe in the early or mid seventies, it
    still lays ground work for contemporary issues.


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