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Lesson Plans

Contemporary Art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sandra Hildreth (shildret)
Sat, 20 Jul 1996 19:19:09 -0400

Vance McSwain has posted several messages concerning contemporary and
traditional art forms, and I know he was bound to have touched some nerves.
I have often tried to explain the growth of Abstract Expressionism to my
students by telling them one of the most significant things about it was
that the total, absolute elimination of subject matter had never been done
before. The novelty and risk taking of avant garde artists is often what is
highlighted by critics and historians. Then my students question, "so, just
because it was never done before, that makes it art?". Tough to answer.
Think about Duchamp's "Fountain" (the found object urinal sculpture if I
remember my Art history courses correctly). It seems like when artists push
the perceptions of viewers into new areas of vision or sensation, that what
they have created becomes acceptable as art. But is it? Is this how many
people felt when they first looked at Cezanne's or Monet's paintings? Who
will the Art History books highlight as the great innovators of the 1990's?

Yet all along I have felt that the image, whether soft and fuzzy or
Impressionist, or crisp and hard-edged, or whatever, that an image is what
moves and touches the viewer most. It has been interesting to learn how
some of our super-realist contemporary artists came to that style after
seriously trying their hand at Abstract Expressionism. It was the thing to
do when I was in college, and I tried it too, but always fell back on the
image. Now as I feel moved to draw or paint, I find it is not only the
image, or more specifically the local landscape that appeals to me, but
those places that I am most familiar with. Farms that I have driven past
for 25 years as I have gone to and from work. Fortunately I make a living
as a teacher, so I can paint what I want - maybe if we had more patrons of
the arts, as they did in Renaissance times, more contemporary artists would
find themselves able to paint what moves them (and their viewers) instead
of what galleries and critics identify as being most innovative, or
revolting, or likely to sell!

In summary I have to say I agree most with those who have stated that one
of our most important functions is to get our students to question and
explore. So I feel it's very important that we include all of Art History
(including other cultures), and especially contemporary art, in our
classrooms, but I probably will continue to also include an emphasis on the
development of skills, and the quest for personal expression through style
and subject matter.

Sandra Hildreth <shildret>
Art 7-12, Madrid-Waddington Central School, Madrid, NY 13660
Art Methods, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617