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Lesson Plans

a response to Teresa Tipton/ Homelessness : Making art, reclaiming lives

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sun, 30 Nov 1997 20:20:16 -0600

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In response to a (solicited) critique of Andrea's project on
homelessness, Teresa Tipton argued that my "questions about the larger
context are in themselves problematical because they are an abstraction and
as such, a dismissal of the
intention and aims of Andrea's project itself."
It is crucial for all of us to see pedagogy not simply as an empirical
referent but as a discursive surface, able to be deconstructed and
problematized without disregarding the totality of the project. Often, any
significant theoretical critique of a well intentioned lesson is met with a
non-negotiable, essentializing binary critique, which disregards any form
of antagonism and negates difference and conflict by relegating them to the
guise of "dismissive" abstraction. Theoretical critiques are always a form
of practice, a larger abstraction upon which we can devise a conceptual
schema that illuminates intent, context, audience, power structures,
recognition and transformative possibilities. Educators must set out
clear programmatic goals to help students think about their work within a
larger societal context to imagine who their audience might be, how their
students' work will or will not be effective, and question the larger
discourse they engage in (namely "art").

Teresa also found my critique of the Andrea's description of the
homeless-'' broken lives ..who live in poverty and without homes litter our
cultural landscape') to be a form of cognitive dissonance.
Injustice is rooted in social patterns of representation, interpretation
and communication. It is through interpretation and propagation that the
"selection of vocabulary" can be injurious because it can impair those whom
are being labeled in their positive understanding of self, an understanding
acquired by intersubjective means. Students often latch on to the
instructor's signifiers and unconsciously perpetuate misrecognition, or a
distorted mode of being. This problem simply needs to be taken into
consideration, not interpreted as a means to eradicate all transformative
possibilities of the project.

So what should we do?

I agree that the work of Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange should be
considered. Students should discuss critics who accuse Lange of
constructing " candid poses," and capturing photographs of individuals who
did not consent to their image being publicly used.

Teresa asks the following questions;
"In Seattle, there is a facility for homeless people to come and
create art.... This center was supported because of the
powerful work about and by street people. Should it not exist
because people are going hungry?
Should Barbara Krueger (sic) stop making
billboard art because her images have social commentary?"

These questions, and others (aesthetic, commodification, agency.. ), should
be raised and addressed by the students. Students often lack the ability to
step outside of their own work , to comment on the futility of some art to
be transformative, while nonetheless waging a strong battle against what
disturbs them. Even when they do study theory and develop strong
philosophical principles, students are rarely taught how their own strategy
plays a role.

Andrea's description of the studio project was vague. It was because of
this that I suggested the dangers of objectification and representation.
How would pin-hole cameras ("empty coffee cans and Quaker oat containers")
be used, for whom, and what would be the target of these photos? Can we
imagine a high school student with an empty quaker oats box descending on a
homeless shelter to shoot photos of "the homeless?" Will her students
engage in feeding, transporting, sheltering, and comforting the homeless?
Or will they take a bus ride to the Urban area and spend a few hours
shooting photos? Their vision may help to develop a less individualistic,
less narcissistic sense of ourselves, but this must occur with a pragmatic
engagement, mobilization and transformation of economical and political

Finally, in no way is problematizing features of this proposed lesson an
exercise in
denigration nor should it be seen as a disparaging comment on the
thoughtful issues involved. I feel this form of healthy critique expands
the possibilities, never diminishes or discounts them.


Kevin Michael Tavin Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Art Education
The Pennsylvania State University
School of Visual Arts

At 2*47 AM 8/31/92, wrote:
>I find Andrea's description of the homeless not only poetic
>but's its metaphorical content, also literal. Strong language
>is appropriate for a situation which should cause us rage instead of
>cognitive dissonance at the selection of vocabulary. Kevin's questions and
>his response beg the question of the importance of Andrea's lessons
>and their intended impact. She has selected a challenging topic, is
>using an interesting approach, and is utilizing the vehicle for art
>to create a larger awareness of the issues related to the topic both
>in her students and with the public at large through a public display
>of the results.
>I think of the work of Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange, which created
>a social consciousness about the conditions of impoverished people
>and mobilized public concern and at the time, funding through the
>WPA. I think also of Jacob Lawrence who decided to be an artist as a
>child, attending free art classes for low-income children. It was the
>experience making art that changed his direction and vocation in
>In Seattle, there is a facility for homeless people to come and
>create art. Art is a means of self-empowerment both in the creating
>and the viewing of image, whether they are created by street people
>or about street people. This center was supported because of the
>powerful work about and by street people. Should it not exist
>because people are going hungry? Should Barbara Krueger stop making
>billboard art because her images have social commentary? Kevin's
>questions about the larger context are in themselves problematical
>because they are an abstraction and as such, a dismissal of the
>intention and aims of Andrea's project itself.
>The metaphor used during the disarmament movement of
>the '70's and '80's was it is the individual snowflakes that
>together, break the branch. And as Ghandi said, the person sweeping
>the ashram is just as important as the person demonstrating in the
>streets. In other words, change happens step by
>step, individually, at the local, level. Every attempt no
>matter how small to touch lives and change them through art
>should be applauded.
>Teresa Tipton
>From: kmt127
>Date: Tue, 25 Nov 1997 21:05:27 -0600
>Subject: : Art and the Homeless:Making art, reclaiming lives
>In response to your ideas on teaching about homelessness I would recommend
>you researching the work of Hope Sandrow and the Artist and Homeless
>Collaborative (A&HC). This group is an affiliation of artists and arts
>professionals and women, children, and teenagers living in New York City
>shelters. The A&HC is an ongoing, interactive project that neither
>abandons nor alienates the art work from social context. Art is made WITH
>rather than FOR shelter residents.
>Some other thoughts:
>You stated, "The broken lives of individuals and families who live in
>poverty and without
>homes litter our cultural landscape.." The term litter is problematic in
>this context, it can signify a dominant belief that homelessness is dirty,
>criminal and a problem that needs to be swept up, or swept away. I know
>that was not your intention, however phrases can be easily misinterpreted,
>or worse yet, never critically discussed.
>Its not clear what your studio project entails but be very careful, Any use
>of photography and homeless individuals could easily turn into a
>objectification by merely capturing them on film or somehow reifying,
>(making concrete) them as an exotic "other" to be gazed at and displayed.
>You state that students will "broaden their understanding of their own
>values, and the (un)changing aspects
>of our cultural environment. This involvement(communication) is the first
>step toward change and resolution of one of todays sad realities of human
>existence; homelessness" Larger issues need to be problematized, such as;
>can art do anything for the homeless (have any appreciable impact on the
>lives of people struggling merely to survive), what form of agency (if any)
>is created through this work, or a "better understanding of our own
>values," should the money involved with the art be used for other means,
>can images of homelessness actually create a lack of sensitivity towards
>the issues, and if so how, and what is the difference between art and
>social work in the context of helping the homeless (is it the aesthetic
>component that makes it art)?
>Andrea wrote:
>hello. andrea here from Ohio State University. I am looking for any feed
>>back or additional ideas on my proposed plan for teaching about homelessness.
>>The broken lives of individuals and families who live in poverty and without
>>homes litter our cultural landscape. Although this problem has existed since
>>the very begennings of human existance, never before has it seemed so out of
>>place as it does in todays contemporary society of wealth, access,and
>>priveledge. Although this issue has decreased in "popularity" since the late
>>80's/early 90's, it didn't go away. Social Restoration indeed. Here it
>>Lesson Title: Homelessness In Contemporary Art
>>Issue: how art can be used as a vehicle to influence social awareness
>>Grade Level: high school (9-12)
>>Studio: photography using pin hole cameras made by students
>>Introduction: The introduction as presented to the class will attempt to
>>provide answers to these questions: What is homelessness, and why is it an
>>Who is homeless, and why? Exploration of the different types of people who
>>are homeless all over the world, and how they arrived at their situation.
>>What is being done to improve/solve the problem, and how does making art
>>about it help?
>>We will study three different artists of diverse backgrounds who explore the
>>issue from very different angles:
>> 1. Krzystof Wodiczko-public performance/sculpture about homelessness
>> 2. John Decker-photographer of homeless living along The Ohio River
>> 3. S. Rene Jones- photographs by a homeless person
>>Studio: 7-10 classes
>>the first day will consist of a prepared introduction to the issue, slides of
>>the artists mentioned, and close with a participatory discussion with
>>questions and explanation of the studio/artmaking project
>>the second day will be for students to research their ideas and begin
>>construction of thier cameras. research could include: The Internet(if
>>available), library, and interviews with people in homeless shelters
>>(volunteers, staff, or residents).
>>the third through fifth day will be used for studio. As students begin to
>>take pictures, there will be a demonstration on the process of developing
>>their photos.
>>the fifth through seventh day will be used for finishing the artworks, and
>>displaying them in the classroom for a formal assesment. (discussion,
>>critical writing activities etc.)
>>the additional days(7-10) could be used for an extended version of this
>>In the longer version, students would write proposals either for the donation
>>of materials (developing chemicals, photo paper etc.). this would depend on
>>whether or not the specific school in which this lesson was taught could
>>afford to supply the students with these items. (photography can be pretty
>>expensive even in this simple method)
>>AND/OR the proposals could be written to access public or private space for
>>displaying the finished artworks. For example a gallery, or lobby of a
>>building. The community often likes to get involved with displaying student
>>work, it gives the students an opportunity to participate in this aspect of
>>artmaking (showing), and it gives the community an opportunity to observe and
>>learn from their works.
>>The Studio Activity: students will receive instruction on how to make and
>>use pin hole cameras.
>>the cameras will in some way reflect the ideas they have about homelessness,
>>and/or the ideas they have for the photographs they will be taking.
>>for example: empty coffee cans and Quaker oat containers ( you know, the
>>cardboard cylinders) make great pin hole cameras. students would then
>>transform these containers into art that also functions as a camera. The
>>purpose of this is that the final photos will be displayed along with the
>>The Purpose: The purpose of this acitivity is to encourage students to
>>identify and explore this issue (and themselves) thorugh the medium of
>>photography. Through the teachers introduction and student investigation
>>(research/resources) students will gain a broader knowledge of the issues
>>which effect the world and local culture. Students will gain insight to these
>>issues as they express their views, and in some way become more involved with
>>issues that concern our society. Through this involvement, students will
>>broaden their understanding of their own values, and the (un)changing aspects
>>of our cultural environment. This involvement(communication) is the first
>>step toward change and resolution of one of todays sad realitites of human
>>existance; homelessness.

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