Two Minutes: A Quick Homily on Teaching Art

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Recently a number of my students were engaged in an interesting discussion: is school (specifically college, in their case) real life? Or does real life start when you graduate?

I have felt this tension on many levels as a student and professor. Ideally, I want school to include tasks that are so authentic to the real world that this very discussion is moot. However, schools who do this are models and win awards – it’s certainly not the norm, I would say.

I am a guest in many art classrooms as I observe student teachers. I have been starting to notice the ways art class, especially art education curriculum, is disconnected from the art world.* Today, in one classroom, I heard the (student) teacher say,

“We’re going to treat this like an art gallery. You can get up, walk around, and look at each other’s work. You have two minutes.”

I have heard so many art educators, myself included, say things like this. Yet when I heard this, the ridiculousness of it got my attention. I smiled; it was sad and funny at the same time. Two minutes? Yes, two minutes. Because that’s all the time you get in an art gallery. Oh wait, this isn’t really an art gallery. Or is it? It’s a class that has a strict schedule and other goals for the day, along with students for whom two minutes might seem like an unreasonably long time. However, despite the fact that these students live in an urban area with many galleries within walking distance of their school, many have never been to one. This might just be their art gallery.

So art class, the art world, school, life…two minutes. This was an episode – a short passage in the scripture of art educator’s daily dialogue with students – in which I saw yet again how disconnected art class can be from life in the art world. This disconnect doesn’t serve our students well in many ways.

There are a lot of things I think teachers can do to actively disrupt the culture of schooling to give their students more authentic experiences. I am currently in the stage of brainstorming these strategies and welcome your suggestions and ideas.

  • Get the students out of the classroom.
  • Get more art not produced by students in the classroom (the actual object, not just an image of it).
  • Give students time and space to think about things artists think about.
  • Engage students in solving problems and making choices in their work.
  • Teach students strategies and vocabulary for viewing, talking, and writing about work. Especially postmodern art.
  • Stop planning lessons with 45 minute (or 90 minute) periods as the framework. Plan lessons with compelling concepts as the framework(s) and let the students help to determine the pace.
  • Ask the students what questions they have about art. Explore those.
  • Find ways to connect with community partners.

And, as usual, this doesn’t just apply to visual art. But it’s what I see, and what I know, and what’s on my mind. Thanks for tuning in.

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* If you are interested in reading what a number of art education scholars have to say about the  disconnect, let me send you in the following directions:

  • Anderson, T. & Milbrandt, M. (1998). Why and how to dump the school art style. Visual Arts Research, 24(1), 13-20. 
  • Efland, A. (1976). School art style: A functional analysis. Studies in Art Education, 17(2), pp. 37-44.
  • Gude, O. (2000). Investigating the culture of curriculum. In D. E. Fehr, K. Fehr, & K. Keifer-Boyd (Eds.), Real world readings in art education: Things your professors never told you (p. 75-89). New York: Routledge. 

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