Nick Kozak is an artist educator based in New York who joined the Art21 Educators community two years ago for the 2016-2017 school year. He’s been a public school teacher for nine years at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, focusing on art history. An artist himself, he creates social sculptures and is currently developing a body of work related to living in the Anthropocene. Dedicated to breaking down barriers between young people and adults, and between the classroom and the real world, Nick joins us as the Educator-in-Residence for our Winter 2018 issue, “Whose Public?”
Why do you believe the thinking and practices of contemporary artists are important to incorporate in the classroom? What do students get out of it that they might not otherwise?
At the moment, it’s never been easier for young people to find a comfortable media bubble to sit in and be complacent and entertained. I believe contemporary artists have an important role to play in shocking us out of all that, making us reconsider where we choose to focus our attention.
While I’m sure that most of my students don’t self-identify as artists, I believe that they all know the importance of thinking like an artist. This means constantly challenging themselves to manifest their ideas in new ways, and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I believe that being able to think like an artist is one of the most useful skills to have in twenty-first century living—it allows you to hone in on the layers of meaning and intention that are woven into every aspect of our lives.
Why were you initially drawn to the Art21 Educators program?
When joining Art21 Educators, I was hoping to find a professional learning community that I could engage with and draw inspiration from. I was in my sixth year of teaching, feeling like my curriculum was in a bit of a rut and some colleagues suggested I apply. The program definitely nudged me out of my comfort zone and pushed my professional practice in new directions. I would recommend it to any educators who are interested in taking their pedagogy to the next level.
Additionally, I’ve always appreciated Art21 in how they promote artists from all across the world, drawing our creative communities closer together. The resources they produce provide a window into the diversity of practices that exist in contemporary art-making.