Teaching with Contemporary Art

Finding Community: Art21 Educators and Contemporary Art in the Classroom

November 22, 2016

“I believe in art because art makes new spaces. Aesthetics is a way of unpacking possibility.”
— Lucas Blalock, Art21 New York Close Up

I have been a part of the Art21 Educators program since Year 3, and the program and people have entirely changed my teaching practice. I have the knowledge, understanding, and support of a community of stellar educators that is fueled by the innovative, passionate and daring Art21 facilitators who have a knack for bringing people together and nurturing their gifts. I am continually amazed at how far the program has taken the idea of art education and turned it upside down in ways not unlike the artist’s practice.

We love artists, but why? My thoughts run to the fact that they can make the impossible happen. They are the ones capable of immersing themselves in our world’s realities, and responding to the places the mind can’t quite comprehend. Artists find a way to make connections and sometimes gift us with deeper understandings, or find beauty and truth in the confusion. They are often fearless in their expression, and even though art-making is a somewhat selfish act, it ends up belonging to all of us when it becomes ours to decipher.

Third graders in Jeannine Bardo's class illustrate each other's stories like in the New York Close Up "Bryan Zanisnik & Eric Winkler's Animated Conversation."

Third graders in Jeannine Bardo’s class illustrate each other’s stories like in the Art21 New York Close UpBryan Zanisnik & Eric Winkler’s Animated Conversation.” Courtesy of the author.

“The dialogue and student work in my classroom becomes more thoughtful, diverse, and most importantly, full of questions”

Contemporary art is often open-ended and ambiguous enough to allow my students to view it through their own lens. This is why I find it a useful conduit through which I’m able understand my students’ thinking, and why it often gives them a voice they didn’t have before. Because of this, the dialogue and student work in my classroom becomes more thoughtful, diverse, and most importantly, full of questions—questions that lead my students to deeper understandings of themselves, each other, and the world.

I have used Art21 as a tool to bring the excitement, challenge, and intrigue of art into the classroom. Used correctly, the Art21 films inspire new lessons, open up dialogue, expose new ideas, and give my students a generous view of the artist’s practice. The Art21 films in and of themselves are a precious addition to my teaching practice, but the deep, rich support given by the community of Art21 Educators nurtures continuing inspiration and innovation in the field of art education.

Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders invent "Apple Man" during a TASK. Courtesy of the author.

Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders invent “Apple Man” during a TASK. Courtesy of the author.

I expected intelligent conversation, innovation, and networking to happen through my experience with Art21 Educators, but it ended up being so much more. It left me with a challenge. I was aware of the magic that was occurring in the process—that I was witnessing something just a little more special than professional development, something that could end up seeding seismic change in education. What follows? THAT is the challenge. The want is there. The need is there. The challenge is there and it continues.

“Allowing my students to question the stories of others gives them the space to tell their own.”

In a nutshell, I am a transformed educator, focused less on product and more on process—a process full of inquiry and enlightenment, positive challenges, and ideas centered on social justice and empathy. Allowing my students to question the stories of others gives them the space to tell their own. All of this becomes a shared classroom ecosystem that comes full circle and connects us to the art, our students, and each other.