In late 2009, the Walker Art Center commenced a series of exhibitions and programs that highlight and reanimate the Walker's collections. Walker education staff saw this as an opportunity to reinvigorate the experiences available to students as they encounter the art of our time. The resulting Art Today and Tomorrow Project is a 2-year plan to create new models for teaching contemporary arts to students through tours, classroom learning, and teaching artist residencies.
Phase 1: The Seminar Series
At the core of the project is a partnership between the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Public Schools' (MPS) Arts for Academic Achievement program (AAA). The project's first phase brought together Walker staff, AAA curriculum planners and coaches, middle and high school teachers, teaching artists, and Walker tour guides. Phase 1 was dedicated to collective learning and collaborative thinking, which took place over six monthly seminars. The following is a sampling of seminar activities:
Eric Andersen, Tom Krojer, Jaroslaw Kozlowski
Announcements for Three Events 1977
The seminars were structured to focus our thinking around a "big idea" and a set of "inquiry questions."
BIG IDEA: Contemporary art is an ongoing event.
Questions and Answers, Questions as Answers, Answers as Questions 1998
Media Arts, Internet Art, Other, commission, DASC, text, online forum
Metacognition and Reflection
The seminars were an excercise in metacognition. The inquiry questions were open-ended and motivated investigation. These questions were physically part of the seminar environment, written out and posted on the wall. Every seminar presented a new lens through which to consider the questions.
The recurrent protocol (critical response, tuning, etc) encouraged specific habits of thought. They tuned one's awareness to the mental events of perception, judgement, interpretation, and speculation.
To conclude Phase 1, participants were asked to articulate answers to the central inquiry questions. What follows is my attempt to distill the seminar experiences into answers.
Gehirn (Brain) 1987/1989
Mixed Media, Multiples
What does it mean to understand contemporary art?
Art is a form of communication and in order to understand art we tap into a sphere of literacy. This sphere includes specific modes of awareness, an array of cognitive approaches, and a vast domain of specialized knowledge. Too often, an overemphasis on the specialized (or extrinsic) knowledge can dead-end the communication. In its conveyance to the "uninitiated," it can seem too spoon-fed, erudite, or proscriptive. The resulting frustration thwarts learning as it supresses the intrinsic components of our literacy: modes of awareness and cognitive approaches.
A functioning literacy encourages and validates the viewer's perceptions and questions. These observations and queries are the foundation of an authentic experience with art. They set the pace and motivate the viewer to seek knowledge. The first information to access is vocabulary*. As questions arise, art-historical information serves to test our hypotheses and point us to deeper and deeper lines of inquiry.
The Great Bear Pamphlets 1965-1966
What does it take to engage students in experiencing and responding to contemporary art?
A strange object in a white cube will remain exactly that until we identify a link that puts it within reach of the familiar.
When students percieve something they relate to, experiences and responses unfold spontaneously. For this relevance to surface, the right conditions are key. A seasoned guide can coax students' observations, pose compelling questions, and relay the appropriate factual information to discover a connection---a junction between daily life and the artwork.
The unfamiliar provokes a reflexive, uncomfortable response. Unhurried looking and permission to set aside judgments permits the familiar to register. What would a facilitated encounter with this artwork look like?
"This is wierd. What about this image isn't strange? Does the artist show us something that is perfectly common and perhaps so familiar that we take it for granted? As a sculptor, this artist was interested in forms (objects) in space, and the relationship between an object and the space that surrounds it. Edges and boundaries. What form is he "sculpting" here? Does the body have a role in art?"
Studies for Holograms 1970
Medium: Prints, Edition Prints/Proofs
In what ways can collaboration make us better teachers, artists, tour guides, and learners?
What do these roles have in common? Ultimately, they all exist to serve the student. We serve the student best if our efforts are integrated.
What makes the Art Today and Tomorrow project unique and vital is its emphasis on the orchestration of our educational efforts. We hope that presenting students with consistent themes and protocol will unlock deeper thinking, richer connections, and a lasting engagement with the arts.
This project demonstrated that collaboration succeeds when it is cultivated from the inception. It cannot be an afterthought. At our first seminar each participant shared a personal interest represented by the project. The project's facilitator expressed her intent to witness and learn about collaboration. Her comment stuck in my memory. Through my participation in the seminars, I gained a more concrete sensibility for the abstract notion of collaboration.
Mixed Media, Multiples
How can we effectively use reflection in our professional practice?
A reflective practice can be characterized by these four traits:
The paradox is that a practice without reflection blinds one from the very need for reflection. How then, do we effectively establish a reflective practice? I would recommend to start by adopting and one of the protocols we consistently used over the course of our seminars:
Learning and creating (independent or in groups) can be structured using these systems. With practice and patience, the events of perception, judgement, interpretation, and speculation can be slowed down and enriched. I would be curious to see if, after patterning one's work using the protocol steps, the four qualities above could flourish spontaneously.
Medium: Media Arts, Videotapes/Videodiscs, Audio-Video
Thank you to the Art Today and Tomorrow participants!
Staff from Minneapolis Public Schools and the Arts for Academic Achievement program
Teachers from Barton Open School, Field Community School, North Community High School, and Sanford Middle School
Teaching artist partners
Walker volunteer tour guides
Walker's education and community programs staff
Coaches and facilitators
ART WORKS 1968-2002
Medium: Mixed Media, Multiples, Other