Artful collaborations: a guest editorial.
The inspiration for an "Artful Collaborations ..." feature came from the Howard County's 2001 Youth Art Month exhibition. Organized and installed by Instructional Facilitator for the Visual Arts Barry Shauck, the show, entitled Telling Images: Stories in Art, focused on narrative art. Several adjacent galleries were filled with the rich and deep stories, visually told by students at all levels, from kindergarten through high school. As Bill Zuk and Robert Dalton recently stated in the introduction to their anthology Student Art Exhibitions: New Ideas and Approaches (NAEA, 2001): "The display of student art is much more than pictures on a wall and an eye-pleasing arrangement, it is a text that conveys a great deal about the ideas and accomplishments of both teachers and students." In the case of the Howard County art exhibition, this accomplishment included living and sometimes local artists. Original art exemplars and artists' written statements were included with the displays of student work, providing additional inspiration and contextual reference for the viewer. The presence of these motivating artworks, placed side-by-side with students' artistic expressions and reflective writings, formed a profound visual shrine of articulate student voices that should not be dismantled and thus silenced forever.
How could this county school art exhibition -- a revelation of artistic journeys and personal tales--endure in order to reach, as well as inspire, others to listen and voice their own stories? It was from this point that Barry and I began a collaboration of our own. We began to focus on exploring the connections made between artist and art teacher for the benefit of students. The focus became taking a closer look at the themes offered by artists that inspired art teachers, and the related skills and conceptual bases that helped launch ideas. How might this approach have positively influenced soliciting reflections on the art problem as well as the learning process? To showcase the relationship between "artist as teacher" and "teacher as artist," we literally put them both on the same page, brainstorming with teacher and artist while displaying inspired student artwork, to capture the essentials in a collectible, centerfold format for SchoolArts.
Renee Sandell is scholar-in-residence for spring 2002 at American University in Washington, DC while on leave as professor of Art Education at Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
Countywide Staff Development days in Howard County have focused upon offering a special service to art teachers --providing firsthand experiences with practicing artists. The art program emphasizes the development of artistic behaviors in students. It asks teachers to look closely and thoughtfully at the practices and products of artists in order to discover the voice of the artist as well as the sparks that light the artist's imagination. Rather than passing along pedagogical processes in a typically formulaic way, for instance--reading or writing across the curriculum--art teachers are offered a glimpse into artistic process that honors the artist's and art teacher's forms of speech. Studio art teachers keep looking at the use of the sketchbook/journal as a place to mine ideas, and as a source for testing media to see how they touch those ideas. Considerable thought is given to the impact that studio setups have upon the breeding of ideas and the establishment of communities of artists among students. A close look is given to living, and often local, artists to see what makes them tick and establish a collaborative connection for the students we teach. And, to make Countywide Staff Development days persist in the minds of art teachers, textbooks or monographs about the artists, their beliefs and themes, and related processes, are provided. All of these connections are made to inspire and prompt the art teacher to pursue the search for student learning experiences in the form of elegant problems.
What makes an elegant problem and how does talk about elegant problems influence instructional practice in the art studio classroom? Dr. Sandy Kay, in her chapter "Shaping Elegant Problems for Visual Thinking" (Simpson, Delaney, et al., Creating Meaning through Art: Teacher as Choice Maker, Merrill, Prentice Hall, 1998), focuses upon the characteristics of elegant problems, and ways they guide curriculum design. "An elegant problem encourages flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality of responses; it is worth solving ... and [it] elicits elegant solutions" (p. 281-2). Working with Sandy at an inservice, the Howard County art staff discovered that an elegant problem mimics the behaviors that teachers strive to develop in gifted students. This thesis provided an artful way to emphasize those behaviors instructionally for all students while encouraging creative teaching approaches.
Offering art teachers inservice experiences to work with contemporary artists to develop elegant programs presented another "Aha!" Why not push practice further by connecting spring exhibitions thematically to the inservice taking place for teachers? And so, for several years, our spring exhibitions, mounted in museum format and shown at the Howard County Center for the Arts, have taken that format. Renee's idea that the thematic exhibitions should endure is a compliment and a tribute to those who take the ideas they gain from the inservices. In some cases, the art teacher--thinking like the artists they are--start with one problem, and then watch the problem evolve instructionally over a period of years, just as an artist would work in a series. In this way, the elegance of the process continues.
Renee and I are grateful to Eldon Katter for considering this new "Artful Collaborations ..." feature, which promotes the mutual roles of artist and art teacher in informing and inspiring student art learning. Having the images and words of the artist, art teacher, and art students on the same pages and centerfold makes a powerful statement. We hope you will consider using this format to share your elegant art problems while showcasing meaningful collaborations between artists, art teachers, and students in your school and community.
Barry Shauck is instructional facilitator for the Visual Arts, Howard County Public Schools, Maryland.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2002|
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