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The Lesson Plan as Art

June 28th, 2010 by Kendra Yao

Upon a recent visit to my beloved alma maters in Columbus, Ohio (both Ohio State and Wexner Center for the Arts, where my heart and my arts education roots lie), I had the divine opportunity of getting direct exposure to the work of Mark Bradford, an artist who uses a multiplicity of common materials to create penetrating work about contemporary issues like strife in New Orleans, violence, sense of place, identity, equity, consumption, and ecology, on exhibit at the Wex. Not only are his physical art objects stunning — gigantic “paintings” and installations of thickly-layered posters and paper remnants, hewn with wood sanders and hand-work — but the internet is a-buzz with various online projects in conjunction with ideas and work. Pinnocchioisonfire.org, an interactive micro-site created in conjunction with the exhibition at Wexner Center are gaining acclaim, as it was recently listed on the shortlist for Cannes Cyber Lion award.

And just this week I found a project done in conjunction with the J. Paul Getty Museum called Open Studio, in which he gathered other notable national and international contemporary artists to create their own “lesson plans” to share with K–12 teachers. This collection of studio activities are posted online and thus available to teachers across the country and around the world. As I browsed the content of each artists’ lessons (from artists like Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker), I was reminded of the interesting dilemmas and dynamics of creating a meaningful and authentic “lesson,” for the young artist, and the value of the perspectives of teaching artists/artists-who-teach/artists (among other professionals) for teachers and “the curriculum.”

Mark Bradford explains his Open Studio project on the landing page, and I hesitate to paraphrase his much more composed ideas on the subject, but I am so heartened to see a prominent and thoughtful artist interested in taking an active role in providing contemporary-arts education to K-12 classrooms.

I am particularly taken with his ideas because they are so aligned with my most dearly-held philosophies of why art is important, why artists and the artistic perspective are crucial to our society, and the potential of arts education in creating the next generation of human beings who will carry civilization forward, instead of back. I am an educator who has been steeped in harnessing the interdisciplinary nature, obvious relevance and “now”-ness of contemporary art to inspire students into becoming lifelong learners, makers, and do-ers – which is essentially what my definition of what an“artist” is. (So perhaps I am intent on turning every single student into an artist.)

I encourage you to visit this Open Studio project website and respond with your comments below (since no space for this is offered on the site). I am interested in how others, particularly our Right Brain teachers and teaching artists, would view the different kinds of arts projects offered by these very well-known artists, how the lessons might engage students, and what kind of learning they would inspire.  I have to say that Mark’s assignments are my favorite so far, but I could vouch for some variation of the other artists’ lessons as well (i.e., the very discipline-based and rigorous taste of classic drawing offered by Kerry James Marshall), provided there was some integrated follow-up lessons and a after-the-fact synthesis as a class. Either way, these lesson plans are sure to provide as much fodder for conversation among educators as any other of Bradford’s art pieces provide for art critics.

And of course, I insist, you must NOT miss any opportunity you have to see Mark Bradford’s work in person, particularly if you find yourself, particularly with young people, at the lovely Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio. It is well worth the trip.

   

Kendra Yao