SchoolArts Room

Teaching with Art Here and Now

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Sep 10, 2017

A wise professor I know once said that art reflects the times in which it was created. Is it any wonder that contemporary art today can be challenging, disturbing, or difficult to understand? Nevertheless, it is important that it be addressed in the art room. I asked our contributing editors to share their reasons why:

One way to bring in contemporary art is to invite artists into your art room. Nancy is pictured here with Issa Nyaphaga, a cartoonist, artist, and activist born in Douala, Cameroon. Issa is committed to social justice and to the idea that, while serving the right causes, art should make people happy, inspired, and moved.
We need to teach contemporary art because our students are contemporary artists. For a holistic understanding of what it means to be an artist, they will need to understand not just where we have been, but where we are in order to help them develop the critical thinking skills to help them imagine where we can go.
David Gran
When students learn that an artist is alive, living in the same world as they are, the artist and the work become far more interesting, relevant and real to them. They are more likely to see people involved with art making as ordinary humans who navigate and negotiate daily life activities much like they, the students, do. They also are more likely to understand art making as a viable way to express their own ideas and feelings, to connect with their own community, and perhaps to make a difference in the lives of others.  
Marilyn Stewart
I think it’s important to teach with contemporary art because students are able to make connections and see themselves, as well as engage with images that reflect their own experience. Contemporary artists that can clearly articulate how their work connects to living in these times, these spaces, are indispensible to art educators because they allow us the opportunity to say to students, “Your voice is important, too,” not just the voices of famous white guys that often get have “projects" named after them.
 Joe Fusaro
Many contemporary artworks embrace big ideas and celebrate multiple interpretations rather than focusing on media or technique. Because of the ambiguity often associated with contemporary art, it sometimes can be intimidating to viewers. This same vagueness, however, offers students and teachers opportunities for deeper discussions, sharing of ideas, and reflection upon changes in perception. It’s this richness of person-to-person communication that makes teaching through contemporary art a valued part of any classroom.
Pam Stephens
I believe bringing Contemporary Art into the art curriculum is a necessity. Exposing students to varied processes, media, and ways of critical thinking aids in their own artistic and personal growth. Using Contemporary Art as a platform for discussion and debate is a great way to challenge their personal views regarding what is happening around them, on social media, and in their community. Contemporary Art is such an effective vehicle for sharing their voices.
Frank Juarez
Teaching with contemporary art offers opportunities to engage students in new strategies and approaches for making sense of and reinterpreting the world around them.  Students can use art to research something they are curious about and in the process build interdisciplinary connections across subject areas in the school curriculum.
Craig Roland
Contemporary art is the sounding board for our visual culture. By teaching and sharing this with our students it empowers and allows them to develop opinions about our society.  This engages the student with purpose and intent allowing them to create and study works of art that can change the climate of our people, culture, politics, and communities.  If a student is doing that, they are learning far more than basic art, but maybe for the first time considering humanity as a whole, seeing outside of their small box.  
Nicole Brisco
What do you think? How are you are using contemporary art with your students?
Many thanks to contributing editor Nicole Brisco for co-editing the October 2017 issue of SchoolArts on contemporary art.