Editor's Letter: Empowerment

posted on May 7, 2019

What’s your art teacher superpower? Do you have eyes in the back of your head (or have you convinced your students you do)? Do you present art problems that empower your students’ confidence in their ideas and skills and in their abilities to make their own choices whenever possible? Can you immediately switch gears to take advantage of a teachable moment or an unanticipated last-minute class time to fill?

Editor's LetterNancy with a mural at the Chimayo Elementary School in Chimayo, New Mexico. The power of public art in a school or community is that it demonstrates to students that art is valued and valuable.

Can you teach six or seven periods a day, often without a five-minute break in between each one? Do you eat lunch in your room while preparing for the next class or classes? Do you always have your radar on, looking for teachable ideas, both in and outside the artroom? If so, you are a powerful art teacher.

Compared to most classroom teachers, I do think art teachers wield more power in what they teach and how they interact with their students. For the most part, we are able to create, plan, and present lessons or art problems the way that we want. State and national visual art standards are written broadly enough to be met through many approaches of your choosing. Grade-level classroom teachers are more likely to have to use the same textbooks and teach the same lessons at the same time. Art teachers have more power in what they teach.

There are two other aspects of power in reference to teaching art that I would like to mention. One is the power of art as a universal visual language; another is how the concept of power is expressed through art. For the first, artist and philanthropist Olafur Eliasson believes that the power of art helps people to “not only get to know and understand something with their minds, but also to feel it emotionally and physically.” You can find many more examples online, but this is one of my favorites.

To further investigate how power is expressed in art, a good starting point is Art21. They offer free videos online based on the theme of power as it is reflected in the ideas and concerns of contemporary artists. Visit www.thirteen.org/programs/art21-2/art21-power/.

Art Power, a book by Boris Groys, an art critic, media theorist, and philosopher, examines the problem and potential of art’s complex relationship to power. Visit mitpress.mit.edu/books/art-power. No matter your approach to power, as a superhero art teacher, you are in the best position to empower your students. Your cape may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Email Nancy at NWalkup@DavisArt.com

View this article in the digital edition.