Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Conversation Starter for High School Art #2: Who Decides What Is Art?

Photograph:  Sander Roscoe Wolff.  Used with permission.
Visit the artist, view his art, and read his writing at his website,

Our school is an IB school.  Each of our units has a unit question, what some people may know as a guiding question.  This is a question to which you cannot 'google' the answer. It is also great for class discussions. The last question I posted (Who owns art?) resulted in a good discussion in my AP Art History class, one we will revisit in a couple of weeks when we begin learning about Greek art. One of the students was quick to point out that the Ishtar Gate might not have been kept safe had it been in Iraq.

Sometimes I get lucky.  I ran across the two articles for my next 'big question' within a few days of each other.  The first was this article, about how an artist was detained for taking photographs.  Sander Roscoe Wolff was detained by police on June 30 of this year for taking pictures of a refinery.  One of the pictures he shot that day is at the top of this post. I think it's really cool - my husband and I have bought similar prints (albeit postcard-sized - we have a limited art budget) from artists in the past. But apparently police can detain people who are taking photographs of things deemed to have 'no aesthetic value.' Who decides if the artist's subject is worthy? The police officer. Apparently, they watch for individuals not taking typically 'touristy' pictures.

One one hand, this kind of makes my blood run cold. It also reminds me of artists in Nazi Germany whose work was labeled 'degenerate.' They lost jobs, teaching positions, and some were forbidden to create art.  On the other hand, I don't want it to be easy for terrorists to come in and take surveillance photos of the local nuclear power plant in order to plan an attack.  These are two viewpoints that we will discuss in class.  And before we get too sidetracked from our main discussion, I plan to bring out the next article.

File:Bird in Space.jpg
Bird in Space, Constantin Brancusi,
photograph by Dennis Irrgang
Creative Commons License
In the mid-1920's, photographer and art collector Edward Steichen purchased one of Constantin Brancusi's bird sculptures, similar to the one seen here. Brancusi shipped his sculpture to Steichen, but in October of 1926 it got held up in customs. Instead of the duty-free admission that works of art received, it was detained as industrial material and taxed. Officials claimed that Steichen owed a tax of $229.35, over a third of Steichen's purchase price, and a big chunk of change for 1926. It took a court case and over two years before Steichen could get the tax dropped. The article I found is from Time Magazine, online here.  After reading it I found a great article with some entertaining quotes from the trial online here.

I can't wait to see how my kids respond to the discussion.

Original article I found about Mr. Wolff

Another article with more details

Another photographer who was detained by 8 policemen

Time Magazine article about the Steichen / Brancusi import tax

Article about Brancusi's work on trial for not being art

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Conversation Starter for High School Art #1: Who Owns Art?

My AP Art History class is studying Art of the Ancient Near East. I left them with this question: If Babylon was located where present-day Iraq is now, why is the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamom Museum in Berlin, Germany? I already know that one student is on the right track, and another is on the wrong track, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the conversation afterward. I plan to show them this article from May, 2002. It details how the Ishtar Gate was removed, and Iraq's attempts to have the gate returned to Iraq. At this point, I expect many of my students will agree, but then I plan to point out that this article was written less than a year before the US invasion of Iraq. They have already seen images of artwork labeled 'recovered' that were damaged between the looting of Iraq's National Museum and their recovery. Worse, some artwork is labeled 'missing' in the presentations I show my students.

I plan to close with this article, about the Iraq National Museum's reopening a couple of years ago.

I hope to discuss some of the following: Who owns art? Does it belong to the country in whose soil it is found? What if the sites are being looted by citizens of that country? Should it belong to the country that finances the archaeologists? What if it's art from the 'cradle of civilization' - shouldn't it belong to all of humanity, if we all have roots there? What if that country can't protect (or is in danger of losing) these antiquities? Should antiquities always remain in the country where they are found, or should they be spread throughout the world so that more people may view them?

We will revisit this conversation when we get to Greek Art. This time we will be discussing the Parthenon Marbles and Greece's attempts to have them returned from the British Museum.  The website linked here encourages classrooms to have a discussion about where the marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon, and to send in their results, which are then posted to the site.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Little Victories

This year, I am trying to break away from my normal method of teaching. Even though I try to integrate technology into the classroom and do fun projects with my students, I still rely on books, study guides, PowerPoint presentations with notes and class discussion, and videos.

Pros: I cover the material. The students (for the most part) learn the material.

Cons: It is not as engaging as it should be. Some students can't read at the level of others, some copy other's answers without ever looking at the material. The students like looking at the images and discussing them, but they don't like taking notes. And it's almost impossible to keep the entire class awake during videos (not that they are boring, but when you get up in the morning and see some of your students posting to Facebook at 3 am, you know how your cards are dealt).

This year, (4th block B day) one of my classes is ALL students who have had me before. One of them asked if we were going to take a lot of notes this year. I told them (as I tell all of my classes) that if they learned the material, I didn't care HOW we did it. They asked for no notes, I told them I'd try to think of a solution.

That evening, I decided I would offer all of my Art Appreciation II classes the option of blogging the important material and then viewing and discussing the PowerPoint and videos or taking notes during the PowerPoint and videos.

The next morning, I had my step-by-step instructions for using all written out. I explained the options to my 2nd block A day Art Appreciation II class. Blogs? No way. Just give us the PowerPoint and notes. I was floored. I discussed it with the other art teacher at lunch. "Maybe they're too lazy to do it - maybe they will be afraid it's more work." I didn't know. I told them that if they decided they wanted to try it in the future, I would be happy to do it with them.

Disappointed, I offered the same options to my 4th block A day students. Blogs? We get to get on the internet and make a webpage? They were all over it. I printed out a list of information that their blogs needed to have and showed them how to make a student blog. They were so excited! Once their blogs were published and they saw their 'webpage,' they were so proud! I encouraged them to write down the url so they could go home and paste it on Facebook or show it to their family.

The next day, I had the original class that asked for no notes, 4th block B day. I gave them the option, and their reaction was the same as 4th block A. They were so pleased. One student had to finish his at home because he couldn't find the perfect picture of Stonehenge! Afterward, we viewed my PowerPoint and a couple of videos of cave paintings, etc. Then came the most surprising thing - after watching and discussing this video of a man using Neolithic methods to build a concrete henge in his back yard, the students asked if they could build a scale model of Stonehenge! I was floored. And excited. Today my husband has been in his shop building a 24"x24" tray that's about 4" deep to hold our dirt and sod. And the students didn't just ask - they were excited about it! A couple of the students wanted to do it, and as soon as it was mentioned, the other students agreed.

I have to get with the math department - this is going to be a great interdisciplinary lesson.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

QR Codes (or, what is that funny little box?)

I put this on my syllabus for AP Art History. If you scan it with a barcode scanning app on your cell phone, it gives you a link to my webpage (not this blog, but my art webpage, The Bachuss Art Room Blog). I have a small class, and some of the students knew what it was, but my most outspoken student was quick to say, "what is that? I see those everywhere and don't know what they're for!" I pulled out my cell phone to demonstrate, and they thought it was very cool.

Currently, students are not allowed to have cell phones during class at my school. Luckily, this AP class will require study sessions and other things outside of class. I plan on adding QR codes to art posters, handouts, and art games and flashcards. They will be able to use them during study sessions, art movie nights in my classroom, and while doing homework. In a way, it's like a gimmick, but if it gets them to visit the website and read about the artwork, I'm all for it!

One of the middle schools in our district is testing a program where kids are allowed to have cell phones during class. I think it will probably come down to the attitude of the teacher. If the teachers make no effort to use them as educational tools, they may only be distractions. I have high hopes for this pilot program - I am very curious to see how it works out.

Check out this link for more on QR codes: "The best reources of using QRcode in the classroom"

A couple of us are planning to invade the chat room over at this Thursday, 8/18/11, at 6 pm EST / 5 pm CST to talk about using QR codes and other ways to use technology in the classroom. If you are reading this you are welcome to join us - the more people, the more ideas to share!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Linoit - Online Stickies for Teachers

Actually, Linoit is online stickies for anyone.  But they are particularly useful for me, as a teacher.  I have a hard time keeping up with things I need to do.  I used to have to-do lists everywhere.  One at school - heaven forbid if I took work home and forgot the to-do list - and one at home.  The at home one was usually divided up between things I wanted or needed to do in my artwork, and mundane stuff like paying bills or making a dentist appointment.  I find these old to-do lists everywhere.  I used to lose them all the time.  But no more.
Above you see my Linoit desktop for my school stuff.  I also have one for 'home' and 'art.'  I color code my school stuff by subject.  Things I need to do for Art Appreciation II are yellow, Art II is green, Ceramics and Crafts is blue, AP Art History is pink, and other is white or purple, depending on the type of item.

When I find out there is something I need to do, or if I have an idea I would like to try or research, I just stick it on a sticky note on my desktop.  When I get an email requesting something, I cut the relevant stuff and put it on a sticky until I have a chance to do it.  Nothing gets lost, and it's stored on the internet, so I can get to it from home, work, or my cell phone.

This has helped me become more organized and helped me to save the time I would otherwise be using hunting for my list!  I hope it helps you as well.

Best of all, Linoit is FREE!  Get your account at

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Teaching Creativity

Many of you may have seen the TED talk from 2006 where Ken Robinson discusses how schools kill creativity. A recent study seems to support his assertion. I have seen several articles this week about a 2010 study of 300,000 creativity tests (dating as far back as the 1970's) and the troubling results found by Kyung Hee Kim, a reasearcher at the College of William and Mary. Basically, since 1990, children have become less creative: less able to come up with unusual ideas, less imaginative, less humorous, and less able to elaborate on ideas.

Many people believe that this is a result of the high-stakes testing atmosphere prevalent in today's schools. Because of No Child Left Behind, educators are teaching to the test. And the test doesn't give you bonus points for a creative answer. The answers are right if you say what is expected, and wrong otherwise. There is no room for creativity.

I am fortunate enough to teach in a school system that values creativity. Creativity and curiosity are two of the core attitudes we try to build in our students. I teach at a high school that requires students to take some sort of fine art in both ninth and tenth grade. I know how lucky I am - many schools no longer have arts classes in this age of proration and funding cuts. But creativity should not be relegated to the arts curriculum. I believe that teachers in every subject should be teaching creativity. But how?

Use of digital media - the creativity study showed that one of the few areas where children were becoming more creative is in the use of digital media. We live in a digital world, that is only becoming more so, and the sooner educators embrace technology, the better able we will be to reach our students and prepare them for the future.

Teach deep, not shallow - yes, you have to cover all of that information for state testing. But in at least a few topics, go deep. Have the students understand all of the aspects of a problem. Have them brainstorm for solutions. Give them the opportunity to be creative problem solvers.

Use some self-fulfilling prophesy - humans are innately creative. Let your students know that they are creative beings. Reward creative solutions, even when it's not the solution you were looking for. Or ask for creative solutions in addition to the 'correct' answer.

Give some creative freedom - offer the kids freedom to design their own assignments or projects - if the sky is the limit, how far will they reach?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Back to School

School starts tomorrow. I am swimming in new ideas and ideas I want to revisit. Whole Brain Teaching, the flipped classroom, using social media to teach, and more. I have new classes this year, including an AP Art History class, for which the textbooks have not arrived.

I have decided to spend the year doing whatever it takes to get my ducks in a row for the future. Recording videos, making powerpoints, organizing my room - if I have to stay until 6 pm everyday for a year, eventually it will be worth it.

I plan to make more use of google docs, linoit, delicious, teacher tube, and the google art project. If I would use these tools consistently, they would make my life easier!

In advocacy: a webpage is counting the cost of cut arts funding to the economy in Great Britian. Check it out at Lost Arts.

As part of all of these big plans, I also want to blog regularly. Other goals include making a video to submit for next year's Google Teacher Academy and finding out how to become a STAR Discovery Educator when our system no longer pays for an account with Discovery Education. Pfft.