Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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May 11, 2009

Contemporary Art in the Classroom

If you’re school district is anything like my district, all the talk is about 21st Century Thinking Skills. If you are anything like me, you might say to yourself that “I have been teaching this set of thinking skills since I started teaching art.” It seems that the 21st Century has caught up to Art Education. The type of thinking that happens in an art classroom is now attractive to educators and the business world, alike.  Now that we have some attention, what can we do with this positive recognition?


This past Saturday, I took a small group of elementary classroom teachers to art galleries in the Chelsea region of NYC. This group of teachers has been participating in a Study Group that I proposed for my district entitled “Contemporary Art and Its Impact on the Classroom.” We have been spending the past month investigating the artwork that is being created by contemporary artists and exploring ways of using this artwork in our elementary classrooms. Part of our charge is to identify the themes that artists like Yayoi Kusama, Liao Yibai, Chantal Joffe, and Albert Oehlen are exploring in their work. Our challenge is to take these enduring ideas and conceptualize them into a language that is accessible to elementary aged students. While an artist like Liao Yibai may tackle ideas of the myth and threat of America during and immediately following the Cultural Revolution, a second grade student would better be able to explore the enduring idea of community. 


 While discussion of big ideas and unit plans is always engaging, what has been most impressive about this venture into the city with my colleagues is their reaction to the art we are looking at. Instead of asking, “What is it?” we are asking the question “What is it about?” (I have to admit that I stole this line of questioning from Joe Fusaro, senior education advisor at Art:21). The more profound comment that Rosanne Cirasella (2nd Grade Teachers) made at the end of our day was that she “felt smarter.” And that is the kind of impact that art education can have on people. So my question to everyone is, how are you trying to share the kind of thinking that happens in the arts with the other educators around us?



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