Thursday, September 17, 2009

12 Hours a Month

First things first:

Picture of My Father Modeling Jackets, 2009:

So summer is over, and the new school year has begun, and for 12 hours every month, I have the privilege of teaching Introduction to Art Concepts at Santa Ana College again, for the third time now.

Beings that that is my only official obligation for the time being, I have much time to think about the class and even more time to prepare for it. I have decided to use the blog here to post my thoughts and strategies on how I present the information of the class, in the order I typically give it. Now I understand that for many of you out there (all 4 of you that actually read this) this information is as basic as it gets when thinking, chatting or writing about art. What I’m hoping is for a dialogue to occur that will help me fine tune my approach to the class, or at the very least, my personal thinking about the topics discussed.

So what is this class? To begin with, it is a lecture class, frequently an option for filling a humanities requirement, and is often referred to as “Art Appreciation”. I never took it myself in college, as taking two semesters of art history survey was the preferred option for actual art majors. In some schools it is viewed as “diet art history”, i.e. for non-art majors, though the content as I teach it I could see as very valuable to beginning art students (though the overwhelming majority of my students in this class are not art majors. Not yet, anyways.). In the class we discuss topics such as what art is, why art is made, how art is talked about, what the different mediums of art are, and a brief survey of the history of art all over the world, though from the general point of view of the Western tradition. The meta-structure of the course is basically two tiered, split at the midterm, with the definitions of art and how it is talked about coming first, and a fast forward survey of art history coming second.

I begin by trying to get an idea of what the students think art is in the first place. The inevitable first response when I pose the question is “paintings”, with sculptures and other general disciplines following . I try to show how while music, literature, and theatre are indeed art, it is visual art specifically we deal with. I show them the following series of images, discussing with them on each whether they think it is art or not.

Some of them will catch on and notice that the things that I lean towards being art in the sense that pertains to the class have labels, while the two that aren’t exactly what were talking about (Wolverine and the Aqua Teens) don’t. I use the metaphor of a scale with art being on one end and “not art” being on the other and try to get the students to place the things on the scale. This is all on the first day, and it gives me a good idea of their preconceived notions, and them a good idea of what it is were going to be looking at during the semester. Issues of art verses entertainment comes up, as does art verses illustration, art verses commerce, art verses advertising, art verses function, art as a designation of value and art verses craft. I try to explain that if culture was a corporation, art would be the research and development department. Things that are artful but not vying for the critical discourse of the institutions of fine art (or have been recognized as having a place in it) could be described as the marketed products of the corporation of culture; i.e. having been influenced and heirs, perhaps, of the developed research from art – culture’s R&D department. I also try to stress the point that declaring something as art is not a value judgment. In other words, it’s ok if something isn’t art in the sense that we’re talking about, its value may be judged in some other context. If art was good and “non-art” is bad, then what does the phrase “bad art” mean? Another example I make is of a Venn diagram of sorts where a big “art” circle representing the major painting / sculpture expanded paradigm is overlapped with to varying degrees with other circles such as photography, architecture, film, and others. Everything within the big circle including the overlaps is what we look at during the semester.

Next: Aesthetics, the Western tradition, and what do artists actually do, and the idea of creativity.

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