Earlier this month, I worked with artist and educator Mark Joshua Epstein to bring a group of workshop participants to view objects in the MoMA Library that are not typically associated with modern art: artist-made flip books. This visit was part of Making the Moving Image: Past to Present, a studio workshop about experimentation with animation techniques that predate the invention of cinema. I watched participants hold and manipulate the books and was struck by how the direct physical contact with an artist’s work makes visiting the library’s collection of artist books so unique. Read more
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you’ll know that MoMA has been experimenting with “pop-ups”—drop-in learning and art-making spaces—in closer proximity to the galleries for the past couple of years. These impromptu spaces are something that the Department of Education has long advocated for because offering hands-on activities helps visitors make connections to the art on view. Read more
This past Veteran’s Day I had an extraordinary experience at MoMA. Aaron Hughes, an artist and Iraq War Veteran, invited two small groups of strangers into an intimate exchange: he made tea for us. He made tea for us in what might seem a very strange place within the museum, on a bridge next to MoMA’s Walid Raad exhibition, near Take an Object, and in proximity to Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War one floor above—all of which include work that reflects artists’ responses to war. Walid Raad, a friend of Aaron’s, was excited that this would take place near his installation. Read more
The Education Department is passionate about engaging visitors with art and ideas, bringing people together and creating experiences in which the visitor becomes an active participant. Most recently, there has been an initiative to bring more participatory, hands-on, and creative experiences outside of classroom walls and closer to art in the galleries. For example, from May to September 2015, 16 “pop-up” art-making sessions took place right outside the exhibition Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works: 1953–1967. Each of the afternoon sessions was two hours long and open to anyone who wanted to take part. Read more
What would music made from a conversation between a robot and a drawing sound like? How can you improve someone’s day using only creativity and an old toothbrush? Can discarded electronics be repurposed to make a responsive video project about endangered species? Read more
The first day of class is always the worst. This summer’s In the Making program was no different. At nearly 10:00 a.m. on a sunny Tuesday morning in July, our new group of teens shuffled into the Museum silently, diverting all eye contact and slouching in their seats as if it made them invisible. But I knew them more than they realized. I’d carefully read each of their applications and typed their first and last names onto the official MoMA Teens ID cards they would receive as a first day rite of passage. Beneath their apprehensive facades, I knew they had shown up longing for a creative experience unlike any they had participated in thus far.
Before beginning my role assisting with all of the different aspects of MoMA’s teen programming two years ago, I taught traditional oil painting and figure drawing workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There, I witnessed the ways learning technical skills can empower students through providing the tools and confidence to visually represent the world around them. In MoMA’s In the Making programs, I’m seeing how a menu of experimental and nontraditional courses empowers students in exciting and different ways. In the spirit of the modernist artists in MoMA’s collection, our teen programs challenge and deconstruct the academic and traditional values that many NYC youth (and people of all ages) still firmly cling to when analyzing artistic quality and intent. We shake up their world, and the shy adolescents from the first day emerge totally unrecognizable after six short, intense weeks in the Museum.
This summer’s course offerings included You Think This Is a Game?!, which tackled sculpture through the lens of physicality, competition, and the antihero; Jaimie Warren’s House of Horror, which made comically gory GIFs re-creating horror clips and an elaborate cardboard kitchen installation exploring DIY techniques and the boundaries of good taste; The Surreal World, in which students delved into the subconscious through automatic drawing, assemblage, dream journaling, and the absurd; and CLICK@MoMA: Sight + Sound Lab, which involved creating audio and video mash-ups and album covers, many influenced by the visual culture of 1990s hip-hop and political events of our time.
Some might question the value of “scribbling” all over the walls or making crude sculptures with cardboard and tape. “How does that sharpen their artistic skills?” they might ask, or, “How does that experience prepare them for the real world? Why should they spend their summer in a studio when they could be prepping for the SATs?”
Personally, I also became seriously involved in art as a teenager. Growing up in suburban Atlanta, I always did well in class but often felt like I was just going through the motions. Art class was the one place where things weren’t simply wrong or right. This created an exciting challenge that led me to new and less narrow modes of thinking. In art class, I was fortunate to find a community that introduced me to the beauty of subjectivity, expression, and interpretation. It was an eye-opening, liberating moment in my development, and facilitating similar experiences for our young participants is a constant aim of mine.
Many of the teens I encounter are so accustomed to measuring themselves against their peers in one way or another, and it can be difficult to move beyond the binaries of good/bad or skilled/unskilled that are already rooted in their minds. I can relate, as it can be easy for me to slip back into this prosaic mode of thinking if I don’t actively keep it in check. Something I frequently find myself telling students (and myself) is, “Don’t compare yourself to others.” As basic and obvious as this statement sounds, I’m discovering it’s one of the most effective and empowering.In the Making aims to nurture very different kinds of skills than AP Art History or some academic figure drawing course might provide. Not because one type of skill is better than the other, but because they are equally valid. Our students don’t receive a certificate or school credit for their time with us, but they continue to come to the studio day after day to make cool stuff. Our classes may appear messy, chaotic, and strange, but this is exactly what creates an open-ended and playful space, nurturing new and overlooked skills such as radical thinking, idea execution, collaboration, and more. I feel our efforts to distance the program from the realms of grades, status, and measurability is the key to creating the transformative experiences and tight-knit communities I’ve seen emerge season after season. This open-endedness is one of the true gifts of the program, especially considering NYC is a city where students begin standardized testing in early elementary school. Freedom to experiment is not simply a perk of In the Making, but its lifeblood.
And just as the first day of class is the worst, the last week of classes is almost always the best, as the profound shift that took place over the past 18 sessions of studio time becomes intensely palpable. On the final day of class this summer, teen artists confidently occupied MoMA’s studio spaces, grabbing supplies and claiming whatever corner of the room they needed to frantically hammer the last nails into their sculptures or make the final edits on their video mash-ups. Playlists boomed out of the speakers, surrounding the buzzing chitchat of a focused and lively group. Some were having an intense critique in the mezzanine, while others decided to trash a piece they’d worked on for hours because they just weren’t feeling it anymore. When class time was up, no one wanted to leave.At our Teen Art Show opening two days later, one of our exceptionally thoughtful In the Making and Cross-Museum Collective alumni, Priya, gave us a handwritten thank-you note. Part of it read:
Before I left for school, I just wanted to let you guys know how thankful I am for the MoMA Teens education program. I truly do mean it when I say that being a MoMA Teen has changed my life. I don’t know if I’d even be studying art in college if it wasn’t for the confidence that MoMA Teen programming has given me…. Since my In the Making class last summer, I found my passion for art, discovered the teen art community in NYC & all the events available to me, learned more that I could ever imagine about the MoMA (aka my favorite museum in the universe), made friends who share the same passion as me & gained the confidence to pursue a career in the art field.
Beyond being rewarding and heartwarming to read, Priya’s note sums up the experience we hope to create for all of our participants. It is not our goal to have every student we work with go on to study art in college. But instilling confidence, rethinking possibilities, nurturing skills to execute ideas, and building communities will enrich any young person’s life, regardless of the path they pursue.
Extra special thanks to Calder Zwicky, Ali Santana, Zephyr Doles, Jaimie Warren, Sofia Dixon, Keith Mendak, Ray Ferreira, Leah Wolff, Esteban Jefferson, Guy Ben-Ari, Matt Roche, Adam Tetzloff, Chris Annibell, and OP Miller.
I have found that artists are not often invited to share their teaching methods with the public, which is mysterious since many contemporary artists not only work in education, but also consider it part of their artistic practice. What is interesting to me is that, when it comes to art and education, the discussion is not about whether it’s art but what happens when education is the work itself. Read more
Jaimie Warren is the creative force behind some of today’s most playful, beautiful, and viscerally beguiling video, performance, and photography projects. When Adam Parker Smith and I reached out to her last year to come in as a guest artist for our I Am a God: Artists, Obsession & the Cult of Celebrity Culture course, we immediately saw that she was the perfect collaborator and mentor for our community of young artists. Read more
“CHESS SET FOR PLAYING AS LONG AS YOU CAN REMEMBER WHERE ALL YOUR PIECES ARE.”
These are the words inscribed on a brass plaque on the underside of Yoko Ono’s original White Chess Set (1966)—a work that is currently on display in the exhibition Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 (open through September 7, 2015). In conjunction with this show, an exhibition copy of Yoko Ono’s celebrated work is installed and open for public engagement in MoMA’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden throughout the summer. Read more
How does artwork created within a specific cultural and political context connect with viewers across multiple generations and disparate locations? How can an institution remain relevant to contemporary audiences while maintaining a commitment to preserving and championing artwork from past generations? Shellyne Rodriguez and Kerry Downey are two longtime teaching artists working with MoMA’s Community and Access Programs who, in addition to their work across a wide range of educational groups, both run the majority of the Museum’s Community Partnerships Read more