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Learning as a Form of Art: Artists and Educators Overlooking the Sculpture Garden

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. With this in mind, I was thrilled to organize Open Table: Artists Working with Education—a two-part program at MoMA that aimed to bring artists, educators, curators, and Museum visitors together to discuss learning as a form of art. I set out to use the series as a means to explore the role of education in the production of meaning and how, within art, we learn collectively. Featured guests for the first program included artists Xenobia Bailey and Chloë Bass and curator Petrushka Bazin Larsen. The next Open Table includes artists Wendy Ewald and Pato Hebert and curator María del Carmen Carrión.

Open Table: Artists Working with Education, artists Xenobia Bailey and Chloë Bass in conversation with curator Petrushka Bazin Larsen. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, August 5, 2015. Photo: Athina Balapoulou

Open Table: Artists Working with Education, artists Xenobia Bailey and Chloë Bass in conversation with curator Petrushka Bazin Larsen. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, August 5, 2015. Photo: Athina Balapoulou

The format of this program needed to embody the pedagogical and experimental tone of the conversation. I envisioned it as an open table where guest artists could conceptualize what would be served in a way in which all visitors could participate. Providing food would make our visitors feel welcome, eating together would serve as a basic form of exchange, and the menu would function as a metaphor for artists creating conditions and spaces conducive to learning.

For our first conversation, on August 5, we offered platters of seasonal fruit—watermelon, plums, peaches, cherries, and grapes—in individual bowls, along with paper napkins bearing printed prompts to get us started. Visitors were invited to assemble their own fruit salad as a gesture that explored ideas of materiality, reuse, and combination. The simplicity of this activity became the fuel for an organic conversation.

Napkins designed by Chloë Bass. Photo: Chloë Bass

Napkins designed by Chloë Bass. Photo: Chloë Bass

Participants and visitors alike raised their hands to identify themselves as educators, artists, and/or activists. We talked about our work and our relationship to education. We also discussed how we improvise and move from one environment to another, from “research” to “understanding research”; from “creating systems when entering inhospitable environments,” to “make[ing] up new rules.” And we discussed how our napkins incited us to think: “There are more than enough tastes to mix.”

One takeaway for me was when Chloë Bass said, “My goal is to be uncomfortable and fundamentally changed at all times.” It left me thinking that education gives room to uncertainty. It brings to the table the well-being of not knowing. What collective learning in art projects addresses is the process by which audiences and artists experience and produce knowledge, and that the result is yet to be discovered.

We invite you to join our next conversation, on Wednesday, August 26, and you can also join us live on Twitter. This time, we’ll have Nutella and banana sandwiches—a fun snack that gives a nod to youth, as many of Wendy Ewald’s and Pato Hebert’s projects do. We hope you’ll come to the Sculpture Garden and talk with us. Like one of our visitors asked in the first program, “How are we learning?”

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