Thursday, 8 August 2013

#artinquiry: Week 2 – Close looking and Open-ended Inquiry

Instructions and Content:
For this week, I recommend that you first do your required Week Two reading. Then watch the introduction and lecture videos and the Google Hangout, exploring examples of guided discussion questions. The end of the week Quiz will be based on the reading.  In addition, you have a required forum discussion assignment.   

Bill Brandt (c1938) Billingsgate Fish Market

Big Ideas For Week Two: 
Close Looking and Open-Ended Inquiry 

Week Two Components:
·                 READING (see below)
·                 INTRO VIDEO:
·                 LECTURE VIDEO: 
·                 GOOGLE HANGOUT VIDEO:  
                 1. Discussion of artwork of Cindy Sherman & 
                 2. Discussion of artwork of Martin Kipperberger
·                 DISCUSSION QUESTION:
·                 QUIZ:

Required Reading: 

Required Discussion Forum Questions:
Browse through MoMA's online Collection and choose an image that inspires you in some way. Research some information about the work of art using and/or other online sources. Please upload a thumbnail image of your selected artwork by using the "Attach an Image" option. For your forum post, respond to these questions: What drew you to this work of art? What information were you able to find out about this work? If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students?

This week things got a little bit more interesting…
Although I trained to be a secondary school teacher I mainly taught adults in the tertiary sector before moving into University teaching. I have always taught by discussion, engagement and activity, and have found it interesting to see what providers in different sectors have to say about teaching and learning now. Whilst I was perturbed at the notion of being able to measure IBL and critical thinking (rather than challenge measurement per se) I have been enjoying the IBL ride. But now #edcmoocers, Ary Aranguiz and  Cathleen Nardi have arrived and they, with people like Matthew Craig, *are* from the school context – and really happy to wade in with their critiques of all this tutor-led and tutor-controlled discussion. Here are their suggestions for alternative reading to counter this:

Postman’s ‘Teaching as a subversive activity’

Raphael and Au’s 'Accessible Comprehension Instruction through QAR’

The Teaching Channel’s video on encouraging the student voice:

And one really old text that I recommended in the forum was:
James Herndon (1970/74) The way it spozed to be: a year in a ghetto school Pitman – which inspired me when training to be a teacher in the late seventies.

Anyway – still did the reading – and here some reading notes (more below):

This is an interesting article with practical examples designed to help those perhaps unsure of how to teach through discussion to know when to seed with critical data student discussion about a piece of art – and when to let the students discuss for themselves. Our art is in knowing when the information will seed further insight and engagement and when it might silence real engagement telling the student that their point of view is at best unnecessary and at worst unwelcome. Hubard’s tips include be comfortable with the discussion method. And teachers more used to telling than discussion will find the shift to a more discursive method quite challenging.

My tip is to know how to support discussion. When I first taught English Literature in the same way that is suggested in this piece in re art, I used to get the students the read a poem or prose piece – then I would just throw the discussion open to the class as a whole. This often led to painful silence – then ‘the usual suspects’ might speak … everyone would become frustrated with the silent ones thinking that they were un- or disengaged and there for a free ride – eventually those who did speak would fall silent, resentful at ‘doing al the work’. I realised that the silent ones were not necessarily lazy or disengaged, but probably too frightened to make themselves vulnerable in this critical space. I used a pyramid discussion system (sometimes known as think, pair, share), where students would think deeply on their own, share their thoughts in pairs, develop them in fours – then hold forth in a plenary. Once I harnessed this, discussion did happen and my trick, as Hubard suggests, was knowing when to pop in additional information to push the discussion further. (More of Hubard’s tips in detail, below.)

After the reading…
We watched two Google Hangout discussions between high school students ( I think) about a Cindy Sherman photograph (Untitled film still #3) and a Kipperberger piece from his ‘Dear artist paint for me' series. In this process we could see active inquiry, open questioning and reflecting back and clarifying in action. It was really interesting hearing the students discuss the works, especially the Sherman piece, which they leapt into in a really engaged and perceptive way.  I did feel uncomfortable with the way the tutor validated or invalidated the student contributions with the yes or hmmmm – or the re-phrasing or lack of re-phrasing. Really supporting student enquiry requires more bravery than that… But not a bad place to start for those completely unsure of how to even start supporting discussion.

Our task for the week: browse the MOMA collection – choose and research an artwork and answer the following questions: What drew you to this work of art? What information were you able to find out about this work? If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students?

Image chosen:
Billingsgate Fish Market by Bill Brandt c 1938

What drew you to this work of art? 
I searched through MOMA’s entire collection and chose pictures of images that just appealed to me. I then went to ‘my collection’ and found that of MOMA’s 1004 images I had selected just 24 – one of a sculpture, 22 of paintings and one photograph, a B&W image by Bill Brandt. The B&W photograph drew my eye the most – it was a stark shot of Billingsgate fish market taken in 1938. What drew me to the picture that it was of working men given the dignity of their work through the picture itself. I found that this was the image that I wanted to investigate further – because it captured working class people – and their work.

What information were you able to find out about this work?
I searched the photographer on Wikipedia and discovered that Bill Brandt is credited with being ‘one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century’ ( – and it pleased me that someone who did photograph London and working people had achieved that status.

I could not discover much about the work itself – and even MOMA gives very little information on the picture itself beyond the technical (

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904–1983) Billingsgate Fish Market Date: c. 1934 Medium: Gelatin silver print Dimensions: 11 5/8 x 9 7/16" (29.6 x 23.9 cm) Credit Line: The Family of Man Fund MoMA Number: 659.2012 Copyright: © 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

But Wikipedia is interesting on the photographer and his life including that he was influenced by Man Ray who was loosely affiliated with the Dadaist and Expressionist movements. Dadaism was very anti established art and its implicit lies. This indicates that Brandt was seeking to capture a different sort of ‘truth’ via his photography. This is the angle that I might like my students to investigate further.

If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students?
I would ask students to look at the picture and consider just literally what it is and what it is about. I would encourage them to develop this by detailing what drew their eye, what attracted them to – or repelled them in – the picture itself. Once they had thought about the picture on their own, I would ask them to share in pairs.

I might feed in some of these sorts of questions:
Do you like the picture or not – can you say something about that? Does this picture surprise you in anyway – can you say something about that? How far is this a work of art – how far is it a documentary picture? Can documentary work also be considered art? What do you think is the role of art and/or documentary? How far does this picture achieve what you think are the aims of art and/or documentary? Why do you think that? If you were an artist – what subjects would you choose to paint/photograph and why? If you were to choose to represent the lives of ordinary people – how would you set about your project? What sort of things do you think you would document and why?

I would ask students to share their ideas in groups of four – and then we would have a plenary session – either capturing ideas myself on the board in a large pattern note – or asking a student volunteer to do so.

If we were engaging in formal project work on documentary photography or realism or art of the twentieth century… I might set the students follow up tasks along the lines of researching this artist – and those topics on Wikipedia – and get them to report back what they had discovered – why it was interesting – any problems or issues they had with terminology… I might recommend that they also look up Man Ray and Dadaism and consider how they might embrace or refute the ideas of those schools in their own work.

I could then get students to take forward a documentary project of their own – and to produce their own exhibitions – perhaps answering the questions that we had to answer in our Introduction to Art MOOC:
  1. Explain your process (medium and technique).  How was it made?  Which art materials and approaches did you use and why?
  2. Describe the idea behind your artwork.  What story or message does it get across?  What does it mean to you?
  3. Why did you create it?  What are your reasons for creating that specific art piece?  What do you want your audience to feel and think while observing it?

After thinking about all this – I really would like to use this photograph to initiate just such a project!!

More on the reading:
If you are already really comfortable with teaching by discussion – excellent – if not you might like to read on for my summary of Hubard’s Tips on what to say – or not say – to support IBL:

1: Be as informed as possible about the piece in question.

2: Consider the value and relative value of your information – and what it offers. She gives the example of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) – what is more important – that Guernica was bombed during the Spanish civil war – or that Picasso had five wives? Not all information is equally relevant or pertinent…

3: Link to themes: if studying via a thematic approach – link the piece to the theme – she cites theme – identity, Rembrandt self-portrait…

4: Be wary of autobiographical data – and the psycho-analysis of: Pollack dripped paint because he was an enraged drunk…

5: Be mindful of gossipy information: Van Gogh’s ear, so and so was raped… However if the information adds possible insight to the work – do use that – she cites Kahlo’s 1940  ‘Self-portrait with cropped hair’ which may benefit from knowing about the artist’s troubled relationship with her husband. As with literature however autobiographical details are only one window on a work.

6: Consider the relevance of information to particular audiences – what might inform an adult audience may be completely irrelevant to kindergarteners.

Encourage Looking for information
1: Many critical texts will describe an artwork – but students can do that for themselves – encourage their own descriptions.

2: Consider when to use formal descriptors or taxonomies or classifications – and when to get students to produce their own by looking.

3: Consider when to answer student questions – and when to get them to arrive at answers by more observation and discussion.

Using knowledge: the importance of timing
1: Too soon and you silence discussion – too late and you are saying, ‘Okay – and here’s the *right* answer.’

2: Get the feel for when a moment is right. She cites discussion of Mondrians’  (1942-43) ‘Broadway boogie woogie’ – if discussion is hinting at its similarity to an aerial photograph – insert that Mondrian was inspired by the energy and music of 1940’s Manhattan. Perhaps then seed with further questions: How could the picture be said to resemble a busy street? How is it different?

3: Allow discussion of ambiguity – and insert data. For example, Hubard suggests that in ‘Winter Play’ (circa 1130s-60s) by So Hanch’en, students often wonder whether the characters are two boys or a boy and a girl – when appropriate, insert that you know that they are boy and girl – and prompt further discussion.

Facts and interpretation
1: Distinguish between facts and pre-existing interpretations – and acknowledge that the critical interpretation of others do not constitute facts. Discuss how other interpretations can seed their own discussions and understandings.

2: Discuss the artist’s own commentary as an interpretation not a fact. Munch entitled his 1893 picture of a man and woman embracing ‘Love and Pain’ – others see it as a vampiric woman sucking the life out of a man… Which is true? Are they both true? Hubard cites Eco (1989) and Gadamer (2000).

3: Titles can be descriptive or interpretative – discuss them as such…

Cultural meanings
1: Re ‘The death of the demoness Putana’ circa 1610 – Hubard describes how students tend to describe the statuette as a naughty elf misbehaving, not sharing that it is the baby Krishna killing a demoness would constitute misinformation.

2: Different readings do not necessarily indicate cultural insensitivity; and richer discussion can emerge when cultural referents are shared.

3: Fresh observations upon culturally specific artefacts are not therefore ‘wrong’ – and can yet generate fresh insights…

What viewers bring
1: Viewers bring a wealth of information, opinions, gossip… with them – integrate what is useful, challenge what is not so helpful – invite discussion…

2: Help viewers assimilate information – if entering MOMA – some may realise therefore that the art might be ‘modern’ – others will not. Ask questions to see what people have realised – and help them to take advantage of the information that surrounds them.

3: Do not assume knowledge – and explain terminology…

4: Be attuned to your audience, be flexible in your approaches – suit your methods to your people.

Olga Hubard’s final words:
Dialogue with artworks operate on many levels: between viewer and work; between different viewers; and that which is covered in her paper – the:
‘back-and-forth that can exist between meanings that are individual, and meanings that are embedded in larger socio-cultural traditions. By allowing these meanings to inform and enrich each other, teachers can help students build deeper and more significant relationships with art.’ (Hubard (2007; 22) ‘Productive Information: Contextual Knowledge in Art Museum Education in Art Education, 2007, 60(4), pgs. 17-23.

Cited references:
Eco, U. (1989). The open work (A. Cancogni, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gadamer, H. G. (2000). Truth and method. New York: Continuum.

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