Aesthetics in the Classroom – Is it Art?

This week I wanted my students to consider the question, “Is it art?”. I explained the process for the week to them: after viewing the ‘Artist of the Day’ video, they would answer this question about each video; they would talk about it together in small groups then decide their personal opinion.  Here are the 4 videos I chose that I hoped would push their thinking about art:

After viewing each video, I gave each table group a survey form to fill out. I asked them to discuss it with their table mates, then place their name in either the yes or no box to indicate whether they thought the work could be considered art. There was another box for them to list reasons why they thought it was or wasn’t art. This method encouraged both group discussion and they had the ability to express their personal opinion as well.

Their responses were interesting – here’s a sampling of what they thought (space constraints are such I can’t list all of their comments, so I’ll do my best to summarize their thinking):

Elephant Painting: (133 yes, 9 no)The reasons for it being art included:

    • everything can be a work of art
    • the elephant is expressing thoughts and feelings through painting
    • the elephant has talent
    • he used the elements of art in his painting (line, color…)
    • he did better than I could
    • humans are not the only ones that can make art

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • the elephant has been trained
  • only humans can make art
  • the art is taught, it’s not expressed
  • it’s a fake

Yarn Bombing (101 yes, 48 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • anything can be art
  • there’s meaning behind it (to foster community unity)
  • includes the elements of art (color, texture…)
  • comes from the heart
  • incorporates design

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • yarn is not art
  • the color is not thought out
  • knitting is a hobby, not art
  • it doesn’t express
  • it’s just random stuff in public places

Andy Goldsworthy (129 yes, 11 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • nature is art (and can be used in art)
  • he expressed himself and used imagination (& divergent thinking)
  • it makes you think
  • includes the elements of art (texture, color….)
  • it’s beautiful, creative and unique
  • he used one thing to make another thing

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • it’s random and in weird places
  • he’s just rearranging nature
  • it’s just nature (nature not art?)
  • nature is already art
  • it’s photography

Plastic bag installation (85 yes, 65 no) – The reasons for it being art included:

  • it’s a new type of art
  • it creates a message
  • used something simple to make something interesting
  • conveys a message that can be interpreted different ways
  • uses the elements and principles
  • art doesn’t have to have a purpose)

The reasons it wasn’t art:

  • it’s just plastic bags and looks like pollution and trash
  • lacking in emotion or purpose
  • it’s just tying plastic bags together and anyone can do that
  • it’s not a painting or drawing
  • there’s not purpose and it has no emotion

I’m not sure I could have predicted these responses and comments, though I suspected they might question the yarn bombing and plastic bag installation as being art (and that’s why I chose those videos).  I was pleased that they thought more deeply about why they felt the way they did.  I still got a few “amazing” and “boring”, but very few overall.  They shared their thinking with each other and evaluated for themselves if it was art or not.  And by having my little survey form, I got to see how really juicy their thinking was – much more than if we had had a class discussion.

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