Article: Artists Who Teach: Imagination to Praxis

By Christina L. Turczyn

Stationed in front of one of his large self-portraits, the artist Chuck Close raised his customized wheelchair to balance on two wheels, seeming to defy the laws of gravity. The chair’s unlikely gymnastics underlined the points that Mr. Close was making to his audience, 40 seventh and eighth graders from Bridgeport, Conn.: Break the rules and use limitations to your advantage.

Patricia Cohen

–New York Times Arts (December 18, 2012)

In the process of browsing the web several years ago, I was elated to discover that a campus group at the University of Freiburg remembered words from a poem I had written, while a Fulbright Scholar there. Although I last studied at Freiburg in 1982-83, the group had chosen “Irritation is the source of thought” as an image that might promote the discussion of vital, yet challenging topics. On the roster for the planned colloquium were a number of issues concerning diversity initiatives. I was moved and humbled by this unlikely recollection.So many years had passed, and yet–a dialogue about inclusiveness came alive.A grain of sand became pearl.

I was reminded that poetry is, at times, a universal language–that images, or the spoken word, enrich understanding in ways that mere text cannot. That visual art and theater take individuals beyond inchoate joy, or trauma, through reaching beyond language and its borders, memory and its tense. I had taught poetry for many years, and often asked myself: What is the role of the imagination in the process of self-affirmation and expression? Without infusing an existing language with imagination–as well as with the survival that imagination allows–survival itself, that reckoning beyond the given moment, is not possible. Images, as opposed to metaphors, have a spatial dimension that resists hegemonic narratives of colonization. Why else would visual art be so unsettling to totalitarian regimes?

This specific area of educational inquiry is, I believe, one of innovation and change, a space in which artistic practice meets educational promise.  A most recent New Jersey Arts Education Census Project report, titled Keeping the Promise-Arts Education for Every Child: The Distance Traveled–The Journey Remaining (2012) concluded that “students who had high arts involvement in high school were three times more likely to receive a bachelor’s degree than students with low arts involvement”(5). The issues raised here arise from the context of current educational developments involving the connection between the imagination and problem-solving, as well as from my own, theoretical and practical work in innovative education. In 2011, the Lincoln Center Institute hosted America’s Imagination Summit. In 2012, the Council on Foreign Relations issued a Task Force Report (68) that emphasized the need for increased global awareness in curricula. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills fosters “creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, communications, and collaboration.” Turnaround: Arts, an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, provides tremendously exciting, new directions for arts education.

———————————————————————  Do you believe that the presence of “outside” voices and new ideas adds to the multidimensional life of educational approaches? Do artists in education contribute to the diversity of institutions, in light of their unique, creative perspectives?