Integrating Art in the Online Classroom
September 12, 2016
Michael Hristakopoulos teaches high school social studies at a virtual school in Florida. This July, he participated in one of SAAM's summer teacher institutes, offered for English and social studies teachers interested in integrating American art into their curricula. This summer, 59 teachers from 22 states and Washington, D.C., participated in one of two week-long sessions. Michael fills us in on how he applied his experience here to his online teaching environment.
Visual art can be understood as an expression of the human experience. A reflection of our history, culture, and ideas over time, art has relevance to every area of study. In an era when many schools are struggling to keep their art programs alive, educators across all disciplines must be proactive about integrating art into their courses. And I am a strong advocate for the value of art in the social studies classroom. Taking time to examine artwork in class has the potential to bring classroom content to life, helping students think critically, make interdisciplinary connections, and find relevance to their own lives.
It was this type of interdisciplinary eye-opening that was my goal when I had students in my online American government class review Edward Hopper's taut, mysterious Cape Cod Morning. I had the pleasure of examining this work closely as a participant in one of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's week-long summer teacher institutes this July. And its subject matter naturally provokes relevant questions for a class of high school government students: Where do American women find themselves in 1950, at the time this painting was completed? What seems to be Hopper's message about women and the wider society? How can we read Cape Cod Morning as a precursor to the changes soon to come for American women? What about loneliness? Does Hopper's subject exalt modern life or critique it? This painting offers myriad points of departure for a discussion with any class, and I would argue that many paintings present the same opportunity for those who simply take time to look.
My classes, along with a rapidly growing number in our public school system, are taught online. Even more traditional classrooms are often incorporating online meeting spaces or digital content. Thanks to the efforts of museums like SAAM, incorporating artwork and museum resources is easier than ever. High resolution images, thoughtful criticism, and pre-made lesson plans broken down by subject and content area streamline integration of art into online platforms as well as traditional classrooms. My own short lesson on Cape Cod Morning, for example, is accessible as a collection on the Smithsonian's Learning Lab, along with hundreds more collections created by teachers and museum professionals.
In my online government class I chose to place Hopper's painting outside of the formal flow of lesson content, but still within the conceptual "learning space" of the class. My course is administered through the popular Canvas learning management system, and uses a feature called "Announcements," which allows the instructor to make a posting that is seen by every student at their next login. Students logging in can get their thoughts flowing simply by clicking on an image such as Cape Cod Morning, and answering a few provocative questions about how it could relate to lesson content. In order to keep their responses organized, I use a simple and editable online survey through Google Forms which enables me to view student responses in a spreadsheet, and review their reflections on the painting I have chosen.
Teachers in any number of other contexts could just as easily incorporate art into their curriculum. Just like art itself, the possibilities for digitized content and online applications are endlessly flexible. As educators, we owe it to students to ensure the arts and humanities remain part of their education, whether learning takes place online or in person. Institutions like SAAM offer a multitude of resources to help educators do this; but the final responsibility is with us to keep art alive for our students.
Material World: The Renwick Invitational
September 9, 2016
This year's Renwick Invitational features the work of four craft artists—Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask and Norwood Viviano—who share a common interest in the exploration of materiality, as well as the processes of transformation, decay, and rebirth. Whether they are working in clay, glass, wood, or bone, the artists set out to shape a world that references the past, yet owes its existence to an uncertain future. According to Nora Atkinson, the museum's Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, "These artists are united by a love of physical materials in a time when many objects are disappearing in favor of a virtual world."
Steven Young Lee remixes Eastern and Western aesthetics to create deconstructed ceramic works that explore beauty in the imperfect, often with a sense of humor. His Granary Jar exhibits a traditional Korean form, yet is painted with depictions of mascots from American breakfast cereals, including Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit. Kristin Morgan, too, references culture both high and low, using unfired clay to create trompe l'oeil sculptures and assemblages that explore nostalgia, obsolescence and the American dream. Think Mighty Mouse and Popeye and a James Dean-inspired car.
With the sensibility of a naturalist, Jennifer Trask creates jewelry and sculpture that uses fragments of bone, antlers, antique frames, and natural materials. Her poetic works show the world as both fragile and strong at the same time. In contrast to Trask's "world of nature" tableaux, Norwood Viviano is all about the city. His glass and metal works use cutting-edge technology to explore the nature of industry and the shifting populations of cities. He combines data from LiDAR scan technology, antique maps and historical census data,and employs techniques as varied as bronze casting, kiln-fusing, glass blowing and 3-D printing.
Interested in learning more about the artists? A series of free public programs will accompany the exhibition. Three of the artists will discuss their work at the Renwick: Norwood Viviano Thursday, October 13, at 5:30 p.m.; Kristen Morgin Sunday, October 30, at 2 p.m.; and Jennifer Trask Tuesday, December 6, at 5:30 p.m. Curator Nora Atkinson will present a gallery talk on the four artists on Friday, October 21, at noon.
Visions and Revisions: The Renwick Invitational 2016 is on view from September 9, 2016 through January 8, 2017.
Luce Unplugged: 5 Questions + 1 with Paperhaus
September 6, 2016
This September 8, we welcome Paperhaus back to the Luce Foundation Center as a part of Luce Unplugged, our free, monthly local concert series. In partnership with D.C. Music Download, we feature bands influencing the D.C. music scene now and highlight creativity happening within our own city. We decided to check-in with Alex Tebeleff from Paperhaus and dig deeper into the band's creative process.
Eye Level: When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?
Paperhaus: This project started many years ago, and has been under the current name Paperhaus for about 10 years. It started as a way to make highly collaborative creative music that still focused on songwriting. Currently, I'm the only original member left, but as long as there are people around willing to keep the original spirit of the band going, it's going to continue. This band is definitely an entity unto itself, informed by a lot of different kinds of creative people over a long period of time. I've been very lucky to have been able to work collaboratively with so many interesting and passionate artists over the years!
EL: Can you tell us about your creative process?
Paperhaus: There are two ways we write: either creating songs out of jams, or a song or musical idea is brought into the band and the band develops the rest of it together. Our new record-in-process is our first using the synthesizer extensively as a primary instrument, and it's definitely changed the way we write. For example, one song called "Walk Through The Woods" started with a synth arpeggio, which we have never done before, and the variations on the synth are what signal the changes in the song structure. There's also more traditional songwriting too, starting with an acoustic guitar and building from there. We are a bit all over the place, no rules as far as creative process is concerned.
EL: How would you describe the D.C. music scene and who are your major influences for your music?
Paperhaus: The D.C. music scene is mostly wonderful. It can be a little cliquish sometimes, but other than that it's highly collaborative and people really support each other. The quality of music has grown massively over the past few years, especially since I've been living in the city. And the house show scene really does a lot to keep the music scene alive. We've definitely been influenced by both the go-go and punk scenes that thrived in D.C. over the years. Growing up in this area influenced everyone in the band in that regard.
EL: All of you have been very influential in the underground music scene here in D.C. Can you tell us a little bit about D.C. Do It Together?
Paperhaus: DCDIT is a project that helps touring bands and locals who are trying to do something special find sustainable shows around the city. Definitely a labor of love. Music is pretty worthless without a strong community. It becomes extremely self-indulgent otherwise, and I use music to destroy my ego and rebuild it anew, not build it up! DCDIT is a great chance to meet different kinds of people with different perspectives all over the country, and help connect D.C. music to the wider music scene ecosystem.
EL: How can fans access your music and are you releasing any upcoming albums?
Paperhaus: We are working on a new album right now, and we'll be playing songs from that album at the show at Luce! You can listen to our previous album, our recent single "Silent Speaking," previous EPs and buy them as well over at Bandcamp.
Catch Alex and Paperhaus play September 8 at 6 p.m. after a staff-led talk on an artwork selected by the band. See you Thursday!
"Movies at SAAM" Continues This Fall
September 1, 2016
A big thank you to everyone who attended this summer's "Movies at SAAM"! With over 700 visitors, the program was a huge success. The summer may be over, but not our film series. This fall get ready for three extraordinary films, and some special guests.
September 10, SAAM will kick-off the fall season with a special Washington D.C. premiere of the documentary Awakening in Taos. This hour-long film focuses on the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan, an early 20th-century influential and progressive writer, salon hostess, art patron, and social activist. Director Mark Gordon and producers Katie Peters and Pat Hall will join us on stage after the show for a Q&A. Soon to be on PBS this winter, this special screening is not to be missed. And it's only at SAAM.
On October 1, "Movies at SAAM" will show Werner Herzog's award-winning documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. This film follows scientists into France's Chauvet Cave, where some of the world's oldest paintings have been preserved. Since new rules only allow researchers two-weeks per-year restricted access, this is a rare opportunity to see these 30,000 year old paintings.
In honor of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are showing the 1995 documentary Conjure Women on October 15. In this film, four extraordinary female artists attempt to reclaim their "Africanisms" through performance, song, and art. Conjure Women, directed by Demetria Royals, has been screened on PBS, at the American Film Institute, and won best Cultural Affairs Documentary at the Prized Pieces International Film and Video Festival.
Join us this fall on our journey through art history as we explore 30,000 year old cave-paintings, learn how Mabel Dodge Luhan used the land of Taos, New Mexico to influence many early 20th-century artists, and enjoy the thought-provoking performances of four African American artists.
All showings begin at 3 p.m. at McEvoy Auditorium, and are free to the public.
Carl Van Vechten: Harlem Heroes
August 25, 2016
When author and social commentator Carl Van Vechten focused his camera on the African American community of writers, artists, singers, athletes, and politicians in Harlem beginning in the 1930s, it was an eye-opening experience. Not only did he manage to capture key figures of the Harlem Renaissance often early in their careers, his portraits also provided a lens into the black community revealing a vibrant culture that was nearly invisible to the mainstream art world. Included in SAAM's exhibition, Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten, are his images of James Baldwin, Ossie Davis, W.E.B. DuBois, Ella Fitzgerald, Althea Gibson, Langston Hughes, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Bessie Smith. Of special interest to SAAM, the exhibition includes Van Vechten's portraits of Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Horace Pippin.
"I think it was my original intention to photograph everybody and everything in the world!" Van Vechten said about his work. In 1980, sixteen years after his death, the fragile 35mm nitrate negatives were transformed into handmade gravure prints by photographer Richard Benson and the Eakins Press Foundation. The painstaking and detailed process resulted in the album titled, 'O, Write My Name': American Portraits, Harlem Heroes, completed in 1983. Many of the photographs have not been on view since SAAM acquired them at the time.
In 1942, in an article for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's journal, The Crisis, Van Vechten wrote, "I have made myself during the past ten years, perhaps the largest group of photographs of notable Negro personalities ever made by one man." He would continue to document the lives of African Americans until his death in 1964.
Harlem Heroes is presented in honor of the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture next month.