Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and GamersCoursera course by Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D Dean at CalArts.
This course asks how artists actively make a history for their own practices by thinking about their creative process as a “conversation” with a wide range of art from the past.
.As the flow of the MOOC passed through time and ideas interweaving lecture and images, I thought of my creative teaching as well as my artist-creativity. My creative-artist self responded to lectures as a conversation about the elements of each piece coming together to form a whole telling unique stories. The lectures grounded artists’ visual stories in their time and culture. This art historical storytelling gives me a greater appreciation for my own culture in which I make art and in which other contemporary artists create. My big take away is that I feel more confident that I understand many of the dynamics of artmaking in my own time. On the other hand, as a teacher I feel more strongly that my students are of another generation and another cultural soup. Although we are alive at the same time, my students’ experience of life and art is so different from mine that it exists as a different culture. The more I respect that difference, the better I can teach the constants that flow from artist to artist through the generations. I was able to glean good background stories that will help my students better engage in historical artwork because I can link a historical artwork or artist's life to an origin story that students can relate to.
One of the times that surprised me was when Jeanne explained about the first presentation of Jacques Louis David's Intervention of the Sabine Women. I pictured David's studio with the huge painting and the row of large mirrors on the opposite wall placing the viewer into the painting. Today when you see the painting you also see viewers' backs and their raised cell phones. I would love for a museum to recreate that original mirrored installation. The description of the original installation of David’s painting reminded me when I was fortunate to visit the Venice Biennale last year and visited the Korean pavilion full of mirrors.
http://www.designboom.com/art/kimsooja-korean-pavilion-at-the-venice-art-biennale/ . Viewers went inside the artwork in which mirrored panels were cleverly angled to give your surprises wherever you looked. There was a contrasting room of darkness. Remembering the Korean Biennale installation of darkness and mirrors, I think of the Intervention of the Sabine Women’s installation full of mirrors being conceived when David was in the darkness of jail. This contrast helps to bring more meaning to the work than is visible in its current hanging or by seeing its photograph in a web gallery.
Adding this story of the artist in jail and the artwork's first showing to the story inside the painting brings the art history into a relatable human context. I can tell this story to students who are training to become game designers and animators and ask, "Where can "mirrors" be designed into the game or animation to bring the player or audience further into the story?"
In addition, I ask students to do gesture drawings from mythological stories as homework. Like history painting, this assignment gets them researching visual representations that represent myths that have been interpreted many times through the generations, including in the industries of game art and animation. I call this “stealth art history”. I don’t point students to resources, but encourage them “cheat” by finding inspiring pre-existing images from each myth. When they come up with a particularly interesting gesture pose it is usually directly related to another artists’ interpretation. At that point we open the conversation, ask the student to invite his or her source material into the room and we discuss art through the ages in the service of storytelling.
The variety of interpretations of the assignments pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed thinking through the ways that different students in the MOOC responded to the same challenge in such different materials, sizes, and interpretations. I was one of those students that missed the first round of evaluations and made up for it by doing more than six assessments for the other two. Using the qualitative assessment pattern of observation, description, and analysis for such a variety of assignments gave me a consistent lens through which to arrange my responses. My favorite part of doing the assessment was seeing the work of other students, but I also really enjoyed the final optional opportunity to find a recommended resource for a student based on their submission. For example, I was able to point a student to Brancusi’s Bird in Space in response to one small sculptural birdlike bent metal submission with photos from several angles. Also, I saw many more variations of Las Meninas than I ever thought could be!
The feedback I received showed me that my fast gestural drawing style is not all that easy to appreciate. I have been teaching myself some digital drawing tools and techniques so I did experimental variations of gestural digital drawings using 2 iPad drawing apps in response to the assignments. I have a confident stroke and like surprises and messy bits in my work. The feedback I received tended to encourage me to keep working on my pieces, I assume until they get closer to realism. So in my case the feedback tended to want to move me toward a less experimental approach, which I find interesting. I fully intend to keep messing up as I blunder my way through digital layers of art-making experimentation. I’m pretty sure I’m not headed toward realism, but you never know until the AhHa! happens.
I really appreciate the time my fellow MOOC participants took to look at and analyze my work. And I enjoyed reading about the analysis of the work of others. The qualitative analysis prompts offered a consistent scaffolding for thousands of MOOCers to increase their critical thinking and writing skills. As a teacher I especially enjoyed contemplating the 3 questions for the artist based only on the submission. Some artists gave a few verbal clues to the work and some artists didn't write anything. It was exciting to open the "Evaluate another student?" button and be pulled into a new and different aesthetic interpretation of the same set of assignment instructions. Thank you, Live! team