Does art need a point?

Our guest blogger this week is Kerry Shea, Director of Marketing and Communications. Kerry visited Becky Daniels’ Upper School Art History class and came away with great admiration for our students and their ability to tackle ambiguous and challenging ideas.

“Does art need a point?” Olivia asked in the middle of a thought provoking discussion in Becky Daniel’s Art History class this week. Ms. Daniels asked students to bring in a piece that is generally accepted as art, but he or she does not think is art. Students reviewed each work, debated if it qualified as art, and explored the broader question of how to define art.

The conversation started with a lively discussion of Barnet Newman’s Onement 1. The simple, modern painting, with two brown rectangles and an orange line through the middle, had students talking about the skill required to create art. To one student, the painting did not seem to take much skill at all, but another pointed out that creating abstract paintings is harder than it appears. Students analyzed the painting in historical context, and they made connections to poetry they read in other classes.

Conversation transitioned to a review of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. The discussion mirrored the debate that rocked the art world in 1917 when Duchamp unveiled his urinal as a fountain. Are found objects art? Are everyday objects art? If everyday objects are art, then what is considered not art? If artwork forces you to look at something in a new way, is it art?

Students continued to analyze the Cloaca, a digestive machine created by Delvoye, which prompted a discussion about the intersection of science and art. A review of Roy Lichtenstein’s enlargements of comic strip elements forced students to think about plagiarism and art. If the image is the same, but a different size, is it art?

By the end of class, students had no clear, easy answers. What they did have were a series of positions about the definition of art and a thought process to analyze and create their own definitions of art.

As the Director of Marketing and Communications, I love the fact that I have the opportunity to sit in such amazing classes. What I learned from my visit to Ms. Daniel’s class is that not only are our students well prepared to handle any seminar in college, they are also prepared to actively participate and engage with the world around them.

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