Draw it with your eyes closed

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Posted February 10, 2014 to

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Sarah Hromack—Independent Fieldwork and Analysis: The Art ‘Selfie’

NB: This assignment assumes the ownership of or access to a smartphone, digital camera, or other camera-enabled device. If you do not own such a device or can’t access one, please talk to me; I’ll give you one. It also assumes your personal use of social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Sorry, folks. 

1) Fieldwork (Real World, Part I): Visit an art museum, gallery, or attend a live play or musical event that permits recordings/photography. (Note: Please check museum/gallery/venue websites to confirm institutional photography policies; please remain mindful of those policies, as they are often driven by moral and legal concerns for artists’ intellectual property rights.)

2) Fieldwork (Real World, Part II): Take a self portrait or ‘selfie’ with your smartphone—ideally, take a series of selfies. Make a mental note or two about how you’re feeling while taking the self portraits in the gallery space. Is anyone reacting to you? If so, how are they reacting to you? (i.e. Are they watching you? Are they speaking to you? Are they ignoring you?) How does it feel to be reacted to (or not reacted to)? How does you feel, physically, in relationship to other people and artworks around you? Does your own behavior feel ‘natural’ to you? Why so? Why not?

Find a quiet (or otherwise suitable) place to reflect upon your experience; make some notes. Jot down the date, time, and location in which your selfie was shot. Reflect upon the questions asked above. Write about what you saw and how it made you feel. 

3) Fieldwork (Online): Post your ‘selfie’ to your own social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). Note the reactions it receives from your ‘friends’ or followers in the digital space.

4) Critical Analysis: Write a field report that discusses your experience both in taking the selfies, and in posting the selfies to your social media accounts. This report should include the following:

  • Image: I’ll need to see your selfie(s), please. (Embed the image in your Word doc or PDF; no attachments, please.)

  • Metadata: The date, place, and time your selfie was taken

  • Critical Analysis: 1,500 word written analysis that details your experience with in-gallery photography. Please compare/contrast that experience with the reaction you received (or didn’t receive!) from your ‘friends’ or followers online. How did it make you feel? What bigger cultural observations can you make about the use and/or abuse of social media within the arts organization based on this experience? Please make those observations in this brief essay.

Assigned by Sarah Hromack to graduate students in New York University’s Arts Administration program. Course title: ’Digital Technologies and the Art Organization: From Strategy to Practice’; Spring 2014 semester.

Posted November 23, 2013 to

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MICHAEL SMITH–3-D Design: Final Assignment

After reviewing all the assignments from the semester, locate and gather all your finished and incomplete projects in the classroom, place them in a compact pile, and carefully consider it. Using drawings, collage, and/or various computer programs, design and build a container that corresponds to the form of the projects pile, making sure it holds everything and is structurally sound. When finished with construction, place all your projects in your specially designed form and take it away from the classroom. Please do not leave any of these forms/containers outside the classroom, in the halls, or in your locker. 

Posted November 22, 2013 to

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I never give assignments. Well, that’s a lie, but probably more true than false. I used to teach a course called “Looking and Listening.” I’d take ten or twelve students some place (an oil field in the Central Valley, the homeless area near downtown Los Angeles, a kilometer‐long hand‐dug tunnel in the Mojave foot‐hills, etc.) where they would head out on their own and practice paying attention. I never required a paper, or a work of art, or led a discussion. If there was an assignment, it was to become better observers. And that they did: afterwards their art grew in a far more subtle direction.

I think it was the best course I ever taught. But I no longer teach it, not because I don’t want to, but because of my school’s fear of lawsuits. There certainly have been great changes in America since I began teaching in 1970, but maybe the change I am feeling is due to the fact that institutions get increasingly more bureaucratic as they grow older (mine’s nearing forty)—or perhaps it is both. About two years ago my school began to require a syllabus along with a statement of purpose—just what are you going to teach? For me this seems condescending; I just don’t teach that way. My classes are about providing a creative environment that questions convention, where ideas can form spontaneously and play off one another. I am to the point of believing I can no longer exist teaching in an institution. So why don’t I quit?

I also teach “Math as Art.” In that class I demonstrate how mathematics is structured and then ask my students to make a work of art that is imagined from their experience with the class. Yes, in this class I do have an assignment, but it is purposely open-ended. Last year a young boy knitted a scarf. He took his favorite love poem and typed it into his computer. Then he hacked into the memory and found where the poem was stored as hexadecimal code (base 16). (Note: A computer really stores all of its memory in base 2, but reveals it in base 16 for more friendly human consumption.) Using the mathematics he learned in my class, he then converted the poem, one letter at a time (including the punctuation and spaces) to base 2, recreating the poem as a series of zeros and ones, the way it actually resided. Then using the zeros and ones as architecture, and because knitting is a binary function, he simply equated a knit to a zero and a purl to a one, and knitted the love poem into a scarf. When he was finished he gave it to a friend in celebration of the winter solstice. This is why I don’t quit.

Perhaps I can end with an assignment. The next time you teach a class, just sit there. Don’t say a word and see what happens. I guarantee it won’t be nothing. 

Posted November 21, 2013 to

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LIAM GILLICK–Assignments are Homework

Assignments are homework. They remove the responsibility from the cultural producer to devise their own context, and create an artificial power relationship to replace the real power relationship between student‐artist and older ex‐student‐teacher‐artist. The assignment replaces the potential for real work and real recognition of power dynamics. The assignment allows the student to avoid taking responsibility for his or her own critical awareness and replaces that with a set of directed “potentials” that are actually rehearsals for future instructions from various powers, i.e. galleries, institutions, and various “clients,” all of which are in direct conflict with the potential of art. Therefore I do not give assignments, I don’t acknowledge work done as an assignment, and I don’t find them funny. 

Posted November 20, 2013 to

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Only dead fish follow the stream.

—Finnish expression

The most effective and trustworthy “assignment” I have honed over my twenty years of teaching studio arts is simply: NO ASSIGNMENT as a form of indirect teaching.

A “no assignment” method does not guarantee a Socratic debate, yet it does cultivate critical thinking while eschewing the authority of the teacher and rebuffing the pedagogical misadventure of assessment outcomes.

Critically, indirect teaching emphasizes the weight of work, supporting self-directed knowledge that is shaped by the limits and freedoms of the student and the institution. Work and assessment are the responsibility of the student.

Posted November 19, 2013 to

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ANONYMOUS–Clothing Assignment

Go into your studio. Using all of the clothes you are wearing, make a work of art. Leave the studio naked. 

Posted November 18, 2013 to

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The last few years, I have spent my summers in a house in the Mojave Desert. Summers there are periods of extreme temperatures, reaching 100 degrees or more. Locals try to retreat to other places and visitors are rare. Despite the harsh conditions, I find this environment conducive to working and enjoy that I am forced to adjust my daily routines to the climate as well as the solitude. I have noticed that strictly regulating my schedule increases my focus and accomplishments; it has made it easier to manage the isolation; fixed time frames for particular tasks become companions during the flow of the day. Upon arriving at the house I usually write out a schedule that includes work tasks as well as daily routines. I think of the entries as instructors that have the power to order me around; drill sergeants of my own making. (The distant view from the house includes the U.S. Marine base in 29 Palms.)

I have generally kept the written schedule on the kitchen table. Here is a typical plan:

Get up around sunrise

Outdoor exercise

Breakfast and outdoor reading period

8:00 Communication

9:00 Work indoors on projects (5 minute break every hour)

1:00 Lunch

1:30 Reading and short nap

2:30 Reading and note taking

5:00 Outdoor projects and home improvements

7:00 Dinner and puttering

8:30 Communication and reading

10:30 Go to bed

Once or twice a week I strayed from the schedule in order to stock up on supplies or hear a band at the local bar. While I enjoyed diversions of my own making—going to the supermarket was an exciting pleasure—I experienced external interruptions as intruders I would have preferred to avoid. Over the course of the summer I mostly stayed with the rhythm, but occasionally felt I had to do something unscripted and simply “waste” a day. Sometimes, despite its productiveness, I regarded my regimen as a laughable mission unworthy of a self‐sufficient adult who is neither in the military nor in a mental institution. 

These desert periods lasted about six to eight weeks, after which I returned to New York, where my routine changed into a less rigid schedule determined by urban rhythms and social exchanges. Although noise, media offerings, and social obligations some‐ times make it difficult to maintain focus, I never felt the desire to replicate the desert regime in the city. The firm structuring of my daily activities seems to be at home in the desert. 

Posted November 17, 2013 to

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Of course we know artists have a kind of congenital allergy to rules, especially somebody else’s rules. We like to make our own rules. Very freeing, right? Well, that’s not the whole story. Let’s take a look at the rules you are following, especially ones living below the threshold of consciousness. Make a list of these rules, right now. Which of them that you think are your rules, are really rules you’ve inherited, been taught, learned are the cool rules? Are they serving you, or trapping you?


1. As you work throughout this next week, try to hear the rules whispering to you. 
Keep a running list, and add to it every time you hear another one. Don’t read any further until you’ve done #1.


2. OK, you cheated, because it was my rule. Now, what kind of rules did you come up with? Are they the easy formal ones about choices of materials, how long or short the piece should be, or what to wear? Try again, and listen for the harder ones: the conceptual limits you put on your work, the kind of work you let yourself do, or not do. Are there whole parts of your being you put in a separate compartment and don’t even consider bringing into your work? Whole enthusiasms you haven’t let yourself imagine as part of your work? Embarrassments, naiveties, intelligences you leave out?

3. Now, this week do whatever you have to do to break your own rules. The hardest ones first. 

Posted November 16, 2013 to

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Judith Barry–Cartography and Geography

What did he say that could inspire these children to walk hundreds of miles, often in the dark of night and for more than a month, in order to possibly have a chance to come to New Jersey? That was the question that haunted me as I sat in the back of the auditorium listening to him talk. He was not imposing as a speaker. A slight man, he stood at the lectern, showing slides of a refugee camp for Ethiopians fleeing the famine and civil war.

That summer he had volunteered at the camp—his summer camp, he said. He taught them English and math, and as they were just beginning with English, they often communicated by drawing pictures. They drew their remembrances of their families, now no longer intact, their villages, now destroyed, and things that they remembered, but could not speak about, even to one another. These things they had seen, the things they had done. He said the drawing calmed them. The drawing helped them, more than the English and math they were learning. It gave them a sense of control, even if it was only a remembered space and not a real place.

Life in the camp was hard. Medical care was sporadic. While there was some food now, it was never enough, and by winter it would be scarce. It became clear to him that few of the children would survive winter in the camp.

He gave them a new assignment. He began to teach them a primitive form of cartography and geography. How to draw maps, how to use the sun and stars for direction. He gave them a compass. He had learned of a pilot program to resettle Ethiopian refugees in New Jersey. But there was a hitch. They would have to walk more than 300 miles to cross the border in order to take the test to enter this program. It would not be offered here.

They were already very good at surviving. After all, they had already made it to this camp.

Eleven of his children left the camp at the end of the summer. He did not know what would happen to them. He did not know if he would ever see them again. He was not sure that he had done the right thing in giving them this assignment, but he didn’t know what else to do.

Two of the oldest boys took charge. Walking by night and sleeping during the day. They had learned how to find water and food on their walk from Ethiopia. Three died on the journey, but eight survived. It wasn’t until almost a year later that he heard from one of them. 

Posted November 15, 2013 to

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RICHARD WENTWORTH–What Needs to be Taught

I have, perhaps, an overstimulated gregarious impulse. This has led me into countless episodes with people who were my teachers, people who have been my students, and people from whom I have learned. These are largely interchangeable groups, a kind of good fortune which has blessed my life beyond my confused days as a schoolboy.

I remember all sorts of instructive moments, times when information was being supplied or a process demonstrated. It’s the strangeness of the consultative space which most intrigues me, the to‐and‐fro of speculative exchange, although I recognize that the most mundane problem‐solving moment may carry with it a marvelous corona. A student texted me today saying “No tangents!” and I texted back “No tangents, no centers.” There are indeed great instructive moments which double as artworks. Bruce Nauman’s Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor) employs his own do‐ishness, but plays with the pioneer “can‐do” of all‐American purposefulness. The videoed result, demonstrating a fencing method, teases all our cultures of spatial organization and geometrical decisiveness, instructing as it goes. The Studio of the Great Outdoors.

What needs to be taught—when, why, where, and how—is a question of tiring insistence, especially among groups of young people who are seeking attention and, simultaneously, learning how to attract it. I see a complexity now which I never foresaw, which asks demanding questions about cultural values and how they are shared. I am writing this in a school in provincial France on an overcast winter’s day. In the workshop this morning a young woman asked me for something. When I explained that I was from London, she switched to perfect English, with a strong American accent, so I asked if she was from the States. “No,” she said, “I am Moroccan Japanese.” She went on to say that she learned her English from films.

Shortly after, a second confident young woman arrived to use some hand tools, and I was again asked for something. That she was from Beijing was quickly revealed, as was how she had acquired excellent language skills in English and French. She was eloquent about the language wars raging in her head and talked of the sympathy that her teacher in Beijing had shown her in her struggle. Now things were improving, she said, and mentioned that her teacher in Bourges was actually a Russian. It is like this now, and the young will invent what they invent from their undoubted confidence, locating and relocating themselves as they go.

In the last century I had a class at the Architectural Association in London with a truly international group of students. “How did we get here?” I asked, intending not only the biggest human question, but also to expose the comedy of the daily narrative of big cities, and how we move through them, and how they move through us. The expectation was that they had a whole morning to create a drawing of their morning transactions between home and Bedford Square.

The young Londoner set to work drawing every building on the street where he lived, expanding and adding sheets of paper according to the immense powers of observation, moving like a 19th‐century speculative builder backwards towards his 18th‐century target on the edge of the West End. You could feel the intensity of his immersion and distraction within the city. At the other extreme, an international student (from the Far East, as we say), drew the tube line from his apartment in west London to the stop nearest the AA, accurately marking off the stops along the way. He also drew accurately the small amount of road map at each end that he used as a pedestrian. You will be able to imagine the range of narratives which sat between these two approaches. How do humans get from the schematic to the spatially and materially rich city fabric, and back again?

The modesty of the common task that morning released energies and attitudes which stood as common ground for the whole group, but also as a palimpsest of the unaccountable behavior of the whole city. Maybe those students went on to analyze or design public space as a professional pursuit? Their responses have stayed with me. Their vigilance and the sieving of one encounter from another stand for all human sorting and valuing. They affect the way I walk through cities, and how I think of others who pass me by.

Bourges, France, January 26, 2011 

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