In my work as a teaching artist, one goal that consistently informs the classes I teach is to enable students to feel a real connection to their surroundings. Why is this important?
I grew up in a small town in Michigan, and spent my youth playing in dirt on a potato farm. I moved to Chicago when I was 19 to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and found myself in a city of three million. I did not feel like I was a part of Chicago – I was only a visitor. Like many people that move to a big city, I first figured out the train system, and then slowly explored the buses. So the day I really understood how to connect the Blue Line Damen stop with the Red Line North Avenue stop, the way I felt about the city changed. Not just because I could better transverse the city, but also because I began to internalize the city’s infrastructure. This led to internalizing issues central to our city, like gentrification and public education. At some point this led to the awareness that I was fluidly connected to the community in which I live and work. I started to act like a citizen!
This is what I mean when I say I want to “enable students to feel a real connection to their surroundings”. My classes often integrate social history and projects are geared towards students sharing their personal interpretations of public stuff—things as specific as their school or the house they live in or as broad as Lake Michigan, food, or a season.
When I share artwork with my students, I tend to show artwork that deals with social issues. While I do pull historical examples from artists like Diego Rivera or Fransisco Goya, work by Just Seeds is always included. Just Seeds Artists’ Cooperative is a decentralized network of 24 artists committed to making print and design work that reflects a radical social, environmental, and political stance.
There are a few things that make Just Seeds exactly what my students need to see:
- The imagery tends to be simple. The concepts are not. This allows students to focus on one attribute of the artwork that they feel they can comprehend.
- The artwork is contemporary and about current issues. Student’s understanding of the artwork isn’t dependent on how much European history they know. This makes for an even playing field.
- The imagery is iconic. If I’m trying to clarify a concept about composition, color, line quality, etc. I can usually find an artwork that clearly exemplified exactly what I’m talking about.
- These artists (for the most part) are not famous, yet they are young, talented, and making important work that people are seeing. These artists will probably answer an e-mail from a student. Should they desire, students might even be able to afford buying their artwork.
- Their website is so easy to use! You can search for artwork based on subject matter, artist, or format. Each artwork even has a pretty thorough description.
Using artwork made my a Just Seeds artist as a jumping off point for a student project seems to help students move away from creating another renditions of the Sears Tower towards constructing a more nuanced contemplative or creative solution.