Friday, August 5, 2016

How to Teach Your Children to Care about Art

How to Teach Your Children to Care about Art

Illustration by Jan Buchczik for Artsy.
Upon entering Frieze New York last May, I ran into a colleague with his two small children. As we crossed the threshold of the bustling fair tent, the kids sprang into action, making a beeline for a red Carsten Höller octopus. They promptly plopped down beside it and began a discussion—“What is it made of?” and “Why is it red?” were among preliminary questions. A month or so later I’d see them again, this time in Chelsea, marvelling over Jordan Wolfson’s animatronic puppet at David Zwirner. Even to a stranger, it would have been clear that for these children, going to see art was an integral part of their lives. Their intense engagement with art (a level of enthusiasm that many adults struggle to maintain) begged some questions. What is it about art that commands a child’s attention? What impact can art have on a child’s development? And more broadly, what can be done to instill an appreciation of art in children?
To find answers, I turned to experts in the field who work at the intersections of children’s education and art. While primarily focusing on programs provided by museum spaces, I also consulted with other arts professionals and educators to establish a more complete picture of the underlying factors that can contribute to a child’s early appreciation of art—and how it affects a young person’s brain.

The benefits of art in early childhood

Over the past decade, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has found strong evidence showing that art can have a positive effect on young children (infants through eight-year-olds). A December 2015 NEA literature review conducted by program analyst Melissa Menzer, for example, found connections between the arts—including music, theater, visual arts, and literature—and social and emotional skills such as “helping, caring, and sharing activities.”
NEA arts education specialist Terry Liu, meanwhile, has found that more and more arts education grants are being funneled into the integration of arts with other disciplines in early childhood. “Teaching artists or organizations that have artists skilled in working with early childhood age groups are working with parents or Head Start centers to help them incorporate arts education and learning at this very early age,” Liu notes. In other words, art is no longer being siloed as a creative pursuit, but rather used “as a means to help children learn other subjects.”
Even further, Liu points to an increase in initiatives that are not just “reflecting on art and learning about art,” but also employing art to “make sense of how it relates to your understanding of the world.” Young people are being taught that art connects to the world around you. 
Photo by Michael Palma Mir/Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling
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Multiple other studies have found a correlation between artmaking and emotional regulation, which is a central tenet of art therapy. Psychologist Jennifer Drake, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, for example, has conducted studies around the relationship between drawing and emotional regulation among children and adults. Working with children in the six- to twelve-year-old range, these studies have proven that drawing can assuage the negative emotions a person feels upon being told to recall the details surrounding a sad personal event. These results are bolstering institutional programs and encouraging parents to engage children in the arts from an early age—but how?

Integrate looking and making  

To start, it’s a cornerstone of art education programs to cultivate a symbiotic relationship between looking at art and creating it. In museums, it’s become standard practice for educators to develop art-making programs that engage audiences with the works in a current exhibition or permanent collection.
New York’s Whitney Museum, for example, has developed a vast array of programs to engage children of all ages (beginning with Stroller Tours for newborns and new parents), but one of its most popular programs is Open Studio, an in-house art studio led by graduate students that allows families to visit freely and create art on the weekends. “It’s a drop-in art-making program” says Billie Rae Vinson, coordinator of Family Programs, over the phone. “It’s a way to explore the artwork through some kind of material exploration.”
A day in the Open Studio program might involve crafting collages inspired by the high contrast found in an Edward Steichen photograph. “In museums it’s great to have discussions, but what do artists do?” asks Vinson. “They make stuff. We’ve got to get families making stuff.” The goals of this are double-pronged: to connect families with the activities of artists and to inspire creativity. “We’re not trying to be derivative or make parents or children copy or make little versions of the artworks on view; we want them to be inspired by these artists and then run with it for themselves.”
Similar models have been adopted by museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, which has a daily artist’s studio program. “Art-making in the museum can be very powerful because it allows children to connect their own imaginative ways of making with art they see around them in the galleries,” says Jacqueline Terrassa, Chair of Museum Education there.
Despite this, the Art Institute recently saw a need to direct more attention back to the museum’s exhibitions. “We wanted to find a fun, interactive solution to the challenge of how to make the museum feel accessible and navigable for families,” Terrassa says. “Often families will come to the Art Institute and stay in the Ryan Learning Center instead of also exploring the galleries.” This past spring the museum launched a new digital initiative, JourneyMaker, which allows families to create custom tours through the museum focused around eight storylines, including superheroes, time travel, and strange and wondrous beasts.
In making their children’s programs family-focused, both the Whitney and the Art Institute have recognized not only that children often need a parent or guardian for supervision, but also the powerful shared experiences that children and adults can have while learning about and making art together. And as such, these programs become communal spaces for families. “I talked to one dad who told me that for him it was a bit like New York’s living room,” Vinson says of the Whitney’s space. “He told me his son learned to walk in our Open Studio while his daughter was making art.”

Create flexible, communal spaces for experiencing art 

The idea of a communal space for art exploration is popular across numerous museums. The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, located on the ground floor of the David Adjaye-designed Sugar Hill Project in Harlem, which opened last October, has a large central gallery space called The Living Room. Currently painted with a vibrant narrative mural by artist Saya Woolfalk (in collaboration with her four-year-old daughter), it is dotted with bright orange benches and tables, where families gather to see and make art, and participate in music and storytelling performances.
Photo by Michael Palma Mir/Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling
In adjacent spaces are a dedicated art studio, and gallery spaces—one for rotating exhibitions developed by contemporary artists, sometimes in collaboration with children, and one for shows done in partnership with fellow museums El Museo del Barrio and The Studio Museum in Harlem. “One of the reasons this museum was formed was as a lab to see what happens when art education and curatorial exhibitions coexist,” Associate Director of Curatorial Programs Lauren Kelley tells me, “to see if there can be a more democratic approach to programming, as opposed to the exhibitions being the reason for education to have tasks.”
She emphasizes that artmaking and art education are not separated from engaging with the exhibitions—all of which involve the work of children, to varying degrees. The current show by Shani Peters was inspired by the artist’s work with children. Exhibitions such as this one have been successful in dissembling “the sense of sacredness associated with what it means to be a viewer, which can lead to people feeling really uncomfortable,” says Kelley. “We hope that we can disarm that from children at an early age, and then they leave here wanting to go to the Met, feeling like ‘this makes sense to me.’”
The Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA) also integrates exhibition and art-making spaces. The museum’s tagline, “Look, Make, Share,” encompasses their approach to combining careful looking, art making, and dialogues around art. Artmaking activities here often relate to a central themed group exhibition (the current show focuses on sports; the next will be outer space) in its main gallery, which is flanked by multiple specialized studios. There is also a Clay Bar, where families can sign up to create playful sculptures.
“Making art familiar, an everyday event, rather than something isolated, also helps children become comfortable with it,” Terrassa offers. “Art is not only inside the museum—it’s all around you.” Jessica Hamlin, a professor of Arts Education at NYU Steinhardt, agrees. “There’s this constant back-and-forth between looking at works of art—how they can be looked at and understood, and building language and appreciation around them—and also the making,” she says. “But there’s a third piece: general aesthetic appreciation. We can bring that eye and that thinking to things we see in life.”

Building children’s confidence in what they see

CMA executive director Barbara Hunt McLanahan believes it’s all about encouraging what comes naturally to children: curiosity. “I think that in a way you don’t instill an appreciation of art in children, children already have it.”
In her experience during Sugar Hill’s first year, Kelley has found this to be true as well. “They really are excited about people having faith in them,” she explains. “I think children really just appreciate you giving them the space and the square footage to play with materials. We don’t always give them prompts, sometimes we just see what happens; we say to them, ‘what do you think you can do with these stickers? This tape? You choose, you figure it out.’ We respect them as capable.”
Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum of the Arts.
Adults are prone to decidedly affirm whether they’re artistic or not; that they understand art or they don’t. “So many adults come to the museum and say ‘I never did this because I wasn’t any good at art,’” McLanahan offers, “and our answer to that is ‘You probably were, but you were being told that maybe you weren’t good at drawing, perhaps you weren’t introduced to printmaking or abstract art. You were being asked to draw in a representational way and you didn’t enjoy that.” She adds that attitudes about what does and does not qualify as art are mostly limited to adults. “Children are way more open-minded.”
There are times when adults introduce judgements into the artmaking environment, and teachers at CMA have to step in. “I worry that we often teach creativity out of students rather than integrating it into the way we want all students to think of themselves, whether they become artists or not,” Hamlin says. “[Making art] correlates with development and brain science. It’s nurture and nature, not versus.” Hamlin notes that elementary school art classes that focus on skills and provide guidelines for what drawing should look like can be detrimental. “I think an emphasis on driving home skills-based instruction can be difficult for early childhood—it reinforces that there are good skills and bad skills, that there are people who have skills and people who don’t.”
In her studies on correlations between drawing and mood regulation, Drake found that in the 10- to 12-year-old age range, children become critical of their drawings skills. “They start to understand that they have limitations and that they can be good in some things and not at other things,” Drake says. “Six- to eight-year-olds are really absorbed in drawing, they can get more lost in it.”
In order to encourage creativity, many museums have adopted an inquiry-based approach, whereby educators prompt children through open-ended questions—emphasizing that there’s no right answer—in order to elicit ideas and incite discussion around art. “It’s really about asking them, ‘What do you see? How does it make you feel? What do you think the artist meant here? Why did they use this material?’ and encouraging them to have confidence in their answers,” says McLanahan. “We encourage you to have confidence in your ability to look and understand, but then we want you to respect someone else’s creativity and someone else’s opinion when we share.”

Don’t dumb it down

Understanding the simple fact that children want to be spoken to like adults, and that cossetting them at a young age can be a hindrance to their development, is central for many art educators. “There’s nothing about our exhibiting artists that makes them suited to children,” McLanahan says of CMA’s program. “It’s just that we’re actively encouraging children to use their minds and think about the work and talk about the work.” Underlying this approach is a recognition of the innate sophistication of children.
CMA puts on shows of emerging and established contemporary artists (the current show includes Hank Willis Thomas, Dario Escobar, and Zoe Buckman, among others); at Sugar Hill, Kelley is engaging contemporary artists living in Upper Manhattan. “If you dumb it down, if you think that children only like graffiti or cartoons or Keith Haring—it’s a dead end,” McLanahan advises. “We have wall labels that explain what the artist’s intentions are, we try not to use jargon, and we don’t over-explain the work.”
At the Art Institute, an encyclopedic museum that not only caters to all ages but a vast array of international audiences, a similar mindset prevails. “No art, no matter how abstract or supposedly ‘difficult,’ is off-limits for children,” Terrassa notes. “That said, some artwork, because of style or content, might resonate more at different stages of life. For example, artwork that engages with questions of identity might be great for teens, and highly experiential, abstract works can be a hit with very little ones.” She acknowledges that there will be art that may not reflect a family’s values, in which case it is up to a parent or guardian’s discretion.
While visual culture is often boiled down to its essential elements of shape and color, especially for younger audiences, it’s important to keep ideas and narratives top of mind. “Sometimes we underestimate what young kids are able to talk about and do, and read into things,” Hamlin notes. “It’s important to present a balance of pure, aesthetic elements and principles with an understanding of art as a form of communication that helps us talk, express, and connect with each other and with diverse experiences.”

Expose children to the contemporary art world

More and more, museums, schools, and community organizations are recruiting contemporary artists to teach children. The Whitney regularly holds artist-led workshops; all teachers at CMA are practicing artists; and Sugar Hill has an artist in residence each year who interacts with children at the museum, as well as its affiliate preschool. “As social practice art gains traction in the art world and that becomes a way of thinking about what artists can do, museums are really being receptive to artists wanting to do more than just put their objects in a museum,” Hamlin says of this trend. “Artists should be real human beings for kids, not just mythical characters.”
View of Louisa Armbrust’s Blue Swimmer. Photo courtesy of Childrens Museum of the Arts.
And many artists are eager to engage with children. “It’s important to me to give the children in the communities I work with a voice for their stories and a way to share those stories,” says David Shrobe, the first artist in residence at Sugar Hill, “and this is a space I was able to activate, a space for community.”
While museums have done well to recruit contemporary artists to teach in their institutions, children are rarely exposed to other roles they may pursue in the art world. One program addressing this absence is Frieze Teens, part of the non-profit arm of Frieze New York, a small but strong annual program that grants access to the contemporary art world to a group of 25 New York City public school students each year.
Participating teens from underserved communities are exposed to many facets of the art world, in hope of inspiring them to pursue a career in the field. “By seeing a work from its inception in a studio with the artists and then tracking through critics, curators, gallerists, fabricators, non-profits etc.—really anyone and everyone involved in that process—it gives these kids access to the full range of ways one could engage and participate in the art world,” Molly McIver, Head of Operations at Frieze New York told me.
But even more than presenting young people with career options, contemporary art offers an entrypoint into a more expansive, diverse understanding of art. Hamlin points out that the art historical canon that we lean so heavily on is no longer representative of the majority of students who are learning from it—in terms of gender, ethnicity and social, political, and sexual identities. “I think that we’re seeing the limitations of that canon, and yes there’s amazing work and beautiful work, but artists have been making work all over the world for thousands of years, and that’s a really important part of the conversation.”
But it won’t come easy. “There’s a whole set of things that teachers have to work against to bring the contemporary into their coursework,” says Hamlin. In addition to combating entrenched biases toward producing aesthetically pleasing objects, it’s hard for teachers to keep up with a continually shifting art world. “It’s a large hill to climb—there are changing ideas and notions around what art is, what art education can be, what artistic practices are, there’s this constantly evolving landscape of art practice.” So while there is a growing recognition of the importance of children engaging with art, manifold challenges remain.
“I think a lot of museums are really reassessing what it means to cater to this wee demographic,” Kelley tells me at Sugar Hill. “The obvious fact is that you’re building an audience from the ground up, and you’re tapping into a demographic that usually feels excluded—limited by a museum experience of ‘please don’t touch.’ We do not have any answers yet, but being allowed to be in this kind of lab, we can be ambitious with what we’re going to test out.” That’s all we can ask.

—Casey Lesser

The Artsy Podcast, No. 10: Does Disliking an Artist Mean You Can’t Like Their Work

The Artsy Podcast, No. 10: Does Disliking an Artist Mean You Can’t Like Their Work


Artsy’s team of editors takes you behind the scenes of the best stories in art.
You can now find the Artsy Podcast on iTunesStitcher, Pocket Casts, or the podcasting app of your choice. Don’t forget to rate the show and leave us comments; we’d love to hear from you.

For Rikers’s Most Troubled Inmates, Art Offers Hope
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Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail, houses thousands of men and women awaiting trial or convicted of short sentences. Almost everyone in the jail has experienced some form of trauma, further compounded by the cruel conditions of incarceration. In this environment, a group of art therapists is working to improve the lives of prisoners in the mental health observation units through the process of making art. The program is the subject of Tess Thackara’s recent piece, “For Rikers’s Most Troubled Inmates, Art Offers Hope.” We discuss the neurological underpinnings of art therapy, the difficulties that therapists experience teaching in jails, and how programs such as this can provide much-needed healing, as well as concrete life skills, for inmates both while in the jail and in the outside world upon their release.

Should Georg Baselitz’s Misogyny Affect Our Appreciation of His Work?
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Next, we look at German painter Georg Baselitz and ask, as a recent story did: Should his misogyny affect our appreciation of his work? In 2013, the artist remarked that “women don’t paint very well,” setting off a firestorm of critique but, for many at least, not diminishing the artist’s place in the art-historical canon. So how do we square an artist’s biography and beliefs with their work? Can the two be separated? What context about an artist’s political and personal life needs to be provided to the average museum-goer?

This podcast is hosted by Artsy Editorial Associate Isaac Kaplan, joined for this edition by Deputy Editor Alexander Forbes and Senior Editor Tess Thackara. It was produced by Joe Sykes with assistance from Editorial Associate Abigail Cain.

Intro Music: “Something Elated” by Broke For Free

Cover image by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Art Copyright, Explained

Art Copyright, Explained

Copyright law is complex, totemic, and the source of nearly unending litigation. With relative regularity, appropriation artists like Jeff Koons or Richard Prince end up in the headlines due to allegations of improper use of their source material. For artists and those working with the images of artwork, it is crucial to understand what powers are—and are not—granted by the copyright. So below, we’ve compiled brief overview of the topic.

It’s all about the rights

The rights around artwork are much less straightforward than one would assume. When it comes to the specific subset of visual works governed by the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), artists retain certain powers of attribution and disavowal long after the ownership of the actual tangible work of art is in the possession of a collector or institution. As I’ve previously written, VARA affords rights in addition to those afforded by copyright law. While disavowing an artwork through VARA can impact the monetary value of the piece, copyright is much more directly tied to ensuring the economic interest of the artist. Generally speaking, the more “original” a piece is, the stronger the copyright protections.
So what rights are granted to an artist when it comes to copyright? And how can they affect those in possession of a physical work of art? Look no further than Section 106, Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, codified in Title 17 of the U.S. Code. For those in too much of a hurry, I’ll summarize: Copyright gives artists who have created fixed, tangible works a bundle of rights in those works. The rights provide both artistic protection and ensure that artists can profit from what they’ve made. After an artist creates a piece, they have the right to make copies of their work, distribute those copies, perform or display the work publicly, or make works that derive from the original.
Not all of those rights transfer to the collector who goes on to purchase the piece. While many collectors assume that a work’s copyright is transferred when they purchase a painting or a sculpture, that is not the case. Copyright only transfers to the piece’s new owner if its artist evidences that it is his or her intent to transfer it. What does this mean in practice? If you buy a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog, you then have the right to display your specific copy of Balloon Dog. But, unless you’ve received explicit permission from the artist, you do not have the legal right to take pictures of the piece, make postcards, and sell them.

Rights limited and fair use

The rights afforded by copyright aren’t infinite, however. There are limitations such that the provisions don’t stifle creativity in the name of protecting it. Many of the rights enshrined in copyright are tied to the physical work. But the statute doesn’t extend to more intangible aspects of a work of art. One cannot copyright ideas, procedures, methods, or concepts, unless they’re written down and recorded. Moreover, the written accoutrement (titles, names, phrases, and slogans) are not subject to copyright.
This is a good thing, otherwise calling your work Untitled would be a violation of copyright. Also not protected are works that change, like freestyle spoken word, or pieces of information that are universally available facts, like calendar dates. Copyright of a type of an art form that is inherently intangible—like a performance—applies to notations of the choreography or documentation of the event, but not to the event or performance itself.
Then there is Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976. Known as fair use, the provision provides a legal defense to copyright infringement. Put simply, that means that I admit I’ve taken work from other people, but I can argue that my use of that work still deserves protection. In the case of an artist’s image being taken without permission, its acceptance under fair use is contingent on four factors. All four inform a judge who makes the final determination of the fair use argument’s validity.
This means that there is always a degree of uncertainty to what constitutes fair use. But the most important question is, are you using the image for commercial purposes (if so, you’ll likely be in trouble) or non-profit and educational purposes (if so, you’re more likely to be in the clear)? It also depends on the nature of how you’re using the copyrighted work. The “less original” or less creative your use, the weaker your fair use claim. Another important factor is the total amount of the copyrighted image being reproduced. The more you reproduce, the less likely you are to be protected by fair use. Judges will look at the extent to which that reproduction impacts the market and undermines the economic value of the author’s original. Lastly, if the image is being transformed or parodied, it can also be protected under fair use.

Practice appropriate appropriation

If you’re thinking about being an appropriation artist, you may need to put a lawyer on retainer because sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself in the midst of a copyright case. These are no small matter. Judicial decisions around appropriation can seriously restrict artistic practice, pitting different artistic communities against each other.
Just look at Cariou v. Prince. The dispute saw French photographer Patrick Cariou sue Richard Prince over works that used Cariou’s images of rastafarians. Prince, among other acts, modified the photos by painting a purple face over original images torn from purchased copies of Cariou’s book Yes Rasta. The first court to rule on the case in 2011 decided this didn’t amount to a significant enough modification of the original work to distinguish Prince’s pieces from Cariou’s images in the eyes of a “reasonable observer.” An appellate court disagreed, however, reversing the decision in 2013 for most of the works. The art market breathed a sigh of relief.
Then there is Jeff Koons. Two of the number of cases involving Koons illustrate the fine line between fair use appropriation and appropriation that violates copyright statutes. In the work that led to Rogers v. Koons, the artist found a postcard by Art Rogers featuring a photo of a smiling man and woman holding a litter of puppies. Koons removed the copyright label from the postcard and his assistants created a near identical sculpture called String of Puppies (1998). Rogers sued and eventually prevailed when the court found that a “reasonable observer” would see that Koons had copied the piece and that it was neither a parody nor original enough, and thus fair use didn’t come into play.
In Blanch v. Koons however, Andrea Blanch sued Koons, arguing the artist had violated the copyright of  one of her photographs. Koons had seen the photo in an ad in Allure Magazine and used a portion of it in his painting entitled Niagara (2000). Koons argued that his use of the image was transformational, meaning that he had altered the intent and content of the image to a significant extent. In this case, unlike in Rogers, the court found that fair use did apply.
More broadly, fair use does generally protect an artist when he or she appropriates a copyrighted work for a collage or composited result and the balance of other circumstances is in the artist’s favor. This transformation of message is a factor in why the artist Sturtevant doesn’t violate copyright provisions despite creating works that often look nearly identical to their appropriated subject—she is probing what happens in the very process of repetition.
Whether you’re a collector, an appropriation artist, or just looking for a photo for your blog, it’s important to remember that specific circumstances do play a key role in how art copyright violation is judged. So, if you find yourself in legal hot water, consult an attorney.

—Isaac Kaplan