One of my favorite TV shows is Parks and Recreation, a half-hour comedy starring Amy Poehler that follows the misadventures and accomplishments of a rag-tag group of government workers in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Last night I rewatched episode 9 from season 2 - "The Camel". The various Pawnee municipal departments are challenged to come up with concepts for a mural. Tom Haverford, played brilliantly by Aziz Ansari, is an underachieving administrator with entrepreneurial dreams, and he states rather bluntly that his has little interest in "non-nude art." As such, rather than creating something for the mural competition, he goes to a local art school and hires an artist:
Tom: It's abstract, Leslie. Over here you've got some shapes. And then, you come over to this side. You know it's actually kind of interesting. Each shape is its own thing, but then when it comes together, it really gives you a sense of, completion. Hmm.
I really recommend watching this episode (it's free on Netflix instant watch if you are a member), because Ansari acts out this part phenomenally. It's clear to see that his attitude shifts from indifference to curiosity to appreciation within just a few seconds of dwelling on the piece. Oh, I wish I could get all my students to that moment - not with every work, obviously...but if I could just find a way to help each student discover one piece that helps expand their idea of beauty and that could draw them in to developing an appreciation for abstraction I would be such a happy camper!
So, how can I do that? I think next time I teach about abstraction I might make copies of a bunch of different abstract pieces and have them each choose one to dwell on a bit. Perhaps by seeing a wide range of abstraction, they'll find a particular style they appreciate. However, a major problem with this is that as paintings move away from representational style, it seems that a greater emphasis is on the materiality of the piece - the luster of particular paints, layers of impasto, lighting effects, etc. Dang it, when are they going to invent teleporters so I can take my students on proper field trips?
How do you approach abstraction when you teach about modern art? Any tips you'd like to share?
I'll leave you with one last bit from Tom's experience with abstract art: