Last week, I sent out a needs assessment to our faculty. Initially, I was concerned it was too lengthy, but as a new media specialist here at Chattahoochee High, I feel a sense of urgency to get some idea of what teachers have done in the past, what they are interested in now, and their points of need. In spite of some lingering reservations, I shared the assessment with our faulty via email. The next morning, AP Studio Art teacher Dorsey Sammataro came by to see me because she was intrigued by information literacy concepts embedded in the survey. Long story short, the survey opened a really exciting conversation between us about certain concepts and skills she saw on the survey and how it dovetailed with the needs for a new unit she is piloting related to 2D Design Service Learning and Natural and Human-Made Environments. Students have started thinking about topics of importance to them but need help growing strategies for search, developing search vocabulary, and becoming more comfortable with web-based resources as well as databases that students can mine to find inspiration for ideas and issues that can then inspire their art. Ms. Sammataro identified this working list of issues and topics of importance to her students in the course:
- Issues of socioeconomic equity (rich, poor, middle class)
- Education and Equity
- Human trafficking
- Cultural appropriation: identifying its effects in everyday life and raising awareness of it
- Assimilating into a culture: how, why, impact on those assimilate—what is gained, what is lost
- Adolescent mental health issues
- Body image
- Emotional health
- A sense of unity and connection to peoples and cultures in other parts of the world
- Stereotypes and assumptions people make about specific ethnicities
- Abandonment of self because of depression/mental illness as well as abandoned communities and/or groups of people
When she said they would be having a group debrief about the first work of art they had created that had come out of their initial pass at these topics, I asked if I could come listen in, and she enthusiastically said yes! I was able to join them and listen to most of the 50 minute small group discussion as they talked about:
- expanded insights about their topic ideas—this aspect of the discussion was quite meaty/weighty as students drew from personal experiences.
- what they had learned about their idea through their initial research and first efforts at crafting 2D art around it.
- what community resources (people, groups) might be resources for our work and ideas.
- how and why one might abandon a topic and how the process of making art around a topic may help you realize that topic is not your true passion.
- one student shared she had discovered she needs a strong intention for figurative pieces, so the idea/topic of interest is particularly crucial for art making.
- an extended conversation about the importance of time, space, and ownership of experimentation for both literal and experimental/abstract pieces (echoes of Nancie Atwell’s concept of what writers need); the importance of trying new things, art forms. In the words of one student, “Don’t be afraid to stray from the path of success.”
- some students discovered they liked new art forms they didn’t think they would like.
- one student shared how she was excited about the idea that inspired her art but when it came to do the printing process it was very humbling because it was more difficult than she imagined and the piece didn’t turn out quite as she envisioned, yet this trial and error process was important and valuable to her.
- some discovered it was more difficult than they anticipated to turn an idea/topic/issue into an art piece.
- one student shared how important it is to find out what you really are passionate about and then wondered how to better go about mining it to yield more strategic ideas/subtopics or focal points for expression of that through art.
I was struck by how deeply invested the students were in these topics and the group discussion; I was also appreciative of their honesty and openness, something that is not easy to do among peers or with a new adult on the staff who is listening to what they have to say. Their perspectives on these topics as well as their insights on art making processes had a depth I had not anticipated; it also got me thinking about the parallels between making meaning from art and making meaning from working with information (and some form of research whether formal, informal, or some hybrid). A few wonderings I’m now contemplating:
- How do the two (research and art) inform each other, and how might looking at art-making processes foreground our conceptualization of “research”? I can’t help but wonder if some of the precepts of Dennis Sumara’s work with “literary anthropology” in studying reading literacies might be applied when we think of art, the learning environment of a studio, and research intersect as a site of “information literacy interpretation.”
- How might a library function as a studio where meaning making is elevated across multiple forms of literacy, particularly information literacy processes? How is research art? How might research and the cultivation of information literacy skills in art students impact their art-making processes? What insights from an art studio might we draw upon in designing a library as a learning studio, and what does research look like in this environment? How will it translate to learning spaces then outside the library and impact a larger learning community and culture where research seems increasingly marginalized in K-12 public schools by the impact of standardized testing? What tools, resources, experiences, and learning design drivers do artists and learners need in a research/library learning studio as well as an art studio?
- How is the act of crafting art like acts of crafting research processes and products?
- Research and art can both be organic, recursive, and frequently non-linear (even though there are those who would like to prescribe models that are contradictory in nature). Many K-12 teachers, professors, and yes, even some librarians tend to emphasize the consumption aspect of research rather than frontloading the grittier messy work of mucking about in information; students often miss the experience of wrestling with the friction of ideas that comes when one goes beyond regurgitating facts and engages in higher level thinking; it is often the final product, a paper, that gets the most emphasis. Yet this creative process is viewed positively when it comes to crafting art—-how might it be viewed if we embrace meaning making as the core of research as it is in art?
Building on the extensive work and efforts Jennifer Lund and I invested in developing the concept of library as learning studio at Norcross High (see any of my posts from the last two years), this budding collaborative partnership with the AP Studio Art students and Ms. Sammataro (and my larger/big picture efforts to now develop the library as learning studio concept at Chattahoochee High) may offer opportunities for us to explore these wonderings together by working from an inquiry stance. I hope to dwell in these ideas and look forward to see how my thinking is shaped by my experiences with Ms. Sammataro and her students.