Art History Selfie: Art Where You Live

I am contributing this as a response to Hallie Scott’s great post on her art history Instagram assignment. I teach a 3-week online western survey in summer, so one can imagine the compression ratio! Most of my students are non-majors fulfilling a lower-division, general education/arts requirement. Some are not native-English speakers. Many students go home for the summer to locations in the U.S. as well as to other countries. There are internet access, time zone, and language challenges, among others. But almost every student is tech savvy.

One of the things I’ve tried to incorporate recently in order to reach the variety of students in this course is a fairly low-stakes-but-instructive assignment that encourages this group of learners to engage with visual images that are outside of the survey text book–images that can be found within their communities. I can’t require them to go to a museum, since there may not be one where they are when they are taking the course. I call it the “Art History Selfie: art where you live” assignment.

I’ve assigned this project twice and the students seem to really love it. I haven’t worked out all the bugs in terms of posting the final results: Should everybody see the completed assignment? Or, just the instructor? Best app or tool for posting?, etc. So far, I’ve had them use Tumblr, which works for a small class. I think the instructions could use some refinement as well. What’s the balance between clear directions and flexibility?

Below is one version of the assignment, as given to my winter session 2013 class. This summer I had students posting from China, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia, not to mention an array of places in the U.S. I’ve also included a PDF of a more formal plan of the assignment, Widdifield Selfie Lesson Plan, that I created for an instructional design class I took last spring.  The range of images posted is really amazing.

Step 1: Read this paragraph and think: Wherever you are when you take this course, look around you and think about the ideas and images you have studied. Find an example of what I like to call: “Art Where You Live.” Locate a painting, a building, or a public sculpture in your area. You may go to a local museum or gallery. If you aren’t near a gallery or museum or historical society, look around you. Stop and take a look at a government building or a public plaza, a fountain or a mural, a park, a gated entryway. You do not have to fine a famous work of art!  Find something in your environment that allows you to see concepts and practices you have seen in Western art at work in the visual world around you. What do you notice–subject matter? spatial arrangements? hierarchy? composition? light and shadow? color and texture? scale? unique images versus reproductions? materials? realism? abstraction? the human figure?

There are a host of things that you can see acting in and upon your own backyard. Questions to think about as you ponder what you see: If you’re looking at a building, study the facade, and look at how people move around or through it. If a 2D work–where is the painting hung? Who gets to see it? Whatever you look at does not have to be famous or the work of a well-known artist. There are many questions you can ask. This assignment asks you to reconsider, to re-see, what you might walk by without even noticing it.

Step 2 – Read This: Read Chapter 2 in your texbook. Here you will learn about the vocabulary, concepts, and practices of the discipline of Art History.

Step 3 – Do This: Choose your object and snap a selfie next to your example of “Art where you live.”

Step 4 – Do this: Snap photos of whatever you are examining in such a way that we know what is at work. Details in your photo could show color and texture, for example. People standing next to a statue can show scale and orientation. Be creative. Let the photo exemplify concepts, vocabulary, practices. Add any comments when you post this to your blog — you can post the terms and concepts with each photo. Use your picture to show us what you know about how your work of art is put together and what its impact is. [Instructor can show their own examples here.]

Step 5 – Do this: Choose an image from the text book that your work reminds you of. Snap a photo of it. Please include a brief description of the image you chose as well as the plate and page number from your textbook in your post. Tell us why you chose this, and how it relates to the work you chose from your community. The work you choose from the book does not have to be a perfect match. You just need to demonstrate that you can see similar concepts, ideas, practices, etc.

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