Joe Fusaro on Teaching With Contemporary Art


This past week I had the pleasure of hosting an online lecture by Joe Fusaro, Senior Education Advisor for Art21, for our graduate art education students at the University of Florida.  This event follows on the heels of a trip I took to New York City to attend Art21’s Creative Chemistries (CC) forum that brought artists and educators together from around the country to explore and discuss innovative practices for art and education.  While I had previously heard Fusaro speak at NAEA conferences, it was at the CC meeting in New York that I became convinced that our students would greatly appreciate and benefit from hearing what Joe has to say about teaching with contemporary art in the classroom. 

Our graduate curriculum is peppered with readings and assignments that encourage our students to teach about the art practices of today as well as the art of the past. Joe brings years of practical classroom experience to the table doing just what we ask our students to do.  Plus, he has a passion for getting teachers to think critically about their teaching and a real finesse for showing them how to use contemporary artists and art practices as pathways to innovative curriculum development and to broadening the conversations they have with students in their classrooms.

Following a brief introduction, Joe spoke for about an hour from prepared remarks accompanied by PowerPoint slides.  He then spent the next hour addressing questions posed by students that were sent to him in advance and projected on the screen.  His talk took place on Adobe Connect and was video-recorded. The recording is available for viewing by clicking on this link:

The following timeline provides a outline of the topics Fusaro addressed in his presentation and the approximate time mark they can be found at on the recording.  Enjoy.

Fusaro Online

Timeline of Video Recording

0:0:02 Roland welcomes the audience, provides and overview of the evening session, and introduces the speaker Joe Fusaro.

0:6:12 Fusaro shares his background: how he started in advertising, became a middle school art teacher, a mentor to new teachers, an art department chair, and how he landed in his current role as Senior Education Advisor for Art21.

0:17:57 Four questions to think about: Why teach with contemporary art? What kinds of things do we want students to learn? If this was the last art course your students ever took…? How can leading with questions offer more than project titles or themes?

0:19:54 Four goals for the evening: How can questions and ideas drive curriculum vs. “projects”? What are some strategies for teaching with contemporary art in and out of the classroom? What kinds of discussion can engage students in meaningful dialogue? Resource suggestions for contemporary art educators.

0:22:10 Utilizing Questions.

0:24:02 Fusaro: “One of the ways I find working with contemporary art can be made easier it to lean on the great questions that come up and not run away from them.”

0:24:40 For example: Evolution of the superhero project (from drawing superhero characters, to exploring the theme of “power” and looking at different kinds of power, to investigating the question “What is powerful?”).

0:27:34 Another unit example involving “Working With Form” started with creating forms from different materials, to exploring the theme of “Storytelling with Forms,: which evolved over time to asking “How can form express ideas?”

> Looking at Janine Antoni’s “Moor” from the Art21 website.

0:30:38 Selected Strategies for Teaching with Contemporary Art: Emphasize Process  (Cai Guo Qiang, Oliver Herring, Gabriel Orozco)

0:32:04 Build rubrics with students.

0:33:53 Fusaro: “Make it [exploring process] part of the expectations for the unit and demo what it could look like for students.”

0:33:53 The importance of in-process critiques.

0:34:36 Fusaro: “I try to stop them [students] half way into things, in the beginning stages, to get other opinions in the mix, to step back from the work and see where it’s going.”

0:35:30 Fusaro: “Getting students to slow down and not rush through things is hard work.”

0:36:46 Another Strategy: “Think, talk and research more even if it means making a little less” in order to get better quality work from students.

0:37:34 Prepare students in advance for what to expect.

0:39:00 Jenny Holzer, Doris Salzedo, LaToya Ruby Frazier are 3 artists that emphasize “thinking, taking, and making sense of things.”

0:40:58 Fusaro: “Research can take on many forms. Sometimes the answers are sitting in the classroom, they are not on Google.”

0:42:17 A Third Strategy: Encourage students to “Move beyond making work that is simply personal and more into making social, political, and global statements that are bigger and that speak to issues that are in the world.”

>”Three artists that are friendly in this way: Robert Adams, Carrie Mae Weems, and Do Ho Suh.”

0:44:39 Fusaro: “One of our other goals is to get students talking.”

>Strategies to promote active viewing vs passive watching: Active Viewing vs Passive Watching and In-Process Critiques.

0:49:12 The “Where Am I?” Protocol, Sound on/video off, Video on/sound off, Read bios and predict, Share research across the class.

0:53:45 Expectations and Talking About Difficult Subject Matter.

> Fusaro: “If we are interested in engaging students with issues that we think are going to be difficult it is important to set the expectations of how we are going to speak with one another and the kinds of questions we are going to engage with and to be really clear about our expectations.”

0:54:50 “We live up to the expectations we have for ourselves.”

0:55:35 Be transparent.

>Fusaro: “We might not know about something. Invite somebody to class that has direct experience with the issue.”

0:57:17 has great questions to use in the classroom with difficult subjects

0:57:39 Artists that provide entry points for talking about difficult subjects include:  Omer Fast (surveillance, warfare),  Sally Mann (identity, family, adolescence), Carrie Mae Weems (race, exclusion, family), Paul McCarthy (taboo, myths, icons), Kara Walker (race, gender, sexuality), and Tania Bruguera (art & activism, social change).

0:58:37 A Few Resources to Start.

1:00:50 Summary

1:02:59 – 1:47:40 Q & A. Answers to questions sent in beforehand from students.