Critical Conversations on Art Practice, Theory, and Research

ARTE 780

Altered Book Response Journals

Students were asked to keep a journal with visual reflections on the many topics covered in class.  First students completed an identity map assignment (Congdon, Stewart & White, 2002) in which they examined their identity through 12 lenses: religious, gender and sexual, geographical, family, age, economic, political, recreational, aesthetic, racial, occupational, and health and body.  This exercise provided an opportunity for reflection on what each student values, believes, and how these aspects of their identities inform and influence their teaching and interactions with others.  The first entry in their altered book journal was a visual ranking of their top 3 identities. The second entry was a visual reflection of some aspect of class discussion.  At this point students handed off their journal to another student in class to respond to. No conversation on the content of these reflections was allowed.  Once students received their journals back, they created a visual response to what their peer created and this went on until each student had visual responses from everyone in the class.  During the last class students shared their reflections and it was amazing how in tune each student was to the visual reflections of their classmates.

Ginger Brinn’s Altered Book

David Robbins’ Altered Book





Public Art Response Piece

The major assignment for ARTE 780 was to develop a proposal for and create an artwork that generated a response from the public related to one of the topics discussed in class.  Each student worked on their proposals for most of the semester, fine tuning them and getting feedback from their instructor, one another, as well as guest artists visiting the class. The artwork could take any form, be a physical art work placed in a space accessible to the general public or a more ephemeral piece such as performance; grounded in one or more resistance art theories.  Three of the four students elected to create a performance. Profiled here are excerpts from projects created by Anika Sarin and David Robbins.

50,000 Vexations by Dave Robbins

To be vexed is to be bothered, troubled, annoyed – like that. A vexation is something that causes one to be bothered, worried, troubled, etc. Vexations is a short one-page musical composition by Eric Satie, composed in 1893.  The work contains a vexing clue that has troubled musicians for a century: in a hand-written note, Satie indicates that if one wants to “play this phrase 840 times in a row, it will be as well to prepare oneself in advance, and in the deepest silence, through serious immobilitie.” Experimental composer John Cage interpreted Satie’s clue to mean that the work ought to be performed 840 times in a row. Something that vexes me is gun violence.  According to the Gun Violence Archive (2015) there have been at least 48,000 shooting incidents in the U.S. in 2015.  With one month left in the year, it is possible this number will exceed 50,00, which is a nice round number  of 1000 shooting incidents per each of the 50 states.  As a form of public art, this project is loosely based on the tactic of the Image  Theater and the Theater of the Oppressed (Boyd, 2012).

Using Satie’s Vexations as a score, the performer  (David) in 50,000 Vexations will reproduce one musical attack point for every incidence of gun violence so far this year.  Vexations contains 234 attack points, and the work lasts approximately 2 minutes.  Therefore, with 205 repetitions, which may take nearly 7 hours, the performer will have reproduced over 48,000 attack points, representing every bullet used in a shooting incident this year.

Boundaries by Anika Sarin

I like to observe people when they walk. We walk with the visual maps we form in our mind; familiar places, familiar walks, signs, buildings, turns, routes. We form ‘mental maps’ of places by our selective processing of information in relation to our personal preferences and perceptions of the environment. These perceptions are important in many daily decisions such as where to live, where to travel, where to avoid, where to shop, and where to site new buildings and towns. We walk in the space that is ours for the time that we walk on it and there is something uniquely personal about it. Building boundaries in these walks and forcing people to not use a part of the space they walk in everyday would be like creating boundaries between them and their space. The boundary would restrict and redefine their movement and exclude them out of a part of their walk. It interests me to find out how people react to an obstruction/ when a part of their space is taken away from them. Would they co-operate? Would they trespass?

Boundaries are the metaphorical or physical spaces between two sides, divided by culture, race, gender or geography. They are also diving factors between people of the same culture, gender or geography. The boundaries we create shift and change constantly: individual cultures and geographic identities are modified by the increasingly mobile forces of economic, political and social globalization. In response to this globalization of culture, my proposed art piece stands as a representation of increasing boundaries and the dialogue between people and their space.



Artist/Educator Manifesto

One of the assignments given this semester was to write an artist/educator manifesto.  Below is Amanda Barbee’s eloquent statement:

Art is the connection to a world outside of testing in American schools, as well as an outlet for communication, expression, and a moment to one’s own thoughts. Art is a permission that students, and luckily some adults, allow themselves in our society, sometimes even if the act of making, viewing, pondering, and witnessing art does nothing for anyone or anything else at all times. Art is a luxury, a delicacy, and a frivolity from a dedicated and purposeful life.

This is what many seem to believe, but as Rachel Goslins (2015) states, art is not a flower. Unless it would be a dandelion. But a dandelion is a weed. A dandelion can nourish with its edible roots, heal the liver with derived tinctures, and provide rich vitamins and minerals when the leaves are consumed. Viewed to be such a useless plant, the dandelion also has the most dedicated and effective pollen, possibly causing its trajectory from valued herb to plant-pest.

Art Education is viewed as such in American society. A thing to be dealt with, half-heartedly advocated for, until dollars and time become real measurable factors and the value is literally lost in numbers. Art sustains societies’ histories and values in its roots, heals burdened hearts and minds with its derived and experienced creations, and provides sustenance to the unconnected content of the brain with the relativity of life in the mind. Viewed to be an “extra” subject, Art has the most dedicated and effective educators, possibly causing art to be viewed as “easy” to incorporate, “needless” to propagate, and “unreachable” to those lacking natural art-making-talent.

One need not forage, prepare, or seek to serve Art for its value to be made clear in a life. Art Education in America is occurring in unseen and possibly even unrecognized realms and on natural, organically connected levels. Art, its messages, its benefits, and its intersubjectivity, is making its way to the minds and passions of the young. Art has remained a valued companion to the old, and art is surrounding and enveloping those ensnared in a “dedicated and purposeful life” and art is becoming not only a part of the conversation, but a part of the language.

Art Education is to thank for this moment in American society, even if it is not happening at this exact juncture in our timeline. It has happened, will happen, and does happen to become dear and precious to the collective. When that thing: that feeling, that connection, that revolt, that silence, that calm, that love, that frantic, that pride, that understanding, needs to be said, but cannot, it is, was, and will be Art to bring the embodiment. Art will proliferate to become the landscape we meet on as people, and it will be resplendent.

Dialogic Discussion at the VMFA

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, our class visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for a dialogic discussion of art works connected to themes of race,sexism, social justice, gender, the environment and many of the other issues we have covered in class. Each student selected a favorite work to spend time with and then partnered with another classmate to have a dialogic discussion of the works they selected.  The class then met as a whole to visit each of the four works selected for a broader discussion–making note of how personal experience influences perspective.  Anika selected the work above, Xilempasto 6, by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira and sparked a lively discussion. Some of us saw tree forms and roots, others dead birds and sea waves.  Our dialogic discussions opened up our thinking and perspective on how we view works of art and how having critical conversations about works of art provides opportunities for transformation.

Artographer Karin Rodney-Haapala

Kandinsky’s Orchestra by Karin Rodney-Haapala

On November 17, 2015 Artographer (artist/researcher/teacher) Karin Rodney-Haapala visited class to discuss her art and research practice. Karin has had many careers in her young life, including 10 years of service in the Air Force. Her interest in photography began while she was serving in Iraq using the camera lens to document memories of places that changed from one day to the next due to the ravages of war.  Later, as a BFA student, she turned the lens inward to examine her response to trauma in her personal life—a direct result of her experiences in the military. Karin’s colorful, abstract photographs are informed by her study of Kandinsky, Jung, Jack Mezirow (transformative learning) and others.  To read more about Karin and her practice visit


Artist Adjoa Burrowes Conducts Sculpture Workshop

On November 10, 2015, Washington, D.C. based artist Adjoa Burrowes visited the class to conduct a sculpture workshop using discarded cardboard boxes.  Burrowes has been experimenting with the art form for the past year and is currently exhibiting at Betty Mae Kramer Gallery in a show entitled, Rise + Fall.  

 “A box is basically a geometric shape with the ability to hold, house or conceal something – or not.  Initially, my main concern was to transform these plain cardboard boxes into something else and at the same time draw attention to questions of our consumer habits and larger environmental issues.”

For further information see Adjoa’s website: IMG_20151110_171621 IMG_20151110_174231 IMG_20151110_181145


This Blog captures the artistic practice and research of students in ARTE 780: Cultural Diversity in Art and Society.

Welcome to Critical Conversations on Art Practice, Theory, and Research!

This blog captures the work of students in ARTE 780: Cultural Diversity in Art and Society.  The goal of the course is to examine the complex intersections of art, culture, and social issues through the study of contemporary and historical examples of how policies and social issues have shaped art production in the US and across the globe.

Students in the course examine their own art practice as artist-researchers and critically analyze the socio-political contexts that drive their practice.  The culminating assignment is a public response art piece and a written proposal of the key issues they want to explore through the project.

This blog is a record of their research and progress toward completion of the project, the theoretical frameworks that underpin the project, and critical analysis of the entire process including feedback from the public on the work.

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