What I Learned In Class Today…

If you can find it, you must read: Gillespie, J. (2016) Oliver Herring’s TASK in the Classroom: A Case for Process, Play, and Possibility, Art Education, 69(1), 31-37.

My usual disclaimer is that I steal quotes and barely paraphrase the highlights that capture my imagination in the articles I invite you to find and read… so, let’s dive in…

Another first occurred this week in my Foundations of Art Education class. picture yourself walking into a lecture room, completely reorganized in a seemingly random arrangement of tables, all covered with a wide assortment of arts and crafts materials. At the entrance table, there’s a box with big bright writing on it: “TASK Box”. Next to it, in equally big letters, is a paper with a few TASK Rules: write a task on a pice of paper, fold it, and place it in the box. Take a task from the box and do it. Repeat when done your task.

That’s the extent of the instructions! The teacher did go into a little explanation, but the gist of it was that we were about to embark on the best icebreaker activity I’ve ever experienced!

I am initially shy to engage people in conversation and this gave me an opportunity to just do it. My first task (I must have used some manifestation here, as it was easy) was to get the teacher to draw a tattoo on me with washable markers. She wrote “I love ArtEd” with a green heart on my arm, but she also did much more… She engaged me in conversation: what’s my fav colour, hers is green. She effortlessly giggled and talked, asked questions, and let me answer… we had a full and comforting conversation in what must have been only a minute or two. Then I went onto my next task.

On my way to getting my next task, and starting it, I engaged several of my (giggling) classmates in quick conversations. My anxiety dissipated and I didn’t even notice I was having conversations. My next task was to recreate my favourite work of art in a material I’ve never used before. That’s a tough one for me as I don’t really have a favourite work of art, and could possibly narrow it down to a hundred, with effort. The other challenge is that I feel I’m an art media explorer and have played with pretty much everything made available in there room. So, I decided there was no need to worry about perfection here, it’s my experience. All I needed to do was have fun. I saw a box of twigs and a spool of string, so I made this.

A Woodland Giaccometti

Yes, Giaccometti sculptures and drawings always seem to be rattling around my imagination, and apparently so are images from The Burning Man festival… (well, maybe this is due to my friend Stan suggesting he get a match and the fire extinguisher ready.)

Never mind the small statue; the experience is what is important and it felt great!

Students’ involvement with TASK provides perpetual opportunities for participants to delve into the raw process of interpretation and creation. They are free to interpret their given tasks with whatever amount of commitment, attention, and energy that they wish, without the anxieties that often accompany … finished products.

This TASK experience did exactly what it set out to do: create a safe and trusting environment in which to learn and share ideas. It invited the participants (us, the students, of course). to experiment, to improvise, and to play. (There are libraries of books written on the importance of play in the success of learning process, so I won’t elaborate on that right here and now. Mainly, because I doubt I could be concise about it.)

Here are more reasons I know I’ll be doing the TASK experience at the start of all the classes I teach, going forward:

“... to experiment and risk; to fail without consequence; to invest in something idiosyncratic, messy, potentially paradoxical and inconclusive; to engage people in adventurous and unusually intimate circumstances; and to continuously challenge how a material, a space, a situation, and a human interaction can be engaged…

TASK and Improved Communications

As teachers (and equally as leaders), we need to reconsider our teaching practices to include opportunities for making personal connections, to improve our understanding of each other and the world we live in. It can’t be only about production anymore. In the context of art, where subjectivity is our only truth and objectivity is impossible, we need to reconceptualize our notion of aesthetics in ways that look for where and how we are similar to each other.

By introducing TASK at the start of the semester, everything that follows is framed by a sense of play, openness, possibility, and excitement.

All this boils down to creating an ideal learning environment for any and all different learning styles. That means creating a space where trust is fostered and reciprocated.

Why not try it and have some fun?

Here’s a short list of resources regarding the awesome Turnaround Arts initiative! I strongly recommend visiting them…

Turnaround Arts – The Kennedy Center

Turnaround Arts initiative – Final Evaluation Report

Turnaround Arts and Why it works

Art21 Educators Program

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