SchoolArts Magazine

MAR 2019

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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Page 17 of 70

T H E O P E N A R T R O O M E very winter I remember a partic- ular student from my early days of teaching. I was so proud of the lessons I'd developed for Black History Month and felt that warm tingle of self-satisfaction as I shared the work of Jacob Lawrence with the many hued faces that populated my classroom. I was satisfied that I did my part, until a precocious fifth- grader, wise beyond his years, asked me after class, "Ms. Purtee, why do teachers only talk about black people in February?" I was floored. He was totally right. After some reflection and intro - spection, I decided to do something about it. I started to gradually add more artists of color into my cur - riculum. Over time, a vague goal for increased diversity has evolved into my very specific "rule of three"—for every white male artist whose work I include in my classroom, I include two artists who do not adhere to both of those descriptors. Beyond Western Art At first, my rule of three seemed hard to follow. My college art his - tory classes, which focused almost exclusively on Western art, had not prepared me for understanding art that fell outside of this narrow scope. In fact, I had some moments of doubt, wondering if I was wrong not to to spend my limited teaching time on the "important" artists I'd learned about. However, the more I sought out artists, the easier it became to find them, especially when I expanded my scope to contemporary art, which is truly global. Diverse Growth Now I can't imagine not using the rule of three. What started as a goal to include more racial diversity in "I get tired of just hearing about white people in all my classes." Encouraging Inclusivity From my perspective, showing stu- dents a range of work isn't something optional; it's integral to my role as an educator. The fact that I left my college art history classes with the idea that important art is made only by white men isn't just a fallacy—it's part of the racist legacy of colonial - ism, a legacy that we must actively challenge. Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month are good in that they remind us to be more inclu - sive, but they don't go far enough. Students deserve to see themselves in the artists and artwork we feature all year long. Melissa Purtee is an art teacher at Apex High School in Apex, North Carolina, and co-author of The Open Art Room, avail- able now from Davis Publications. The Rule of Three Melissa Purtee the artworks I feature has grown into so much more. I consider eth - nicity, gender, and sexual orientation when I select artwork and artists to show students, as well as including artists with disabilities and work from a range of cultures and time periods. This practice has unques - tionably made my classroom more inclusive and the content I offer much deeper. When I asked my stu - dents what they thought about the art I show, responses included: "It's refreshing to see something that's different from the art I'm used to seeing." "Having different perspectives helps me understand." Showing students a range of work isn't something optional; it's integral to m role as an educator. Artwork by student of Melissa Purtee. SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 13

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