SchoolArts Magazine

September 2016

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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L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G ARTIST Q&A SchoolArts: How would you describe your artwork to someone who has never seen it before? Elizabeth Alexander: My work is an ongoing explorative process where I create puzzles for myself using decorated domestic materials by strategically taking them apart, separating pattern, and then reor- ganizing the pieces . . . Conceptually I am tapping into the anxieties and absurdities associated with extreme perfectionism, but I see a lot of other influences entering the periphery of my work. SA: What are some of the biggest influences on your work, including other artists, events, or things outside of the arts? EA: My work is informed by everything from my own anxieties and daily curiosities to classic Disney princess movies . . . I constantly see things show up in my work from my past—gardening, welding, reading, music I love, films I watch repeatedly, conversations I have had with students, daydreams, nightmares—it is all in there. I also look at art as much as I can. I go to museums and galleries, rock shows, dance, films, theater; it is all art and it all contributes to my growth and ideas . . . I also love the work made by my friends and peers and am just as influenced by what I learn from them as I am by the "famous" artists that I admire. SA: How do the materials you use help express your ideas? EA: I prefer using found object-based materials because I like to col- laborate with their history. I can use something recognizable from daily life to build a narrative or character because, through the iden- tity of the material or object, I am accessing the language people use to decorate themselves or surroundings. SA: Do you have specific strategies, rituals, or routines that help you work and/or generate ideas? EA: My main strategy is to give myself a lot of goals and to always make sure I am moving forward. It can be very easy to stick with something people respond to and keep making the same piece. Even when I have a lot of requests for a single type of work, I make sure I have a new problem to solve, even if it is small, within the piece to make it fresh. Mindfulness and hard work are my best strategies. SA: What kind of advice can you offer teachers to help their students successfully create art in an intuitive, open-ended way? EA: My biggest advice is to recognize the individual strengths of your students and treat them as artists, not amateurs or children. I had a lot of teachers that dismissed my intelligence and did not take me seriously because I was a different learner, and I slipped through a lot of cracks academically. However, my salvation was with arts teachers who saw me for who I was and allowed me to ask for what I needed and really listened to me as they guided me . . . There was definitely a balance between compassion and rigor, things I do my best to bestow upon my own students. DISCUSSION Introduce students to Alexander's work along- side artists such as Rachel Harrison, Sarah Sze, and others who work with sculpture and instal- lation. Discuss how Alexander's choice of mate- rials and techniques combine to create a unique process that hints at the possible meanings of each piece. • What familiar objects or patterns do you see in her work? • What specific techniques can you identify by examining this piece? • What kinds of challenges might be presented by working with these materials and tech- niques? • How might she transport these pieces from her studio to a gallery or museum? • What kinds of emotions or ideas might be connected to Alexander's artwork? Identify any evidence that supports your idea. Studio Experiences Create a sculpture with found objects and nontraditional materials. Create a multimedia installation (small group collaboration or independent work). Select examples of traditional or histori- cal decorations, furniture, or architecture and reinterpret them in a new work of 2D or 3D art. Create an artwork in any media that inves- tigates gender roles and stereotypes. Identify something you encounter in everyday life that sticks with you. This could be an object, an experience, a scene from a movie or TV series, a story, a poem, song lyrics, a political event or news story—anything that makes you think or gives you a strong reaction. Next, try to figure out why the thing or subject you have chosen is important to you and begin brainstorming ideas for a work of art that will respond to it in a meaningful way. Create a series of three or more artworks that explore your responses and exhibit them together. Written by Karl Cole, curator of images at Davis Publications and Robb Sandagata, digital product manager at Davis Publications. ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE BEGINNER Want to see more? Check out Snapshots on page 51 to view more of Elizabeth Alexander's work. 28 SEPTEMBER 2016 SchoolArts

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