This article examines ways in which real issues in contemporary society can be addressed in art education classrooms, from upper elementary grades through higher education. Classroom projects incorporate zines, “artist pages,” and mixed-media three-dimensional works of art focused on information, advocacy, or protest, with a goal of transformative learning. Curricula utilize methods and outcomes based on critical and design thinking for communication of progressive socio-cultural and political ideas in visual and written form. In addition, the authors view a progressive perspective, also defined as “left” in traditional political polarity (Bienfait and Beeka 2014), as the most compatible with constitutional democracy in the United States. Themes, hands-on curriculum, and socially engaged fact-based research on issues such as environmental problems, healthcare, class warfare, or global warming, for example, are key to successful production of art that communicates and supports critical engagement. The tools, materials, and processes discussed in this article and the artworks produced by students represent new understandings as well as transferable and transdisciplinary skill sets that are imperative for the twenty-first-century global citizen.
Despite knowing that photographs can be manipulated, we tend to accept news and documentary photographs as reportage of real events; their purpose is to inform us about something happening somewhere, and to tell us something of the truth. Art, however, rarely claims to be objective, factual, dispassionate, or balanced in commenting on world events; providing timely, accurate information is not its purpose. Yet for centuries, art has had a role in representing real events, and artists continue to draw from global news and issues to create work. This paper addresses work by several contemporary artists who base their two-dimensional images on real events. Referring to the theories of Henri Bergson, Paul Crowther, Jean Fisher, and Jacques Rancière, amongst others, it considers whether art, more than news reporting or photojournalism, comes close to telling the truth.
The utilization of ready-made content is a powerful current in contemporary art, taking the form of such practices as parody, rephotography, photomontage, simulation, and quotation. Whether used in part or in whole, appropriated imagery is often intended to question meaning and originality in contemporary culture. Yet, despite its ubiquity, the incorporation of pre-existing imagery is not without risk. Since the 1960s, copyright cases have escalated among notable artists, such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. In many such cases, the unlicensed reusage of imagery plays a strong role in the creation of message, particularly with works intended to be a commentary on consumerism or popular culture. Yet, some artists, such as American photographer Richard Prince, seem to create artworks in order to invite legal reprisal, as if ensuing copyright lawsuits are the true subject matter, not the appropriated content itself. The purpose of this article is to explore and introduce a new artistic category, which the author classifies as legal performance art. Participants range from legal counsel and the judiciary to members of the press and the consuming public. Pleadings, exhibits, and press coverage become part of conceptual framework of the performance. This radical shift in venue and scope challenges the traditional definition of the artwork, fragmenting it amongst countless sites, thereby revolutionizing the concepts of production, participation, and viewership.