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How Art Can Help Inspire a More Creative Educational Exploration

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Art crosses boundaries. It can talk about math, explore history, and even expand our ideas of how we communicate stories. Art is essential in teaching children how to see the word through different lenses. 

As a parent and artist myself, I’m always trying to find new ways to do this. If you’re like me and are looking for some ideas on how to make English Language Arts, Social Science, Science and Math more engaging through expressions of creativity, here are some ways artists and local cultural organizations can help you out. 

In English Language Arts

Nari Ward Uses Everyday Materials to Tell Surprising Stories

Every material has an inherent story. New York City artist Nari Ward has been making sculptures, paintings, videos and large-scale installations for almost 30 years, often using humble materials in surprising ways. Around the 5-minute mark in this video, see how shoelaces plugged into a wall can become a beautiful installation that speaks about the ideas of democracy and country.

  • Challenge your child to choose something found around the house which could be transformed into art. How would they create the artwork? Ask how this method compares and contrast to other methods of making art. 
  • Encourage your child to think about different ways to install a work of art. Does it have to be made on a canvas? Does it have to be framed? Does it have to be at eye level? Compare and contrast different ideas.

Shinique Smith Constructs Meaning From Fabrics

Los Angeles based artist Shinique Smith creates sculptures and installations that play with the issues of consumerism. She bundles, stuffs and shapes discarded fabrics, clothing and rope into sculptures that challenge viewers to think about the objects they keep and the objects they discard, and what that says about them. Smith's soft sculptures also shine the light on a global fashion industry and its implications for local communities.

  • What kind of sculpture can your child make from clothing and a piece of string or rope
  • Encourage them to consider color and texture. How does placing colors and textures affect their construction?

Yinka Shonibare Uses of Traditional African Patterns to Reveal the Complexities of Cultural Identity

Through his installations and projects, British African artist Yinka Shonibare asks us to think about the complexities of cultural identity as well as of colonial and post-colonial histories. See how he constructs meaning into his art by drawing on his background growing up in the U.K. and Nigeria. In his work “Creatures of Mappa Mundi,” Shonibare invites community members to help him create vibrant quilt artworks inspired by Hereford Mappa Mundi, an artifact that depicts strange people and animals, myths, and perhaps realities based on travelers of far-off lands.

Yinka Shonibare sculpture in front of The Liz in Washington D.C. | Joe Flood / Flickr / Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Yinka Shonibare sculpture in front of The Liz in Washington D.C. | Joe Flood / Flickr / Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Ask your children about how they see themselves and what things have meaning for them.
  • How could they use these things in a surprising way that would make someone think about their culture differently?

Barbara Kruger Explores the Power of Words

Using photographs layered with text (and lately, focusing simply on text) American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger has been provoking art lovers around the world to think about the world around them. See how carefully chosen words can start powerful conversations in this video.

Barbara Kruger's new mural at the NeueHouse Hollywood reads "Who buys the con?" as part of her "Untitled (Questions)" project. | Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy of NeueHouse Hollywood
Barbara Kruger's new mural at the NeueHouse Hollywood reads "Who buys the con?" as part of her "Untitled (Questions)" project. | Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy of NeueHouse Hollywood

  • Choose a space in your house or outside and challenge your children to make their own Barbara Kruger-esque piece. 
  • Ask them, “what words would you choose to make me/us think?”

In Math

Yayoi Kusama Transports Viewers to Another World in a Feat of Multiplication

Yayoi Kusama has been wowing international audiences with her immersive, transportive rooms. Take a virtual walk through her “Fireflies in the Water” installation, which feels exactly as it sounds.

  • Ask your child: “How did the artist accomplish this?” “Why is water in the title?” “How is Kusama able to ‘multiply’ the fireflies?” 
  • Challenge them to name the math concepts at play in this installation. Or perhaps ask them to estimate the size of the space or imagine themselves trying to build a similar space. 

Allan McCollum Creates a System to Create Uniqueness

New York City artist Allan McCollum has created over 10,000 unique works of art, and he’s figured out a system to ensure no one object is ever repeated twice. Watch to see how he creates one-of-a-kind objects. 

  • Ask your child how McCollum was able to solve his challenge and how multiplication played a role in the solution. 
  • What objects around the house might combine to make an interesting sculpture?
  • Sculptures can be temporary. Challenge your child to see how many sculptures can be made out of three objects from around the house.

In Social Science

Betye Saar Uses Ordinary Objects and Changes the Meaning

Betye Saar visits flea markets and antique stores where she collects objects that already have an established meaning. By taking it out of its traditional context and placing them with other found materials, Saar re-configures its message. Her work, known as assemblage art, has health with difficult subjects such as racial tensions and inequality in the United States, especially in the African American experience. See how common objects take on an uncommon significance in this video.

  • Challenge your child/children to use something from the house which holds special meaning and arrange it next to something that changes its meaning.

Vija Celmins Began By Painting What Was Around

Vija Celmins is an American-Latvian artist known for her photo-based realistic paintings of common objects and scenes like rocks, lamps and the ocean. “Part of what I do is document another surface and sort of translate it. They’re like translations, and then part of it is fiction, which is invention.” She began by making paintings of the things she had in her immediate surroundings.

  • Ask your child/children what things in your house would make interesting paintings?
  • Does it have different meanings for different family members, like cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles?

Mark Dion Uses Science Principles to Uncover Our Relationship to the World

Mark Dion has made a career out of collecting random stuff and studying the natural world. But he isn’t a scientist or an archeologist. Instead, he adopts the methods of science in his artworks and asks the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the natural world. In “Life of a Dead Tree,” he brought the remains of a massive tree into a museum to show just how much life — bugs, liverworts, fungi — it continued to support. In this video, filmed with the teen council at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Dion explains how his projects uncover the human relationship to the rest of their world.

  • What seemingly random collection of things can your child arrange to create new meaning?

Theaster Gates Explores Humanity Through What It Keeps

What we keep, collect, cherish says a lot about us. Artist Theaster Gates brings all of that into focus by using collections in his art pieces. By bringing together objects that collectively signal the values of a person or institution, he brings forward a neighborhood’s history.

  • Ask your child about what objects they collect and what they think they say about them.

The Los Angeles Conservancy Book Collection Shines a Light on the City of Angels

The Conservancy is a champion of the city and its collection of architecture and design-themed books truly show how our surroundings influence our lifestyles. Best of all, each book on the list comes with a reading and discussion guide meant especially for children and their parents to use. One of my child’s favorites is “Iggy Peck, Architect.” In this book, discover how Iggy Peck designs a bridge. 

  • See if your child can build a bridge out of Legos or building blocks that can hold a can of food.

In Science

The California African American Museum Shows Us How to Observe

We’ve all heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but have you ever tried to compose one yourself? Sign up for this free Zoom workshop from the California African American Museum to join local artists Jean-Gyerly Petion and Janna Ireland and see how your ideas can be captured within a frame. All you need is any kind of camera and household objects, which you’ll learn to choose and arrange. The workshop is April 18 from 3 to 4 p.m. RSVP is required.

Fischli and Weiss Build Fantastic Machines

The internet is a treasure trove of all things amazing, but long before it ever took hold, Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss have been finding the extraordinary in the commonplace items of the world. Watch this entertaining video and challenge your child to make their own incredible machine.

  • What kind of machine will they build? 
  • Ask them what objects are using force and what things are in motion. Are there chemical reactions in their creations? 
  • Would they call it art? 

Kathleen McDermott Makes Emotions Visible Through Wearables

New York artist Kathleen McDermott is interested in technologies that are not productive, robots badly suited to absurd purposes and electronic creations beyond her control. In her Art & Technology video, she shares some works which use clothing infused with technology to explore how we interact with each other.

  • What kind of wearable would your child make?
  • What would it do?
  • Would it interact with others? How?

Andrew Dawson Uses His Hands to Tell the Story of the Lunar Landing

Dancer, theater artist and puppeteer Andrew Dawson tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission using only his hands in this video. See how a historic moment and a triumph of science can be told just through gestures. After watching the performance, sit with your children and go through some key achievements and highlights of the lunar landing with this guide

More about Kim Schoenstadt

Kim Schoenstadt, Global Tango: Warm (Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, Rome, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Washington D.C.), 2019, acrylic paint on wall, 9' X 38'. Private Collection, Washington, D.C. | Courtesy of the artist
Kim Schoenstadt, Global Tango: Warm (Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, Rome, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Washington D.C.), 2019, acrylic paint on wall, 9' X 38'. Private Collection, Washington, D.C. | Courtesy of the artist

Kim Schoenstadt is a Los Angeles-based artist and parent. She is known for projects such as “Now Be Here,” which gathered close to 1,000 women-identifying and non-binary artists in Downtown L.A. for a historic photograph that visually showed the world artists who are not always included in exhibitions and collections. The project launched other "Now Be Here" activations across the country in Brooklyn, Miami and Washington, D.C. to significant media attention and critical acclaim. Schoenstadt’s work will be featured at the Fairview Heights Metro station on the Crenshaw/LAX line, which is set to open late this year. Born in Chicago with a B.A. from Pitzer College, California, her selected exhibitions include: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, NL; Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL; Santa Monica Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Prague Biennale; Poland Biennale, Lodz, PL; The Getty Center, Los Angeles; and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

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