Let’s talk about why dead white guys are not enough in our art classrooms and why I’m not having a panic attack even saying those words!
Hello, and welcome to the Art Class Curator Podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host, and the founder of Art Class Curator and the Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delight to creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders and let’s get started.
Hello everybody and welcome back to the Art Class Curator Podcast. This is … Excuse me. Got too excited. This is Cindy Ingram, and today we’re going to talk about the Dead White Guys. So, I’m going to start off this episode to tell you a little bit of a story about my history with this website, Art Class Curator. A few years ago, this was … I can actually pull up the exact date. It was November of 2017, and it was during the auction where that da Vinci painting sold for $450 million. The night that the auction was running, I believe … I want to say it was probably a Wednesday night because I send my emails on Thursdays.
The email for Thursday was already loaded in the system and it was ready to go. But I’m watching this news happen, unfold, live, watching this auction streamed through Facebook. I was like, “Oh crap, this is a big art news. I’m going to change tomorrow’s email to talk about this because this is an important event, record-breaking event.” So the problem there was, that I’m watching this auction, and I went in the middle of the da Vinci one, and then I think I started to watch the ones after it. It was painter after painter of white guys. Okay?
Hearing this amounts of money and seeing no diversity represented in the auction, there might have been, the ones that I watched there wasn’t, like the ones immediately after. I remember there was … I want to say there was an Andy Warhol and maybe like Cy Twombly. I don’t remember exactly, but I just remember my stomach was churning at that amount of money. I was torn because I was thinking, gosh, this is art, I love art, it’s valuable. But what else could that 450 million do in the world? Also, where is all of the other art that is just as good? I was feeling sick. It really actually made me feel sick to my stomach.
So I went into my email, and I changed my email and this is what I wrote. So after talking about the artwork, showing the artwork, I’m sharing a quote from the auction about the artwork. I then put … I kept watching the auction after until I started to feel a little nauseated by it all. It’s a little hard to hear the word million so many times in a row while also hearing white men’s names over and over too. I can’t figure out my opinion on any of it, but it was pretty fascinating. Then I linked to the recording.
So I did that, I threw that line in there and I then got some replies to the email. We get replies to email all the time, we love getting replies, but there was not nice replies in there, and it caused me a great deal of anxiety to get, you write something about what you care about, and you put your heart and soul in the some thing. So, in the early years of running my website, I was especially sensitive to negative emails, negative comments, things like that. I honestly don’t get a great deal of negative comments and feedback there. It’s pretty rare. But I know a lot of bloggers, especially on kid activities area, they get a lot of negative comments.
So it caused me a great deal of anxiety. I felt like, God, I shouldn’t have done that. My husband at the time was working with me, he was the one who had originally scheduled the email and I didn’t tell him that I went in and I changed the history through all the emails for grammar and stuff like that. He was like, “Oh, you should run things by me before you do stuff like that.” To the point where … gosh, I don’t know, it was like four or five replies. It really wasn’t that many. I don’t know how many it was sent to. Lets see how many people. I don’t know, that would require more clicking, but it was several thousand people, and only five negative replies. But of course you get five and you’re like, “Oh, end of the world.”
So I couldn’t read any more replies about the email. I couldn’t even read that email. I felt guilty and ashamed and I shouldn’t have done that, even though it’s something I believe in, even though I’ve come around to believe like, “Hey, you know what? I got to share my thoughts on things that I can’t just try to sugarcoat everything.” Not to mention if they are sending me negative emails like that, I don’t really need them on my email list. That’s not my person. So great amount of anxiety around that.
Then to counter that, I have a post on the blog that is 52 artworks, children should know. Now, full disclosure, I wrote that post when I was first starting and I was trying to come up with ways to get more people on the site, try to get more traffic. I knew, I post that in January that it would get a lot of traffic because parents and things … that’s an easy list. I can just go and find this list of art, and I went through and I picked all these artworks and then I looked at it and I was like, “Oh shoot, there is not, I almost said the F word in there and there is not a lot of diversity here.
Hemmed and hawed and I was like, “Okay well, I’m just going to post it because I already did it.” Of course, I realized it after. Now, I don’t like to share that post because it also causes me some anxiety because I know it’s not right. I know that, that post needs to be redone. I know that I need to add more diversity, and so anytime anyone makes a comment to that effect, I say you’re exactly right, you’re exactly right. So, it’s the same type of thing, people giving me comments, and they’re both related to my core values, and I can take that information and use it in different ways.
The emails about the Dead White Guys, I was then feeling nauseated by the white men’s names or whatever. Now, I feel no guilt about that, because I realized that I spent several years trying to please too many people. I didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers because that anxiety reaction is related to fear more than anything. Not necessarily guilt or shame, but it’s fear, fear that my whole business is going to crash, that I need to keep more control over what I say because I don’t want to piss anybody off, and I don’t want to make my whole business collapse. So I had to keep really tight control over what I said, and so it would be too cautious and too careful.
So, I can take that fear and learn from it, and now I’ve learned, no, it’s exact opposite, I need to lean in to these things rather than shy away from them because … like in Hamilton they say, “If you stand for nothing then what will you fall for?” I have to stand for something, and I stand for more diversity in art education. Now, the other response, the anxiety response that I get from the comments about the 52 artworks post, is guilty, because I know better. I knew better then and I know better now, and I justified it better then but now I can’t justify that. So I took it off of our social sharing platform, people still go to it because it is a Google bold topic, but I can learn from that.
It’s guilt that actually works for me. You know there’s a difference between shame and guilt. Shame means I am bad, and guilt means I did something bad. So I can use that guilt and then I can change and I can make a change in my life and I should absolutely redo that post, I’m going to add that to my list. So, I do this because, when that quote like, “Know better, do better.” I don’t know who said it or where that came from, but I know better. So I need to do better. So now I know I have to talk about the things that I care about. Like that first episode when the podcast relaunched about perfectionism that … If I walk around afraid of offending people, then how am I going to change the world with what I’m doing here?
So I used to, and also I used to be very Western focused in my teaching, not when I taught elementary or actually any of my public school teaching, I did more cultural around the world, different artists. But when I was teaching community college, that was my first teaching gig. I taught community college for four years, between 2006 and 2007, 2010. I would do a survey or I would do a lot of aesthetics and art criticism at the beginning. Then I would do elements of principles a little bit, just to give them a visual vocabulary. Then I would do like a survey of our history and excuse me, I’m losing my voice a little bit.
Then, the only really and then … but I then I was like, “No, I’m not covering the full scope of art here, I need to do more.” So to fit in non Western cultures, I did the cultural art assignment, which I told you about last time. You know that full lesson with the Ethnocentrism and the cultural art presentations, that’s what I would do to fit in the work from other cultures. If I were to go back and re-teach art appreciation at the community college level. I loved doing that by the way. I don’t, envision that I’m going to do it like any more. But I would not do it that way anymore. I would take a completely different approach because Western art history chronologically is leaving out so much, and I know better now.
But one at the time teaching then, I wasn’t brave enough to do it, and I didn’t know enough to do it. So, I have an art history degree, I know a lot of art history, but I don’t know a lot of art history beyond the Western culture. I did take a couple of non Western classes. We were required to take one and I took three. It was Latin American contemporary, which is basically not really non Western art. I mean, it’s contemporary art. It’s not non Western or Western contemporary art, it’s just contemporary art, it’s global.
So I took that, I took Russian contemporary art. I didn’t take like a regular contemporary art class, I just took these random classes, and then I took an Islamic Art of the Book. So it was like Illuminated manuscripts, which was awesome. But that’s all I had besides what was in my like survey of art history, which of course was Western & Central. So anyway, I didn’t know. I was like, “Well I don’t have time, I’m working full time, I’m teaching on the side, two, three classes per semester in addition to working full time. I just didn’t have time to do it.” Now I know a lot more. But if I were to go back, I would help to change things.
So, even from when I started my website, which was in 2014, a lot has changed. I have realized that it is … like I talked about last week, it’s not about art appreciation anymore, and to me it’s not even about art history anymore, that I’m not … it’s not about our history, it’s about connection, It’s about all of these things I’ve been talking about over the last few weeks. So if we want to create connection, if we want to create better people that we’ve been talking about, we need to expand the types of art that they see.
That’s hard because you don’t know. I mean, I’m not saying you don’t know, but so many teachers get out of school and they were taught that away, they took their two art history classes, survey one, survey two that goes through all of Western art history, and that’s all they’ve got to work with in the scope of their knowledge. So it’s very, very tricky. But if you think about like why did those artwork artists get to be the old masters? Why are they so great? It really is, that men tell the story, white men tell the story, and then we changed the story as we go.
One prime example of this, is the Primitivism exhibit, from I think it was 1989, it was at the MoMA and they did an exhibit that was called Primitivism and it put modern art next to African sculpture and African masks. So, there was like Paul Klee, there was like a square, I’m picturing one in my head, I’m not exactly sure this exists, if that was Paul Klee at all. There was one that looked almost identical to it, but it was an African sculpture, and they put them side by side, and called it Primitivism.
You’re taking this art out of context. You’re calling it primitive, you’re othering it, and you’re defining it in the scope of your own, of your own culture, and that was 1984, so I was loading up something I’ve written about it in the past, see if there was anything extra I wanted to say about it. So it took the context and why these artworks are made, that made it irrelevant. It was just using as tools to influence modern artists. So, white men created the story, they’ve created art history, and I was watching recently, and I highly recommend this, not safe for children, not safe for your school, but it is the stand-up Nanette by Hannah Gadsby and it’s a comedy show on Netflix, but it is so much more than just a comedy show.
What she talks about … she has an art history degree. So I’m going to quote something from her that fits with here and it says, “You know, art history is highbrow, I don’t belong in that world, I’m not from that world, I’m not from money or even that much chat if I’m honest. But high art that elevates and civilizes people, galleries and the ballet, the theater, all these things you go there, you get better.”
So, it made me stop, I paused it when I heard that, and I was like, “Okay, well, that’s what I’ve been saying, it makes better people.” But the way she’s describing this elitist art history is not the way I’ve been describing it. So I had to think about that. Like I do say it makes better people, but I’m not saying it makes better people because they are better than you in their culture, they appreciate the fine things and all of that. They just are better people empathetically and connective and vulnerable and all of that sort of thing. So it’s a different thing.
So, art history is elitist and the history of art, and she’s seeing the history of women through art. Hannah Gadsby also talks about that, is that she says there’s only two places for women in the history of art and that is a virgin or a whore. She talks about how women in paintings like don’t know how to put their clothes full on. Then there’s another thing, sorry I’m going to quote lots of things, but this last one. It says, “Art history taught me, historically, women didn’t have time for the think thoughts.” She talks about how she has thoughts all the time, but art history, women didn’t have time to do the think thoughts.
So, all of that said, we need more variety in the art that we are offering our children, our students, I’m not completely against showing the old masters but they are should be a very small part of a curriculum. If you think about the scope of how much art there is in the world, I tried to find that number. I was like, “Is there a number for how much art has been created in this world?” It’d be an impossible to quantify, thinking about how much art is made every day. I found a spreadsheet from some random blog posts from … or like it was a news story and they did some research. The 21 museums from that spreadsheet in their collections, there was 3,585,193 artworks. So three and a half million artworks just in those 21 museums in their collection.
In the world. I don’t even know how many museums there are in the world, but that typically in the big museums, only 5% of the collection is on view, everything else is in storage. So, that’s pretty crazy. Then you think about the timeframe that art has being made for like 40,000 years. So why are we going to choose be like top 10 guys when we have so much art to choose from? A lot of students, oh, not students, a lot of teachers fear that their students are going to be bored with art history, that they don’t necessarily see it as very interesting that they can’t connect with it.
One of the main things I say to that is you pick better art. If they’re getting super bored by it, pick something more exciting because there are at least 3.5 million artworks in this world. Not to be overwhelming. But there are … I don’t know how many countries there are in this planet, how many time periods there were on this planet, that there is a lot of amazing art out there, and that’s one of our goals as Art Class Curators, to find those really cool artworks and bring them to the surface. And it means that it’s really hard to find women artists.
You know when I was creating the elements and principles posters that we have on the site, I’ll put a link in the show notes if you don’t have those yet. I wanted to do a balance of at least half women, half men, and holy cow, it was hard to find examples of women artists for the elements and principles, because every elements principles article I’d find, it was like men, men, men, men, men, men, woman. So I realized it’s a hard task but we are trying to make it easier for you at Art Class Curator, that’s for sure. So incorporating more diverse art is super important.
I found a couple of great resources on this, that I’m going to talk through some of the points. One of those is an AEA position statement on diversity, which is really good. Then I found an article from nameorg.org called what is the potential of multiculturalism in art. So there’s a few things I want to talk about from that article as well, it’s super wrong but there’s a couple of things that they say that I really appreciated. So I know I’ve been talking about women and men particularly in this episode so far, but I also want to make sure that we are noting the white part, the diversity of cultures and colors of people that are represented, the diversity of types of people, genders. I already said genders, but of LGBTQ, special needs, things like that.
So, that is an area we are striving to include more as well because even though we do strive for great diversity, there is always room for improvement. So, the NAEA position statement on diversity has a great line and then they give you some really great reasons. So, this is a quote I want to cite here is that, “The mosaic of our global humanity is enriched and expanded by the inclusion of all peoples and cultures and the art forms they create.” So you can imagine one first reason why you should do this is, it is the right thing to do. Duh. We know this, it is the right thing to do, but the reasons why it’s the right things to do is, the NAEA position statement describes it as creating democracy and engaged citizenship.
If our education is showing them this one story of this one group of people, where are they going to find their way in? Where are they going to feel like they have a voice? Where are they going to feel like they have power to disrupt the power structures in the world? That power to make a change in this world. If you’re always feeling marginalized, how are you going to find a way to see yourself in the history? So another thing is that, NAEA says this, the art class should be a safe space for discourse and freedom of expression. That’s really important to me to having these hard conversations, being brave about having these hard conversations.
I have not always been as brave as I am trying to be in my current life, especially in terms of projects that have any sort of political bent or social justice related projects, I support them wholeheartedly, and when I see our teachers that do projects related to social justice, I’m so proud of them because it is always something that I was not necessarily brave enough to do. Partly because I live in Texas, it’s very conservative, and so that was one of my deterrents. But there was always this fear that if I did do a project like that, that I would be viewed as trying to indoctrinate my students into a liberal mindset. And that’s not what it’s about.
We can remove liberal versus conservative from these conversations and still have really positive, enriching, meaningful conversations about these topics, that it doesn’t have to be this polarizing thing that we’ve got going on in our country, that there are so many gray areas. So creating that safe space for conversation, I think is super, super important. I mean, just to give you an example, when Trump was elected, I was told by my administration that morning on a text message, not to talk about it at all the whole day, and I was pissed. I was mad, because I worked at a school that was, I don’t know the percentages, but it was probably 80% Latino students.
So it was like, a president that was just elected, who basically is telling you, all of you, all of you kids that are in my care every day, that they are second class citizens. That they’re dirty and that they don’t … like he’s said these words, and I had to go there and pretend nothing happened and pretend that there wasn’t this fear ingrained in every one of those students who thought their parents were going to be taken away? I’m tearing up, not just thinking about it. I got that text message and I was like, “Hell no, I am talking about this.” I cried all day, I cried in front of a group of eighth graders because they wanted to talk about it, and I had to talk about it with them.
Because if a whole slew of teachers were told not to talk about it, no, no, not going to do it. So anyway, that’s the environment, and we were told, no, don’t talk about it. I’m talking about it. So anyway, okay. Then another thing is really we want to create situations where students are seen and heard that they’re being represented, but also on the other side of that, students that are maybe in the white majority, they need to have conversations across those lines, because they need to see that there’s some other opinions, there’s some other opinions, there’s some other ways of viewing the world and creating awareness that there are other viewpoints, understanding of those other viewpoints in a nonjudgmental way.
Then accepting them and maybe it’s not something that you believe in, but that you can accept that other people might believe the same thing. So giving students more diversity in their art selection is going to help them with that. Another thing from the NAEA one said, what does it say? My handwriting’s quite terrible. I should actually just pull up the NAEA position statement. It says, “Explore, respond, respect and react, and that it helps students question power structures and learn to stand up for themselves, dismantle narratives.” So excellent.
An example of the dismantling narratives. I had mentioned, the Nanette from Netflix, from Hannah Gatsby, and she dismantled a few narratives about artists in there, I loved it. There’s so much art history in there. But the narrative that she dismantled was van Gogh, and she said that one time someone came up to her, after one of her shows and said, in the show, she had mentioned she took antidepressants. They came to her afterwards and said, he said, “You shouldn’t take medication because you are an artist. It is important that you feel. If Vincent van Gogh had taken medication, we wouldn’t have the sunflowers.”
Oh man, she ripped this apart in the video. I want you to watch it. It was so good. She goes on to say, “One, he’s self-medicated a lot, drank a lot.” But actually he had painted a portrait of a psychiatrist who’s holding a flower and it’s called a foxglove, which is one of the types of medication that van Gogh took for his epilepsy. Then, the derivative of foxglove, if you overdose a bit, you can experience the color yellow a little too intensely. So she was like, “It is exactly because van Gogh was medicated, that we have the sunflowers.”
Then she goes on to talk about that this idea of the tortured artist and how we’ve created this narrative of van Gogh as this genius, this mad genius. Then if he wasn’t mad, he couldn’t have made these paintings and this and that. She says … I’m going to take out the F word in here, but she says, “The whole idea of this romanticizing of mental illness is ridiculous. It’s not a ticket to genius, it’s a ticket to nowhere.” I mean, I have a whole podcast idea in my head about that, but these narratives are narratives of written stories. They are taken from stories and people’s lives, but they are changed.
People remember what they want to remember. They’ll write down what makes a good story, what makes it good antidote. But is that an anecdote? I think I said antidote. But is that really true? So again, we have to pick apart that sort of thing. The other article that I mentioned above or earlier is an article from nameorg.org called: What is the potential of multiculturalism in art? Let me see who wrote this. Well, they give all references, but they don’t actually say who wrote the article. I’ll link to it in the show notes so you can check it out. It’s pretty long because I’ve only taken out, I’m only mentioning a few things here.
It talks about the importance of, yes we should include more diversity, but we need to do so in a way that doesn’t stereotype, and it says, “With art making, it can be easy to fall into the trap of celebrating differences while simultaneously perpetuating racism and misinforming learners about those outside of the dominant group.” So it talks about things like making dream catchers or feather headdresses or totem poles out of paper towel holders and things like that. We have to go deeper than creating these things, take it out of context, and they say that multiculturalism in the art classroom should critique power and the dominant narratives.
Another really good point. I think that’s the only main point I wanted to talk about, it talks about … and this is something that … okay. Let me figure out how to say this. This is something I think I might not be as good at, because to me I’m thinking, well they’re exposed to art. We want to have as much exposure as possible. So hanging up art just to the passively see it as they’re walking by. But we have to think about what messages we’re sending through that passive art. So if we’re putting up a Renaissance painting, of course we wouldn’t actually do this in a classroom of a Renaissance painting of a woman because most of them are nude, and we wouldn’t just hang those up willy nilly like that.
But what are the messages if that’s hanging up, what are the messages we’re sending to our female students or male students? So it says, “It is imperative that art educators not passively interact with visual imagery because the consequences, the passive acceptance of messages that the images disseminate.” So we know that images have great, great power and we know that those messages are easily deciphered by students. We see that every day when we lead in our discussion with them, they can see it and they can feel it and they know it because they are not just because there are people of today where they’re bombarded with images, but just they’re people in general. People can decipher the emotion in images without even really thinking about it.
So we need to think about, if there is an artwork with a message of racism or of anything that is something that we don’t include passively. So, I thought that was a really interesting, interesting point. So, there we go. I think I might’ve said everything I need to say. I’m flipping through my notes, I wrote down all notes, but they’re in absolutely no order. That’s just checking here. Oh, one more thing and I’m going to bring up Nanette again. She went on a great rant about Picasso, and this is something I have been particularly grappling with throughout the last five years, since I created this website and decided very early on that we were going to be diverse and this and that.
But one of my most profound art stories, actually two of my most profound art stories were in front of Picasso paintings, and I’ve always had a deep connection to his paintings. They just speak to me and even if you go back to my conversation with Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio, this was episode number 24, we talked about his beef with the Pablo Picasso and it’s been a struggle because I know that Picasso was a bad man, he was as Nanette … Or not Nanette. As Hannah Gadsby from Nanette called him. He is indeed suffering from mental illness and his mental illness is misogyny.
She talked about how he cheated on his wife with an underage girl, there was a quote that he said, “After I’ve painted a picture of a woman, I should burn her because she no longer exists anymore.” And he basically painted her away. It’s hard because he’d made such a big difference on the art world. I’m not going to be able describe this very well because it is something I’m super grappling with still because I do love his paintings despite his bad character. But go back and watch Nanette, oh gosh, her name is not Nanette. Go back and watch Hannah Gatsby talk about it, because it’s in her show and it’s about 48 minutes in. I wrote the number 48 at the top. I think that’s what I was trying to say.
So, go back and watch it and tell me what you think because I’m really curious to know what you think and how we deal with that sort of thing. Like, can you separate the art from the artist? That’s an entire other conversation which I’ve written a blog post about years ago and my opinions probably changed since then. So now that we know, we have 3.5 million plus infinity artworks in this world, that we have the world at our fingertips, on the internet, that we have all of this, this art coming to the forefront more and more from women artists, from artists of color, from artists around the world, that now is a time to really lean into learning about those for ourselves and showing those to our students for ourselves.
I realize it’s extra work because you don’t have to do a lot of extra research when you stick up a van Gogh painting. But it’s worth it in the end to make this mass movement, this is something we’re going to do in our classrooms. Of course, we are here for you at Art Class Curator, we are writing about artworks that are not in the mainstream. I’m going to put some links in the post, the show notes, artclasscurator.com/36, that’s what this episode is, and put some artworks that you might start with.
Then if you are a member of the Curated Connections Library, we have over 100 art lessons from artwork from around the world and it’s filterable by gender, by part of the world, by everything — has a lesson, has discussion questions, PowerPoints, worksheets, activities, engaging activities, extension activities. So we’ve done a lot of that work for you because it is a value of us to make sure that we are including a diverse range of our work. So if you are a member, hop on over and to members of artclasscurator.com, if you are not a member, we will be opening the doors to the membership at the beginning of January.
So, if you are not on the email list, make sure you are, you can get on the waitlist at artclasscurator.com/join, that will take you to a form to fill out. That will put you on the waitlist so that you will make sure that you get the information of when we open up the doors to the membership because that will have a lot of this work done for you. All right, well thank you guys so very much for listening. Thank you for your dedication to this course and look forward to seeing you in your inbox next week, not your inbox, your podcast player library. I don’t know, all right. Thank you, have a good day. Bye.
Thank you so much for listening to the Art Class Curator Podcast. Help more art teachers find us by reviewing the podcast and recommending it to a friend. Get more inspiration for teaching art with purpose by subscribing to our newsletter, Your Weekly Art Break. Recent topics include the importance of seeing art in person, famous and should be famous women artists and 21 days of art from around the world. Subscribe at artclasscurator.com/artbreak to receive six free art appreciation worksheets.
Today’s art quote is from Rick Riordan, he says, “You might as well ask an artist to explain his art or ask a poet to explain his poem. It defeats the purpose. The meaning is only clear on the search.” Thanks so much for listening, have a wonderful week.
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Ive been following your blog and work for about two years now and I LOVE what you are doing!
Last year you sent out a freebie that was a list of art works by artists of different cultures. I had printed it out and laminated it and referred to it often. After the pandemic hit we were given a VERY short time to clean out our rooms and they were then deep cleaned over the spring/summer. Unfortunately, after all this I can’t find this list! Could you send that out again? I am working on creating new content for my classes and I am wanting to include more than just the ‘old dead white guys’. Thanks for your help!
Hi Beth! You might find what you’re looking for on this page: https://artclasscurator.com/artworks-for-kids/
I really enjoyed this podcast and I like how you point out how we can fall into the trap of teaching multicultural artworks on a shallow level. What are the messages we are sending when we reduce “African Masks” to a simple paper craft without any context and without emphasizing the many countries and cultures in Africa, and that an African Mask can mean so many things. I also have witnessed what you mentioned regarding the view that we are indoctrinating students into a leftist point of view just for speaking the truth that art history as it’s taught in the US is incredibly biased. Thank you for this.
You’re welcome. Thank you for letting us know that you connected with this podcast.