Magazine article Art Education

The Art of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Magazine article Art Education

The Art of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Article excerpt


These four photographs by the Texas artist Keith Carter may initially appear quite ordinary. The subjects are not famous people; the places are not examples of the prosperous and progressive. But as Carter, himself, explains:

There are an extraordinary number of people who have these great lives of the spirit. They work hard to make their lives interesting. This series is about those people, it's about the animals they live with, the gardens they have, how they spend their time. It's about imagination in the boondocks. (Carter, 1990, p. 125)

This resource is a journey into the art of Keith Carter that guides and seeks the extraordinary in the ordinary stories of people's lives.

Objectives and Overview

Students will look carefully and interpret what is extraordinary about the "ordinary" photographs by Keith Carter. Suggested strategies and activities encourage students to discover the extraordinary people and things in their own lives. It is about imagination "in the boondocks" or wherever you are!

An advantage of examining the works of contemporary artists is having the words of the artist to gain greater understanding and insights into the art. Keith Carter is an articulate artist, and his words and ideas are used as the springboard for discussion, analysis, and interpretation.

This resource includes a short quote by the artist about each photograph along with strategies for looking and discussing. It concludes with one discussion strategy summarizing all four photographs that leads into the project idea and assessment plan.

Discussion Techniques

Aesthetics. Many theorists have agreed on specific types of questions to approach the aesthetic experience:

* Questions about the art object, such as: Which properties of the art serve to represent, express, convey ideas, or act as symbols?

* Questions about the artist, such as: What role does the artist's intention play in descriptions and evaluations of his or her work? How is what the art expresses related to the artist?

* Questions about the audience, such as: What is the role of emotion? What is the role of intellect? What is the role of taste? Are some interpretations of artworks better than others?

* Questions about the context, such as: How does culture determine which artworks have aesthetic value? (Eaton, 2000)

Art History. There are certain tasks students need to be able to carry out if they are to learn the process of art historical inquiry. These include:

* describing and contrasting visual change

* supporting conclusions

* imagining life in another time or culture

* constructing historical interpretations

* proposing explanations that account for change (Erickson, 2000)

Art Criticism. Formalist criticism can be important in discerning the structural qualities of works of art, but it is the subject matter that attracts many people to art in the first place. Sufficient attention needs to be given to the ways the medium, form, and subject matter contribute to the content and expressive power of a work of art (Wolff, 2000).

About the Artist

Keith Carter lives in Beaumont, Texas, where he owns and operates a photography studio and teaches at Lamar University. Carter does portraits as well as illustrative and editorial work. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and to Texas Monthly, and his work is included in many public collections. These featured works are from his series entitled The Blue Man. Other books of Keith Carter photographs include From Uncertain to Blue, Mojo, Heaven of Animals, Bones, Keith Carter: Twenty-Five Years, and, his latest, Holding Venus. …

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