Sunday, October 25, 2015

Create vs. Destroy-Using Drones to Make Art not War

Anchor Standard #11 of National Cote Arts Standard
Relate artistic ideas and works with societal,cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Standard 4.0 Historical and Cultural Relationships Students will understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures. Course Level Expectations (CLEs) The student will 4.1 Demonstrate an understanding of how historical and contemporary works of art reflect and influence societies and cultures.


I would hazard a guess that most adults over the age of 25 when asked about drones likely think first of their military application that allows them to as a drone pilot explained to a group of my colleagues " put warheads on foreheads". This application is an accepted practice that is now being employed by major superpowers and smaller countries alike. It provides a military entity with the ability to execute strikes from across the world while pilots are in the safe confines of a protected base.

 Of course taking lives isn't the only way that drones are used but as a practice it is rapidly increasing. In a conversation with Maha Chishty who uses drones and how they are used as the conceptual framework of much of her recent artwork she told me "In 2012 when I was making work about drones and how they were being used against people in Pakistan I could never have imagined that in 2015 that Pakistan would be using drones for military strikes. Drone technology and countries evolution of philosophy(should they or shouldn't they use them) about their military capabilities is moving so fast it's hard to keep up."

It's through the lense of Maha Chishty and Addie Wagenknecht's artwork that this year at Maplewood High School in my art classroom that students who are inheriting this world of rapidly expanding drone technology will investigate using a Project Based Learning approach how they can use drones to create rather than destroy.

In partnership with Vanderbilt University, The Red Arrow Gallery, The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, The Smithsonian American Art Museum Education Department, Stansell Electric, Addie Wagenknecht and Maha Chishty students will research Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math as well as history, culture and Coding to push the preconceived societal ideas about how drones can and should be used. 

As a result of MHS Art Department's interest in the work of Maha Chishty Vanderbilt University's Art Department has invited her to Vanderbilt to work with their students on February 10th and give a public lecture on February 11th. On Friday February 12th she will approve the installation of a collaborative sculpture at the Red Arrow Gallery in East Nashville,TN. The sculpture will be made by her and MHS art students based on skype conversations planned for November and December 2015 and will be presented along with a video projection created by her that questions the use of drone warfare. The Red Arrow Gallery has generously offered us the month of February for the exhibit and is already working on a marketing strategy to make sure the Saturday February 13th opening reception is one of the biggest they've ever had!

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts education director Anne Henderson is very excited about the project and has offered to collaborate as opportunities arise as the project evolves. A field trip to the Frist by at least one of my classes will ensure that 30 students have a broader understanding of Islamic Art and as a result a better understanding of the culture Maha Chishty grew up in which will inform their discussion and connection to her work. 

The Smithsonian Museum of American Art's education department has asked my students to be part of a pilot project that will assist them in creating an Art and Technology video conference that will eventually become available to all teachers throughout the United States using their collection of art to discuss with students how artists use technology in their artwork or as a conceptual focus to ask questions about our culture's use and/or dependence on new technologies. This process will see three of my MHS art classes engaging in 45 minute video-conference sessions with SAAM staff members and a volunteer instructor discussing a variety of artist and artworks from the SAAM permanent collection. 

Stansell Electric is a business partner with Maplewood High School's Academy of Energy and Power. As a member of this academy that is pushing for a STEAM(STEM +Art) curriculum for our students it is an amazing resource to have a major electric company advocating for the arts in our school. They have done so by providing tools and unused (expensive) wire and other electric components for students to make art with or utilize the maker space to take discarded electrical devices apart to see how they might work or how they might be fixed. The Stansell Electric Maker Space will be instrumental in modifying our Bebop Drone that was acquired through a Donor's Choose grant to attach paint brushes,other drawing utensils or anything else the students dream up that will allow them to use the drone as an expressive rather than oppressive tool. 

Both Maha Chishty and Addie Wagenknecht use the militaristic application of drones and ideas of surveillance to drive work they make in their studios. They both have been gracious in their willingness to engage with MHS young artists to push the idea of using drones to create instead of destroy and to fuel thinking and questioning so that students might arrive at strong driving questions that will yield great art and viable solutions that they will present to a public audiences. 

Attached are images of a preliminary investigation of attaching paint brushes to a student owned drone, SAAM volunter video conferencing with my 4A Sculpture class from SAAM Studio B in Washington DC, a volunteer coding expert giving a spontaneous lesson with the Bebop the day it arrived, possible driving questions written by students and a drawing of a drone making an old fashioned plein air style painting. 

Follow our progress on twitter @Panthersart or on Instagram @Artpanthers or stay tuned to this blog for updates on what we hope will be an incredible STEAM powered year of creating in my art classroom at Maplewood High School in Nashville,TN.

For more information on our artists of focus for this project check out their amazing work on their respective websites below.  Maha Chishty Addie Wagenknecht