“Difficult art is democratic. Tyranny requires simplification”
— Geoffrey Hill
”We expect originality from our artists, and we resent it when we get it”
— Charles Rosen
You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
Web Resources on Ethics
Handouts and Activities
I have grown far more interested in Art having taught TOK though it is certainly not my strongest area. I think there are some good resources here though I have likely not made the best use of them.
What is art?
This is a logical but also interesting question to start with. This can take you in many different directions. For whatever reason, kids have strong reactions to some examples of what is considered art particularly abstract art.
This is an interesting web comic, The Art of War by Sarah Glidden, that raises interesting questions about the nature of art particularly in regards to the relationship between artwork and its audience. Click on the image to see the webcomic. Below that is a handout version.
This question leads naturally to discussions about abstract art and all of the anger and annoyance it evokes. Regardless of your beliefs about abstract art, it provides a lot of valuable material for discussion about Art as an AOK.
Another interesting video about abstract art and white canvases.
Netflix Show Abstract
Interesting show that brings to life some artwork and artists that otherwise can feel inaccessible to students.
Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.
How do we evaluate art? What is the role of experts in evaluating art?
There are lots of good ways to approach these questions. I found an interesting and provocative article titled “Britain’s best-loved artwork is a Banksy. That’s proof of our stupidity.” The author provides a lot of fodder for discussion.
The accompanying class worksheet
What is the relationship between artists and their artwork?
This is an adaptation of an article I found online a few years ago titled, “Six books that everyone (including your English teacher) got wrong”. The article was based on a lot of interesting assumptions that are worth discussing with students. Is there a correct interpretation of artwork? The author of this list assumes that the stated intentions of the author are the “correct” interpretations. I reduced the list down to one (Fahrenheit 451 which most have read) and have my students evaluate that one case.
I follow this article up with a selection of podcast from Radiolab titled, Speedy Beet. It tells the story of Beethoven and the metronome markings he put on his sheet music and it turns out he wanted his music played much faster than it is played today. His intentions were far different from how people interpret and play his music so are they doing it wrong? You can stream the podcast in full but if you want a condensed version you can download it here.
There is an interesting essay titled, Death of the Author, that makes the case that the interpretation of literature is not a quest to arrive at the singular “answer” of what the author meant. I find the essay interesting though I have not taught students who could read it as it is so it requires a bit of editing.
Here is a great, short video from youtube about the concept of interpretation of art.
What is the purpose of art? Melting glaciers and art.
What is the purpose of art? What knowledge can we acquire through art? These questions can be addressed in many ways. In light of all the attention climate science and climate change have gotten, there are many interesting questions that are raised about why scientists have not been more effective in communicating with the general public issues surrounding climate change and why skepticism and inaction are abound. There are many great TOK connections to these issue. There was an interesting work of public art a few years ago that tried to take the issue of melting glaciers and make it real by lugging giant broken off chunks of ice and bring them to the Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. I learned of it from a recent episode of the Netflix Show Abstract. This lesson has a couple of minutes from the show along with a worksheet and article. You can download the handouts I have made here along with the episode of the show.
Download Abstract episode (File is 2gb. Relevant section is 34:30-38:00) Alternatively you can find news clips on youtube that establish the same context.
Art and ethics
Below is a good activity that connects art and ethics. I try to have the kids think about ethical limitations of artwork and expression. They have particularly strong reactions to this article because it involves animals…if it were about humans…not so much.
There are always new stories to focus on about tv shows or movies that have some negative impact on society. Recently, there was the case of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why , that seemed to have caused an increase in teen suicide (this would provide an interesting example of asking how we know this is true and getting into the ins and outs of statistics and math to help us understanding reality). Here is the worksheet and article I worked with on this topic.
Other web resources on art and ethics
History and Art
There are many stories about whether art needs to be historically accurate. These stories pop up every so often when a notable movie comes out that is about a historical event (Selma, Stonewall, etc.). I put together this lesson about a state based on a famous photograph taken during the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The image, the statue, and the real life person photographed raise a lot of interesting questions. I came upon this story through Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast. You can stream the full version or I edited the original down to be a bit shorter and focus on the relevant parts for class.
For original links check out my original blogpost on the topic.
Here are other posts about history and art.
What should happen to controversial art or art that offends?
This topic is only becoming more common and more pressing to discuss with students. Here are some posts that are about this very topic. This topic also overlaps nicely with ethics.
Artificial Intelligence and Art
I have not yet done anything on this topic but it offers a lot of interesting material for discussion including whether art by definition has to be created by humans.
What is original?
Lots of good opportunities with this question especially with music. This offers students to connect specifically with music and artists they listen to.
Art and Maths
I don’t do much with this but there are a bunch of ways to explore this overlap.