Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram (1955-9)
In a conversation with Kelly Schrum titled “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays” Mark Sample explained why he was moving away from asking students to write traditional essays. Instead he was asking them to weave – “To build, to fabricate, to design.” He wasn’t trying to create miniature scholars, but rather he called passionately for innovation using a metaphor familiar to art historians. “I want them to be aspiring Rauschenbergs, assembling mixed-media combines, all the while through their engagement with seemingly incongruous materials developing a critical thinking practice about the process and product.”
This semester I had students submit outstanding creative assignments. One student researched Roman hair-styling and recreated the effect of a The Bust of a Flavian Woman. Another wrote a script for a SmArtHistory clip based on a fictional sculpture. And another wrote a fantastic analysis of Roman use of concrete based on his construction experience. These are just a few examples of how students can combine their life experiences, class content, and learning objectives to demonstrate unique ways of knowing. I am inspired by Sample’s approach, and will continue to encourage students to weave their own understandings in higher level, critical thinking.