(Question posed by Anna Nichols on FaceBook. May 23, 2015)
Is it possible for a teacher-led project to result in authentic (original) art by students? Example - a project begins as a lesson in using tints and shades of a color to create a monochromatic, non-objective painting. After the student creates the painting, s/he is encouraged to continue working on it by adding drawings, painted details, or change the painting into a representational piece by adding imagined images, etc. I am asking this because I have been engaged in a fabulous discussion here, but I can't seem to get an answer to this question from any but one. What do you think?
(My personal reflections on this question.)
Over a century ago Marcel Duchamp began asking about and challenging the notion of what is and is not art, just like you are now. With his readymades Duchamp made notable statements about his boredom with “retinal art” and his search for more substantially meaningful art. If meaning is the intention of an artwork, then the piece should show meaning, either meaning of the artist’s intention or meaning through the viewer’s interpretation. However, there are other purposes for creating artworks that probably should not be neglected: therapeutic, exploratory / discovery, storytelling, historical accounts, informational / educational, personal expression, humor, etc.
Another thing that could hold value in answering your question is intention. Although the works you mention may have begun as studies, worksheets, or teacher-directed segregated drills, there is no explicit barrier that prevents such drills from the possibility of becoming something more, bigger, better, real, or authentic. While there isn't a definitive answer, my opinion is, yes, authentic artwork can be created from something that was somebody else’s idea, intention, or creation. Our ideas and works are inspired by something or somebody from somewhere.
One example I’m thinking of is if I were to take readymade garments (created by another designer/artist) and reassemble them into a sculptural weaving, I would call this weaving an authentic artwork in spite of the origin of the “intended” idea for the fibers. Another example that might support an answer of “yes” is the installation work of Sandy Skoglund. Although she made a number of the key pieces of her installations, she incorporates objects, artifacts, and other things that began with somebody else’s intentions for use and meaning. She even employed other people, under her artistically meaningful guidance, to do some of the labors for her installations. Finally, the collage work of Rauschenberg is a third example in support of work that can begin as somebody else’s idea or inspiration and then can certainly be turned into an authentic artwork once an artist imposes meaning and intention with/on/through its use.
-K - 12 Visual Arts Educator