Lesson: Unmonumental: Yesterday's News

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Global Studies, Social Studies, Literary Arts, and Studio Arts
  • Unmonumental Installation Shot, 2007.Unmonumental Installation Shot, 2007.

Introduction

Written by Marc Mayer and Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs.

Yesterday’s News is a lesson focused on current events and the impact of media representation on our daily lives. Students will visually analyze images from September 11th to the arrest of Martha Stewart, from American Idol to Hurricane Katrina, from Britney Spears to the Iraq War. Based on a comprehensive photo essay by Curatorial Associate Benjamin Godsill that was included in the Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century catalogue, this lesson investigates images from pivotal events from 2000 through 2006 and poses questions about how we view, interpret, and analyze the images from media and popular culture that surround us.

As part of G:Class, Benjamin Godsill came into the classroom, facilitated his presentation of Yesterday’s News, and discussed the role of a curator, how curators work with art and artist, and provided some insight into the decision-making process behind putting together an exhibition.

Objectives

• Students will learn about the professional role of a curator.
• Students will use observational and interpretive skills to critically analyze images from news media and popular culture.
• Students will consider how media and images can impact our everyday lives through peer discussion and writing.

Vocabulary

Juxtaposition is the placing two or more things side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.
Curator is the person who researches and assembles an exhibition and may also be responsible for caring and maintaining an art collection. This person cares for art, artists, and an audience who views art.
Threshold Moments refers to moments in time when culture, politics, and norms of behavior are all in flux and are about to change profoundly.
Atrophy is act of declining or wasting away from disuse.

Materials

  • Student Journals
  • Projector

Lesson Strategy

Presentation:
Utilize “Yesterday’s News,” the photo-essay from the catalogue Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century as a framework to craft your own presentation of news images. This photo-essay tracks the first seven years of our century in image and events. The images include:

2000
• Armed federal agents seizing Elain Gonzalez
• Al Gore being declared the winner of the 2000 election
• Supreme Court deciding George W. Bush is the next president
2001
• Taliban destroys Bamayan Buddha statues made in the 3rd century A.D.
• The World Trade Center falls
• Osama Bin Laden video airs on news
2002
• American Idol debuts on Fox
• Massive flooding inundates parts of Europe
2003
• Over 100,000 protest the invasion of Iraq
• SARS reaches its peak in Hong Kong
• Massive power outage across the northeast United States
• U.S. troops capture Saddam Hussein
2004
• The spread of avian flu through East Asia
• Martha Stewart found guilty of insider trading
• Photos of prisoner torture from Abu Graib
• Chechen militants take over a school in Beslan, Russia
• Massive earthquakes trigger a series of tsunamis, killing 275,000 people along the coast of the Indian Ocean
2005
• Bush inaugurated into second term
• More than 70,000 people have been killed in Darfur
• Tom Cruise professes love for Katie Holmes on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
• Hurricane Katrina
2006
• Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shoots Harry Whittington
• Three prisoners commit suicide in Guantanamo Bay detainment camp to protest conditions
• James Brown,”The Godfather of Soul,” dies

Pick 5-8 images to discuss and analyze with students during the presentation. After the presentation ask students:
• How do images affect us?
• Did you recognize every image?
• What images impacted you most and why?
• What events were missing?
• What events would you include to extend this photo essay through today?

Further Discussion:
You can choose one of three discussions or link them together for a more in-depth conversation.

DISCUSSION 1:
Discuss images presented and the times we are living in. Based on the presentation of the photo essay, you may want to underscore the overload of information, multiple media sources, and how we process this information.

In the following quote New Museum Chief Curator, Richard Flood, questions the same issues raised in “Yesterday’s News.”

Read the quote aloud with students and help them analyze it.

“Because the public is willing to exist in a state of dangerous distraction, the inherent need for truth atrophies, and ‘truth’ becomes an oratorical device, a sound bite, a lie. Such is the kingdom of the West.”

• What is a state of dangerous distraction?
• Can you give an example of something you have experienced or seen that might fit into this term?
• Do images and news media impact this distraction? How?
• Have you ever felt bombarded by media or news? What was that experience like? How did you respond? What information was being presented?
• Because of this impact, how do you think our inherent need for truth atrophies?
• Do we become cynical? Do we stop looking? Are we looking, but do we stop seeing?
• Are we becoming desensitized to media? Is it not impacting us anymore?
• Is media too savvy for us, intentionally distracting us, to the point that we do not know what to believe?

If this statement is true, “that we exist in a state of dangerous distraction,” if “truth atrophies,” how do we understand our world? If “truth becomes a lie,” how do we navigate our world?

• Is there something we can change? What is it? How?
• How can we be more present in the world? (consider warfare, disease, hunger, poverty, and environmental destruction.)
• How do we create change?

Have students take a moment and list agents of social change in their journals. The list can include people, ideas, strategies, and even philosophies that can bring about change that can impact neighborhoods, social justice, famine, pollution, and war.

DISCUSSION 2:
Discuss images presented as well as the times we are living in. This includes overload of information, multiple media sources and how we process this information.

In the New York Times Week In Review section on Sunday, January 6, 2008
, an article discussed change. The headline reads “Global Warming, Abortion, Race, Homosexuality” on one side and on the other, “We Agreed To Agree, And Forgot To Notice.” Race, global warming, abortion, and homosexuality are social issues that currently or in the past have divided our country. Is our country changing?

Briefly discuss one of these issues. Consider oil, consumerism, the environment, gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, affirmative action, and/or discrimination.

• Do you think this issue is considered controversial? Why or why not?
• How do you believe this issue divided the country, either today or in the past? What changed?
• How do you believe this issue will change in the future?
• Can you identify the major arguments behind this issue?

Public opinion is changing on many of these issues things like global warming, abortion, race, and homosexuality. The second part of the headline, “We Agreed to Agree and Forgot to Notice.”

• Are we noticing this change? If so, how? If not why?
• What are some examples of forgetting to notice change?
• Are we too distracted by media to understand what is going on?
• How can we be present and participate in the issue affecting us?
• How can we create social change?

Have students take a moment and list agents of social change in their journals. The list can include include people, ideas, strategies, and even philosophies that can bring about change that can impact neighborhoods, social justice, famine, pollution, and war.

In the article mentioned above, the reporter Kirk Johnson talks about “Threshold Moments.” They are defined as “when culture and politics and norms of behavior are all in flux,” and are about to change profoundly. One example: high school gay-straight alliance groups ten years ago didn’t exist in most schools, but today there large number of schools all over the country have such groups.

• What is another example of a “Threshold Moment?”
• What current events over the last week could be an example of a “Threshold Moment?” How?
• Could the Iowa caucuses be seen by future generations as a threshold moment of change? Could the New Hampshire primary be considered a “Threshold Moment” of change? How? Why?

DISCUSSION 3
Discuss images presented as well as the times we are living in. This includes overload of information, multiple media sources and how we process this information.

The New York Times Week In Review section on Sunday, January 6, 2008 Kirk Johnson wrote, “Today, pop entertainment, sophisticated marketing and the Internet can shift public thinking and taste as fast as a Britney Spears news cycle.” Discuss this quote with students.

• How do you think marketing can affect public thinking?
• How has marketing impacted the way we view and understand media?
• Are there any examples you can think of where marketing has shifted public opinion?
• Is the work that Bono and Oprah did on the Red Campaign for HIV/AIDS with Gap, Motorola, Converse, and Apple simply a good marketing campaign or agents of change? Why?
• What about the hybrid cars? Are they really good for the environment or another marketing tactic?
• What about the go green campaigns and slogans are they legitimately helping the environment or are they capitalizing on Al Gore’s message of change?
• What do these campaigns actually do?
• Can marketing be an agent of change? How?

Have students take a moment and list agents of social change in their journals. The list can include people, ideas, strategies, and even philosophies that can bring about change that can impact neighborhoods, social justice, famine, pollution, and war.

The same article also states, “Many of the economists, criminologists, and biologists say the sound of change is arriving anyway, from capital punishment to global warming to homosexuality to abortion. Many of the social issues that divide us are shifting and evolving.”

Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

FINAL QUESTION FOR ALL DISCUSSIONS: When we live in a world in flux or uncertainty, how does an artist openly question the society we live in or act as an agent of change?

Homework

Have students to consider socially conscious products like Bono’s Red campaign for HIV/AIDS, hybrid cars, going green, free trade coffee, biodiesel fuel. Ask students to design a socially conscious project either through writing, drawing, or constructing a prototype.

Standards

We have utilized the Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Visual Arts to assure that we meet the benchmarks and the strands of learning, we incorporate all five strands into the lesson plans: art making, literacy in the visual arts, making connections, community and cultural resources, and careers and lifelong learning in the visual arts.

Blueprint for Teaching and Learning About Art
1. Art Making
2. Looking at and Discussing Art
3. Developing Visual Art Vocabulary
4. Reading and Writing About Art
5. Problem Solving: Interpreting and Analyzing Art
6. Recognizing the Societal, Cultural, and Historical Significance of Art, Connecting Art to Other Disciplines
7. Observing and Interpreting the World
8. Awareness of Careers in Visual Arts
9. Arts for Enjoyment and Lifelong Learning

National Standards (mcrel.org)

Art Connections
Standard 1. Understands connections among the various artforms and other disciplines

Visual Arts
Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
Standard 3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts

Literary Arts
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Additional Resources

Kirk Johnson “Maybe we Agreed to Agree, and Forgot to Notice,” the New York Times, Week In Review, Sunday, January 6, 2008

Richard Flood, Laura Hoptman, and Massimiliano Gioni, Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century. New York: Phaidon Press, 2007

Adam Nagourney “Obama Takes Iowa In A Big Turnout: Huckabee Victor” The New York Times, Friday, January 4, 2008