By George Ledbetter, Chadron State College
Chadron State College students, faculty and guests watch a premier of a new episode from an award-winning PBS series. The hour-long program, created by the New York-based non-profit ART21, was enhanced by a video chat with Nick Ravich, producer of the series “Art in the Twenty-First Century.”
CHADRON – Though far removed from the contemporary art scene in Beijing, Chadron State College Art students and faculty got some insight into that distant world last week while watching a premier showing of a new episode from an award-winning PBS series.
In addition, students who viewed the hour-long program, created by the New York-based non-profit ART21, had an enhanced experience by partaking in a video chat with Nick Ravich, producer of the series “Art in the Twenty-First Century.”
CSC’s Art department has been part of the ART21 screening society for the biennial PBS series since 2016, said Trudy Denham, assistant professor. The program is the only television series in the U.S. focused on contemporary visual art and artists. It features scenes of artists at work and is narrated by the artists, who describe the physical and visual challenges of achieving their vision.
A reflection that Denham wrote after a 2018 screening of the show led to CSC’s selection as one of the first institutions to participate in a live interaction with the program’s producers following a premier viewing. Denham said her essay has been quoted by ART21 and used in ads for the grants it offers.
Beijing, the program shown for CSC on Oct. 29, featured diverse works by five internationally known artists from the Chinese capital, with their comments on how they create art. Among the works featured were a gigantic cityscape constructed of candy and sweet biscuits, huge installations made of remnants of cloth, and smaller sculptures constructed of found industrial materials.
Exposing CSC students to current art and working artists is important to provide a breadth of conceptual ideas, Denham said.
“These are artists working with contemporary materials and contemporary issues,” she said. “That builds upon what we discuss in our classes.”
One of the featured artist’s use of calligraphy for a major show and his combining of modern techniques to create an electronic image that looks similar to old Chinese landscape paintings show how powerful traditions can influence contemporary art, said Ravich.
“Here he is in the 21st century reclaiming tradition in some way,” Ravich said.
Another artist’s difficulty with creating contemporary art using traditional materials resonated with Heather Shaw, a junior from Dubois, Wyoming.
“(That) is something I too struggle with,” she said.
The group projects featured in the program were intriguing for another student, but provoked a question about who owns rights to a work designed by one artist, but created by a team of apprentices.
That’s a classic labor-management issue that arises in contemporary artwork, said Ravich.
“Contemporary art likes to think of itself as liberal, but in many ways it is deeply conservative,” he said. “Arguments about minimum wage play out in the art world.”
Ravich also explained to students how the small ART21 staff creates the PBS programs, the process for choosing artists to be featured, and why they choose to have the artists themselves provide narration.
“The attempt is a fair representation of how the artists think and feel about their work,” he said.
Besides producing a program that exposes CSC students to the contemporary art world, Denham said ART21 offers educational outreach programs that she has recommended to her art education students as a source for lesson plans ideas.
Students may have gained some insight into the value of contemporary art by learning that established artists in Beijing face some of the issues that exist in the rural communities served by Chadron State College, said assistant art professor Mary Donohue.
“These ART21 shows give a rounded look and a human explanation of it,” she said.