Mark Bradford leads Kara Walker, Cathy Opie and more to create online teacher resource for Getty

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Artist Mark Bradford still talks about his fifth-grade teacher from Crescent Heights Elementary, Wilma Chappelle. The artist known for bringing the gritty, multilayered texture of urban life into painting remembers her real-world art projects and her personal support: ‘She gave me permission—my creativity and my personality’

So he was thinking about Chappelle, he says, when he decided to develop a set of free lesson plans for K-12 teachers that makes its debut on the Getty website today.

The Getty invited Bradford a year ago—shortly before he received the MacArthur “genius” award--to do a project of his choice with its education department. He chose teachers rather than students as his primary audience, noting that “they need all the resources they can get, especially today.”

He brought 10 other artists on board. Abstract painter Amy Sillman asks students to go “on a color tour” of their hometown by noting uses of color in pedestrian things like stoplights. The rather conceptual sculptor Michael Joo asks students to create a prothesis out of everyday materials, after defining the term.


Bradford has students drawing a floor plan of their school cafeteria. On top of that, on another sheet of paper, he asks students to map the social groups using the space. (He suggests color coding, like using ‘red dots for the cheerleaders,’ ‘blue squares for the basketball players’ and such.)

His idea is encouraging students to use art as a tool for exploring personal or social issues that matter to them. “What happens so often is you take these multifaceted, savvy kids and give them glitter and macaroni and crayons for an hour, and that seems to them like a hobby, not part of their identity,” Bradford says.

“I think that’s why Facebook is so popular with young people. I look at Facebook as a collage—you’re creating a sense of identity, telling the world who you are, through what music you listen to, what images you like.”

No project on the site so far involves Facebook, but the New York artist Kara Walker offers a lesson that has students collaborating on a story by exchanging text messages. And L.A. photographer Catherine Opie asks students to make a self-portrait with any camera available, “even a cell phone.”

Toby Tannenbaum, assistant director of education at the Getty, says this use of “nontraditional art materials” is new for the museum. “So much of our work is object-based, drawing from our own collection. But these lessons are really inspired by the artist’s own practice,” she says. “It helps expand our notions of what can be considered art.”

--Jori Finkel

Photograph of Mark Bradford in 2009 by Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy the Getty.