How do you make a classroom operate like a work of art?

—Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm

In the final chapter of Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm, Guattari (1995) offers a provocative challenge to our desperate times. He suggests that the way forward is through creativity and inventiveness – an ethico-aesthetic paradigm. To this he asks: “How do you make a class operate like a work of art” (p. 133). Guattari’s provocation also leads us to problematize the artist-teacher. Departing from the view that art is work done by an artist to predictable materials, or that the classroom is capable of being re-shaped by a teacher, we are attentive to what Massumi writes:

The artist’s activity does not stand outside its “object” and operate upon it…her
action is more an experimental tweaking of an autonomous process than a molding of dumb matter. (2002, p. 173)

As an experimenter, the artist-teacher does not mold students into a work of art, as if the students simply become raw materials. Rather artist-teacher-student-classroom become a creative assemblage filled with the potential to open itself to future creative instances. If a classroom operates as a work of art, not as an object manipulated from the outside, it becomes enmeshed and enlived. A “classroom as a work of art,” we argue, re-conceptualizes the artist-teacher as productively co-mingling with students and space.

Responding to the gap between current artist-teacher models that manipulate classroom spaces from the outside and the proliferation of pedagogy as form in contemporary art, a series of artist-residencies in K-12 schools and community sites were curated in order to examine the ways that social practice art in the classroom enlarges understandings of collaboration, de-centres artistic expertise, responds to context, and conceptualizes “the classroom as art.”

The residencies took place in elementary and secondary schools in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), an Independent School in Toronto, community sites, and in the teacher education pro¬gram at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, The University of Toronto. Residencies ranged in duration from a few weeks to five months long. Artists worked collaboratively with teachers and students to produce a project that had meaningful connections to the curriculum, and to the individual and collective experiences of the students in each class.

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