Poetry Writing and Contemporary Art Issues

November 21, 2017

The Whitney Museum of American Art Summer 2017 “To Organize Delirium” by Hélio Oiticica

by Erica Miriam Fabri

There is no better way to spend July for a young artist than by being immersed in art-making and the literal and physical act of immersing oneself into the art of professionals. Each summer, in addition to three days a week of intense art classes, the teen artists of the Cooper Union Summer Art Institute (CUSAI) spend the fourth day with a morning Poetry Writing and Contemporary Art Issues course, then the afternoon on group field trips to a variety of New York City exhibits.

As a poet and art-lover, it has been a true joy to teach writing to the high school students of the CUSAI and to take these mini-journeys to various New York City art-destinations. This past summer, the exhibits we traveled to were particularly interactive. At the Socrates Sculpture Park we climbed on top of Nari Ward’s 40-foot “Scapegoat” sculpture. Students stepped along the neck of the goat with careful balance as if it were a tight rope. They sprawled their bodies over the giant animal-head and ran their hands along the ridged texture of its face. At the Whitney, we spent hours at the Hélio Oiticica exhibit; we took off our shoes and dipped our toes into pools of fountain water and buried our feet in an indoor sand beach. In a mock dressing room, we tried-on the wildly colored fabrics that made up Oiticica’s “Parangolé,” and in another room, with walls covered in projections, we rocked in hammocks.

The exhibits were endlessly inspiring and the inspiration was doubled by experiencing it alongside the CUSAI teens. As visual artists-in-training they were able to grip the edges of, and actually climb inside, the work we were studying. All members of the group were visual artists; some were also eager poets; others were more reluctant to call themselves writers. Their weekly assignment was to take notes during our field trips and then use those notes for a poetry assignment. The following week, even the self-proclaimed anti-poets brought rare and fascinating writing to the classroom.

After four weeks together, all participants, instructors, friends and family gathered together for a final exhibition; this time we did not trek to an outside gallery, but instead, we witnessed the walls of The Cooper Union adorned with the work that the teen artists had created over the past month. All visitors were engaged by these masterpieces with equal admiration as was given to the artists at The Whitney, The New Museum and The Met. Included in the presentation was an animation viewing and a poetry reading. As an adult artist and instructor, seasoned and blessed with a career in the arts, I left on that last day feeling bittersweet: sad to see the month end, but with a heart full of enthusiasm to create more. The CUSAI leaves a profound impact on both students and instructors alike. Its value crosses the boundaries of age, genre and style. It is an ideal experience for new art-makers, who need to test the waters of artistic creation and conversation.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.