The Visiting Artist and Aids
by Mary Stokrocki, Arizona State University
In Klein, S. (2003). Teaching Art in Context: Case Studies for Preservice Art Educationn
(pp. 100-101) Reston, VA: NAEA.
What are some challenges for students and teachers about studying artists who have AIDS? Working with and even discussing about artists with AIDS pose difficult aesthetic, moral, and political issues in the classroom. This case study presents a public mural-making event that actually happened in Arizona in the 1980's. The event was never a problem until 10 years later, when the world discovered how infectious AIDS could be.
Setting. On Dec. 8, 1987, Betty Brague received a call from the Phoenix Art Museum. The City wanted to sponsor a mural by New York City artist Don Doyle. He wanted some high school students to paint a mural with him. She agreed to do this mural at the corner of Central and Grand in Downtown Phoenix. She has teaching painting over 25 years at Palo Verde High School, the Center for the Arts in the Phoenix Union School District, a career-oriented art magnet school. Facilities are high standard and teachers are dedicated. High school students were ethnically mixed, such as Chicano, Caucasian, and Afro-American, and the males were very macho. The class also had several females enrolled in this semester painting class.
Sequence of Events. Doyle came to her classroom to meet students and discuss preparations for the mural. He spoke about his work in Tokyo, Brazil, New York and Berlin. He had made several murals with kids in New York. He seemed very gangly and energetic with an "owl-eyed" appearance. Together he and students brainstormed ideas. They felt comfortable with him and liked his cartoon-style work. As he drew, he would occasionally doodle on their hand or on white shirts. He even passed out special Don Doyle pens for them to use. He was not a hands-on, "huggy" person. He drew on the kids' T-shirts that everyone enjoyed. Everything was very professional; they worked hard but had a lot of fun, He even gave out "Swatch" Watches to his helpers.
Doyle shared his background. His dad was a commercial artist. When his dad worked, he watched and drew along with his dad. His family life was very traditional. After graduation and a short time at the University, he ended up in the SOHO district (New York City) as a starving artist. He started doing graffiti drawings in public places. The police were always chasing them out of the subways, but they let him finish the work first. A prominent art patron discovered him in the subways.
Students worked close together with Doyle for a week. They hung out at the mural with their dates. Impressed parents also came down to watch. Passers by stopped to observe. Students appeared on TV. They enjoyed it greatly. Doyle also left his signature and cartoons students' T-shirts and on Brague's shoes. Students framed some of his drawings.
Doyle didn't stop until he was finished. He did most of the drawing first. He later mixed and poured the colorful paint from one bucket to another to obtain the right consistency. His rules were: Don't paint over my lines but you can paint the spaces in between with your colors and patterns, and even add your names."
Ladders were stationed along the wall. Doyle started painting with large strokes and didn't quit until the mural ended. The minute he began to paint so did the music. Students found his work very simple and easy to imitate. Students learned that you have to really work hard. If you are talented, you get the opportunity to exhibit your work. They respected his talent and hard work and caught on quickly. They added different patterns, such as zigzag, and their initials in different places. They had a pizza party together at the end. When the city renovated the downtown area, Doyle's mural was put in a storeroom at the high school.
The boys picked up right away that Doyle's Puerto Rican assistant, who wore a beret, was different. After they left, one of the boys said, "You know they're gay." Brague ran out of time to discuss the matter. Not one parent called to ask questions. There was a sense that he was not well. Many students were not aware that any of the people they had met up until then might be gay." It is often that people will say they had not known a gay person up until...but in reality they may have met or even known were gay but closeted. They found him very likable but noticed him slowly tiring. One of the kids felt that Doyle may have been infected with AIDS, but it was no big deal, according to Brague.
What are some challenges for students and teachers about studying artists who have AIDS?
How is it different than studying artists who have cancer? What imagery would you show?
Do you need to report to parents and students that he has AIDS?
In teaching art history, would you m.ention that an artist is gay? Why or why not?
Describe a project that you can use with students based on the topic (Find AIDS Quilts on Internet)
Later, saddened students learned through the media that Dole had AIDS. There was no joking around about it. I would have had to talk to the school Principal about it. It was important for students to see "a big time artist" at work." She added. "When he died, I wrote to parents to secure the watches because they were more valuable now. I was confident that no one was intimately exposed to him." In those days, almost 10 years ago, aids and HIV were quite controversial. Attitudes and medicine had progressed since then. Brague then confided that some of the students have HIV virus but their identities are well protected.
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