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To create a true culturally diverse lesson, I think we must begin to
broaden our umbrellas or themes. Graeme's suggestion about the missionizing
theme was quite provocative. If we could find themes broad enough, we could
include perspectives from many cultures and not just our own.
If we teach from one work of art instead of from a theme, our problem
becomes not cultural diversity but style emulation. I agree with Nancy
Walkup that we must try to relate the work of art to the student's own
life. For example, studying one of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings
does not have to limit us to a project on flowers. What I think O'Keeffe
was interested in was the idea that people didn't take the time to see what
she saw in flowers. Asking students to look for those aspects in their busy
lives might result in some creative ideas: a wall lit by an early morning
sun on the way to class might be something one student might notice - most
students would pass right on by without even seeing the wall. By creating a
work of art that draws attention to this sunlit wall, the student takes
O'Keeffe's idea and relates it to his/her own life.
Many times the marginalization that we see is a result of curricular
demands. If Native Americans are stipulated as part of the social studies
curriculum at a particular grade level, it is natural to introduce the art
forms of that group. I am thinking of the Storyteller dolls in this
instance. Even though the focus is on one particular culture, other
examples might be introduced during the art portion of the unit. In the
Take 5 set of prints "People at Play", one of the reproductions is William
Sidney Mount's "The Long Story". It also is about telling a story.
Discussing the differences between the Storyteller Doll and the Mount
painting would enlarge the student's perspective. Opening up for discussion
such questions as "Who are our storytellers today? What kind of stories do
they tell? Who listens to these stories?" might relate the concept of
storytellers to the life of the student.
I think that we also must recognize the fact that in spite of all we do, a
certain percentage of students will truly like what they see in a work of
art and will emulate it. The designs on a storyteller doll or the
configuration truly does appeal to the student and despite our efforts to
enlarge the perspective, a certain number of students may still choose to
emulate what they have seen. In this case, I think we must respect the
student's work - I always think of Terry Barrett's adage that "all art
comes from other art."
I hope that I have not muddied the waters with my random thoughts. I think
issues of cultural diversity and style emulation are important - I don't
think any of us has the answer right now, but I do think discussing our
thoughts helps all of us to be aware of the issue and think twice before
proceeding in the same "time-honored" way - the only thing constant in life
California Consortium for Arts Education