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Lesson Plans

Re: 19th & 20th C. Artists Who Have Infuenced American Culture

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 18:00:47 -0600

At 08:33 PM 2/15/98, Wendy wrote:

>If you are accusing me of being unethical, i think it would be braver to
do so openly instead of hinting at it. Some think its pretty unethical to
perpetuate the lie that only certain types of art by certain groups of
people are worth considering as important.

When I said, "Even our field of art education has to involve ethics", I was
concerned about several things. At first, Wendy's criticism suggested
ethical problems which were personal and professional. Since that time,
Wendy explained that the manipulation of my message and the attribution of
a fabricated quote to me were not intentional. If this is the case, then my
concerns about the problem of personal ethics were the result of misplaced
quotations and her efforts to shorten her message.

However, the matter of professional ethics remains

Teachers are charged with the responsibility of guiding students in support
of their learning. With the responsibility we are given a position which can
be used to promote our personal agenda at the expense of the student's need
for a balanced distribution of information and the freedom to learn to think
for themselves.

In Wendy's recent message she said:

"I think everyone, to some extent, fabricates there own version of art
history, or any history, for that matter. Yes, i do have a personal agenda
which i think i openly stated. i, for one, am disturbed when students can
list famous artists like leonardo and piccasso but know of no female or non
white counterparts."

I certainly agree with the realization that our opinions and a personal
agenda may effect our teaching and we may be unable to avoid some of the
influence as we manage the student's learning environment. On the other
hand, the student has a right to enough information to allow them to form
their own ideas and weigh their opinions against fact. If the educational
experience is successful, the student will have a command of the facts, but
they will also develop the ability to think for themselves. This can happen
"because of us" or "in spite of us". If it is the latter, then we will have
lost their respect by the time the learning process was complete.

There was an interview with Jackson Pollock which I can remember reading
in the 60's. The artist was asked how Thomas Hart Benton, a former teacher,
had contributed to his development. Pollock remarked, simply, "He gave me
something to react against!"

Most of us can remember those teachers from our past who aggressively
struggled to project their opinions and force their agendas upon us. When
we later came to the realization that, at best, we had only been given part
of the truth, our respect for the individuals dropped quickly.

In Wendy's earlier remarks, she said, " i think it is high time for
inclusion, and to help young people realize white guys whose stuff is in
museums aren't the only ones who've been making important art all this time."

Most, if not all, of our list members will agree that works representing
our cultural diversity and art by both sexes should be included in support
of teaching and learning in art. However, my reaction to the ethics of
Wendy's agenda is as follows:

Question #1: Is it high time for inclusion? Answer: yes and no.

Yes, if the lessons have previously include only white guys whose stuff
is in museums.

No.... if an effort has already been underway to present diversity as part
of the teaching and learning.

No.... if emphasis in the delivery of the lessons is consistently weighted
with marginal representatives who are not chosen for their creative merit
but are chosen primarily on the basis of their sex, ethnicity, or national

No.... if one is frequently negative toward " white guys" (or any other
generalized group based on race or sex) in the lessons. When the attitude
of this kind of agenda is allowed to show, we risk the word " white"
prompting assorted feelings and frictions in the classroom. Whites and non
whites of both sexes who may have been very attentive are quickly set
apart and are now thinking of issues concerning their differences at the
expense of the art learning which was intended. With the same agenda, the
negative positioning of "guys" will insure a defensive posture with the
loss in the attention and respect of the male students in the learning
environment. So, with a couple words, the teacher will have set non whites
against whites, females against males and will have lost much of the
attention which should be part of an effective learning environment.

Question #2: Are white guys whose stuff is in museums the only ones who've
been making important art all this time." Answer: yes and no

Yes..... if there is some doubt concerning the value of works in museums. Of
course there are a variety of reasons why works in museums are purchased,
protected and preserved. With consideration of the vast numbers of artists
who are not and will never find representation in public museums, it is
assumed that the individuals who are represented have probably made some
contribution to the history of art. There is a good chance that one will
find more examples of important art in our museums then above the sofa, on
the street, at art fairs or in the local gallery.

No.... if one is of the opinion that only the art of white guys are
represented in museums.

No..... if one is of the opinion that only white guys have been making
important art all this time.

With changes in our culture over the past forty years we have seen a growing
effort by museum staff seeking out representative works by important artists
who are not white males. To suggest that the men and women working for these
institutions are not making this effort will, no doubt, seem offensive to
them. The folks associated with museums have an important role to play in
support of our efforts in education, in addition to their contribution to
art history. We are irresponsible if we do not appreciate the work they are

Rather then to look for a conspiracy or suggest to our students that there
has been a collusion of evil white males who have manipulated, and
monopolized the process of selection of art for museums, one can take a
more ethical approach to student learning.

One could ask the students if they have ever wondered why so much of the art
in museums is the work of artists who were white men. Certainly if the
learning environment has a healthy diversity of students, the children will
be quick to realize that the answer to their mystery will not be that white
males make better artists. The lesson in search of an answer to the mystery
must involve student attention to issues of a traditional agricultural
economic order in Europe which was transplanted in America. In that economy,
large families translated into more field hands. In the lesson, one can
point to a family structure which set up expectations and opportunity for
individuals based on the unique strengths and limitations of both females
and males. The life way would not succeed without the mature female having
children and managing the work in the home.

The second group of issues in the mystery concern our ethnic diversity.
One can remind the students that the population of Europe was predominately
white, while other areas of our globe held concentrations of other races.
Most middle and high school students will be somewhat aware of geography and
American history. Lessons in those disciplines have made them aware of the
conflicts between groups, the suffering, the hard work and the
contributions made by our ethnically diverse ancestors. Their social
studies classes should have delivered some understanding of our democratic
government and the early agricultural (and later industrial) economy which
presented opportunity to individuals based upon their traditional role in
the family and on majority rule. A brief review of the information will
help to reinforce their learning, including the fact that whites would
eventually be in the majority in the area which is now the U.S. The uneven
distribution of wealth and the expectations of the traditional family order
presented white males with the best opportunity for activity outside the
home, including formal education in the arts. The same order gave the white
male a better chance for survival as an artist. It also presented members of
that group with the greatest chance for making a place for themselves in
art history. With the same forces at work, an overwhelming majority of
white males also filled positions as historians and as decision makers
within museums in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The natural outcome
favored the collection of work by white males and gave them the greatest
opportunity to influence the direction of historical change in the art of
that time.

The lesson can be concluded with appreciative remarks and examples of works
by artists from the period who were not white males and were able to give
us great and important work. Here , I use an assortment of videos which
present an effective picture of the struggle and dedication exhibited by
selected female and black artists of the 19th and early 20th Century.

Of course, the next mystery for the students can involve a lesson about the
the changes which have taken place in our culture and how those changes are
being reflected in the growing diversity of artists, art works, art
historians and museum staff .
Bob Fromme
Robert Fromme <rfromme> or <rfromme>