I appreciate your eloquent comments about the newspaper article on John
Biggers. After I read it a few times, I realized that it read
just like fiction. I called Ollie Theisen, a friend of Biggers who
worked on The Web of Life, to ask her opinion since she was one of
the sources quoted in the article. She confirmed my suspicions
that a number of the facts presented were incorrect.
Anyway, to me this shows the advantages of presenting more than
one interpretation of an artwork for discussion. We tried to
provide a number of voices on Biggers' work in The Web of Life.
I do worry about the stereotypes such material perpetuates; I'm much more
inclined to challenge them. Does anyone have any approaches they
have used to deal with such issues they would like to share?
> You wrote
> >For me, the attitude of the article (which reads like fiction) raises a
> number of
> >questions about the broader implications. For example, how do we,
> >as art teachers, best teach about artists of different cultures
> >without being (unintentionally or otherwise) condescending or promoting
> >stereotypes? How can we present the most accurate and nonprejudicial
> >portrayal of an artist? Should we interpret an artist's life (as I feel the
> >of this article did) as well as his or her work? How much of an
> >artist's life do we need to know to fully appreciate his or her
> >work? What do you think about these issues?
> Dear Nancy, et al,
> Without knowing it, I think you answered the question when you described the
> nature of the two pieces -- one was an article where the point of view of
> the reporter was evidenced, the other was more of an interview where the
> artist was able to convey his outlook. It seems that there were two
> different agendas with the two different articles. It is always valuable to
> know the background of a piece, and I share these things with students.
> Ususally I am using something like Vasari (talk about the quality of
> fiction!) in comparison with a comtemporary (20th c.) piece on an artist,
> but you get what I'm going for -- For example, when I give students a
> piece of writing about art or an artist, I ask questions like "What does the
> author want me to know, what is he/she telling me about the subject or how I
> should feel about the subject, and why or why do you think so (Give
> examples, show evidence!) ?" It helps to be able to balance with a
> contrasting piece -- your two selections seem ideal -- for an exploration of
> critical reading. Follow up questions might be what new facts did I learn
> from this article, how does this author feel about the artist, etc (Compare
> and contrast) ?
> The second point about teaching without condensation or promoting
> stereotypes is more subtle. Museums and textbooks are still filled with
> examples of the "Western canon" of approved artists. I think that that
> stereotype needs to be shattered as often and with as much of a variety of
> ways as possible. The only way I have gotten comfortable about talking
> about issues of stereotyping is to be direct and plainspoken. My students
> know how I feel and celebrate all art along with me. There are many more
> forms of prejudice than racial or economical, as I'm sure you are aware.
> These distictions are not unimportant to students, and often will make the
> study of an artist richer.
> Additionally, I think knowing the historical context of an artist's work is
> tremendously important -- contemporary as well as from the past. I
> especially like showing students something old that they think of as fresh
> and modern -- The wild, abstract painterly quality in 18 c. still life!
> This can really spark enthusiasm and looking closer at details.
> 'Nuff said. Please don't think I'm not with you 100% on this issue. I hate
> it when people are put down, no matter how good the intentions. My bet is
> that the author of the newspaper article just doesn't know how many fine
> black artists are working successfully today, or how many working artists
> were not born with a silver spoon.
> Good luck,
> Karen Hurt
> Grafton Library
> Mary Baldwin College
> Staunton, Virginia
> Voice: 540.887.7317
> FAX: 540.887.7297
Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 305100, University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203
940/565-3986 FAX 940/565-4867