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Lesson Plans

Re: The Web of Life - long post

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betti longinotti (p-lstudio)
Thu, 8 Jan 1998 19:06:30 -0500

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I think it is always interesting to read articles on art and artists by
journalists who do not seem to have any significant background in the
visual arts. It becomes very apparent that when stereotypical verbage
is highly prevalent within the composition, as within the article on
John Biggers, it heightens the job we have as art educators. Suddenly
and profoundly we realize that our role cannot be merely confined by the
walls of our classrooms, but it must extend to the community at-large.
How we 'do' educate the community, thus broadening their understanding
of art and artists without offending them is another question?
Subsequent problems are bound to arise if the confrontation becomes to
personalized or too judgemental. The reaction then creating a
polarizing effect, and pushing Art back into the box.

In Art & Life,
Betti L.
or on the www at
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From: "Nancy Walkup" <walkup>
Organization: UNT School of Visual Arts
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 11:36:15 CST6CDT
Subject: The Web of Life - long post
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Dear ArtsEdNetters:

Over the holidays, a major article about John Biggers appeared
in the Dallas Morning News (December 28) and I would like to
pose some questions it raised for me and ask you to share your

The two-page article barely touches on Dr. Biggers' artwork.
Instead, it focuses on the prejudice and discrimination Biggers
faced throughout his life as a black child, a black student, and
a black artist. The tone of the article, to me, seems somewhat
condescending (and remember, this is just my opinion). When
we interviewed Biggers for ArtsEdNet, we found him to be dignified
and positive in outlook and very much self-aware. Despite the
discrimination he has suffered, he is not a bitter man. He
acknowledges the past, but does not dwell on it. One of the reasons
the interview with Biggers in "The Web of Life" is so extensive is
because we wanted to give him a chance to speak for himself.

Here's a sample from the article to give you an idea of the
slant of the article:

"A boy of no more than 7 or 8, with high cheek bones and a full
set of curls, stands in the post office in patched clothes,
dirty from playing in the creeks and alleys he frequents. He
feels the cool marble under his feet as he gazes way up at a man
painting on a huge wall the images of blacks picking cotton. 'I
was fascinated by this.'

"The youngest of seven has no idea that the very thing that has
so entranced him will become his calling. As a black child, he
can't afford whimsical dreams of being an artist. He lives in
the segregrated South of Gastonia, N.C., where the train shakes
as it rolls in, and 'Negroes' are expected to toil in fields,
scrub laundry, and clean white people's houses--not create

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 author
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?


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