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Lesson Plans

theory/practice, modern/post, DBAE, rb, yadayadayada

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
James Linker (jal19)
Sat, 24 Jan 1998 11:44:05 -0500

Where to begin ... ?

>> > You must remember that many of these professors have been away from
>>the classroom working
>> > on their doctoral theses. Unfortunately, these degrees are based on
>>"oral" and "written"
>> > examinations with much reading and writing; not on art production! It
>>is natural that the shoe boxes
>> > they have filled with all those "frames of references" will have to
>>eventually end up in curriculum guides, text
>> > books, and class lectures. It is far easier to talk about art than it
>>is to produce it.

The anti-intellectualism of these comments is disheartening, and typical. I
suppose it is a variation on the "Protestant work ethic" that equates
"labor" with "sweat," and does not wish to credit other forms of activity
with the honorific "work." My initial impulse was to shout about the
difficulty of my chosen career emphasis, but after some reflection, I began
to see the humor in the whole thing. I have no insecurity as to the
validity of my practice. I have no need to convince anyone as to the
difficulty of simultaneously making art, teaching art, and critically
analyzing both making and teaching. As a responsible educator, I feel
obliged to subject my practices to continual scrutiny, and examine the
assumptions behind them in as broad a cultural context as I can draw.

What amazes and frustrates me about Mr. Beeching's commentary is its

>Teach people basic processes and skills first, then let them compare their
>experiences with what they visually and aurally confront in society. In that
>way, we can become truly appreciative of the contributions of the arts to
>our society.

Just how are they to do this without the intellectual tools and background
knowledge mnecessary to make such comparisions meaningful?

>In my estimation, the doctoral requirement for teaching art at the college
>and university
>levels of instruction has hindered more than fostered legitimate art
>Until art education joins the ranks of legitimate art instruction, we will
>continue to dilute the potential
>contributions of the arts in our society.

Legitimated how? Contributions motivated by what purposes?

>Art is neither science nor psychology, it is a non-verbal visual language
>which we can learn and apply.

I imagine my life would be much easier if were so certain just what art is.
But would it be as rewarding? Would I continue to grow as an artist and a
teacher? A valued friend and former professor of mine -- a man whose
teaching was an inspiration to my own -- once said, "I try to always be
teaching on the ragged edge of what I myself understand." Effective
pedagogy doesn't come in a box or a book, but from critical reflection one
one's practices and the assumed values that ground them. Postmodern theory
appeals to many of us us because we experience a world with no more pat
answers, and we fear that the imposition of absolute solutions to cultural
problems poses a greater danger that the ambiguity. I can't in good faith
teach my college students (for example) a drawing lesson, without providing
the cultural context (western, European, modern) that legitimates my
approach. To do so would be a lie, or at the very least, not a whole
"truth." It is not, as another teacher of mine has stressed, a matter of
teaching postmodernism, but one of teaching postmodernly. It is a matter of
learning to become selfaware, aware of the values at the root of one's

>disregard for the basic principles and elements of design; little knowledge of
>typography. School posters, in the main, have become the flagships of
>visual illiteracy.

It is unlikely that such basic principles came down from Sinai as an
addendum to the Lord's Top Ten List. Like any language, design is a living,
evolving thing. A physicist might describe it as a "self-structuring,
non-equalibrium system;" which is to say that it has its origins in the
relations between the beings that deploy it, and shifts continually under
the influence of those shifting relations. It is worth remembering that
many non-western peoples have no conception of "Art" apart from their
everyday cultural practices, that the material evidence of those practices
only becomes "Art" when transposed into a European cultural mileau. The
extent to which the "principles and elements of design" can be extrapolated
from Malian sculpture or Native American petroglyphs is more testament to
the fervor of European Art Historians than the universality of such
principles. As Mr. Beeching so aptly stated;

>Those statements are not based on theory alone, but on continuous practice
>and production.

The continuous practice and production, in this instance, of modern theory
overwhelms the theory behind the practice and production of the works in

Indeed if I am comfortable with any absolute declaration, it is that there
is no practice that is not an elaboration of some theory. Which is not to
say that every practitioner theorizes. A characteristic of the Modern era
(being nothing more that philosophical shorthand for a culture that values
rationality, individuality, divine right, conquest, material acquisition,
and the belief in the possibility of a perfect knowledge of the universe;
i.e. Europe and the rest of the west from about the 15th century to our
present moment) is the tendency to reify (to think of as naturally
occurring) the theories behind common practices. Thus theory and practice
come to be regarded as distinct realms, since such practices need not
require the making of new theory. Mr. Beeching would have us believe that
his theory is not theory, but fact, when if anything is "true," it is that
the facts are, at best, in dispute.

I have of late, engaged in an on-going debate with a friend and colleague
as to what should qualify someone to teach pre-service teachers. We both
have academic art training. My classroom experience is at the college
level, while his is in elementary schools. I am currently observing the Art
Ed class for Elementary Ed majors that he teaches, in an attempt to gain a
better appreciation for his approach to the problems of such a task. DBAE
is part of his curriculum and would be an aspect of my own were I to teach
such a course. The course is not a recipe book. DBAE is not a machine that
can be installed in a classroom and turned on, freeing the teacher to
concentrate on more pressing tasks. Teaching is hard, and if my friend and
I agree on anything, it is that it ought to be hard. Not much that's worth
doing comes easy. Both of us are driven by a desire to *be* better
teachers, and to train better teachers.

I'll be as harsh and dogmatic as I ever get; if you want a magic bullet, a
secret formula that will make you a good teacher, get out of the field. If
you have a passion to facilitate learning, and not merely to indoctrinate
students with received wisdom, then you have no choice but to critically
scrutinize the theories behind your practices. The world is a smaller, more
complex place than we've ever before imagined. It is no longer
intellectually responsible to operate as though we live in a finite, closed
society. How can any of us

>demand from (our students) the best that they can learn and contribute to
>their society in the clothes they
>wear, the furniture they sit on, and the cars they drive as well as what
>they sculpt paint; what they choose to
>put on their home and office walls

without addressing the epistemological and ethical assumptions that allow
us to judge this or that product as better or worse than some other? This
is not mere surrender to relativity, but a fully aware engagement in
cultural processes, for I believe that it is "true;"

>Art is a process.

And so is education. If these processes are to do more that simply
replicate their familiar patterns, they must incorporate critical

Now if you will excuse me, I have several chapters to read and summarize
for my Curriculum Theory and History of Art Ed classes, lecture and lessons
to prepare for next week's teaching, and I hope to make some pictures
before the weekend expires ...




Use each man after his desert and who shall `scape whipping?

Shakespeare, *Hamlet*


james alan linker
doctoral candidate, art education
the pennsylvania state university
school of visual arts