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Re: The Postmodernism Fog( is lifted)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sat, 24 Jan 1998 13:15:45 -0600

It is understandable that for many, the theories of modernism and
postmodernism are sometimes seen as challenging, jargon laden and difficult
to relate to. Even when one reads about these theories it can be perplexing
at best and uninspiring at worst. However, it is necessary for every
cultural worker (artist, educator, poet, performer, lawyer, entertainer,
theorist...) to understand the impact Modernism has had (and still does)
on us and the ways in which Postmodernism has ,and is, changed the very
nature of culture. Art educational practices did not just appear in a
vacuum, nor did they develop from one person's unique vision. They are and
have been part of a much larger social, ideological construct which
affected all parts of culture and have had major influences on our
contemporary understanding of art education. My argument is this; Art
Education (and art) is a unconscious representation of its ideological
I will attempt to provide a brief overview of how the two
paradigms have and are affecting art and art education. I hope this helps
those of you that found these theories either irrelevant or confusing. Look
to see where you fit in, how you were taught, and why. Without knowing why
certain beliefs, attitudes and practices exist, we can never fully
understand our place/philosophy in in art education. Although these
lists may seem long, they BARELY scratch the surface. Most of this
information can be found in "Postmodern Art Education: An Approach to
Curriculum," NAEA.
Some basic tenets of cultural
Modernism (art &society):
*Celebration of the uniqueness of the individual, and the originality of
the artwork.
*Artists are thought to be creative, innate geniuses.
*Pure formal relationships that evoked an aesthetic experience were seen
as a rejection of a materialistic culture that
grown up in the industrial world. This became the basis of an assumed
universal aesthetic, the common denominator for all the world's art.
*Embedded in the idea of progress is the product of an artistic and
intellectual elite who devise new social forms or lifestyles
*Socialdarwinist ideology calls for those things which are socially
*Laws of science have universal applications.
*The concept of psychological health was wedded to the notion of freeing
the child from social inhibitions.
*C. Greenberg championed a strive for purity in art, advocating the view
that artists should be disdainful of the imagery of popular culture and

in Art Education
*Authur Dow wrote "Composition" which contributed to the quasi-
scientific doctrine of formalism. Based on a sense of social darwinism,
Dow created a set of universal teachable rules: elements and principles of
*Elements and Principles of design were ready to use, teacher friendly,
rules and structures which divorced the study of art in schools from a
discussion of content to merely addressing the form(lines, color,
*New art pedagogy based on the premise that child art is inherently
valuable in and of itself.
*This was a vulnerable art that was easily corrupted by social forces.
*Creative free expression was born.
*Students are rewarded for appearing to reach within themselves and reveal
emotional states through abstract characterizations.
*Discouraged imitating from other sources (no adult art)
*Self expression equated progress with the growth of individualism.
*The individual, through self expression, would become more whole, more
intelligent, more socially and spiritually adjusted and more aesthetically
*Art curriculum has maintained a notion of individuality through the
promotion of autonomous expression in the production of art within the
school, that in spite of its democratic rhetoric, is a highly regulatory
*The presence of forms of art that are considered in advance of the public
at large has given many art teachers their reason for teaching: to bridge
the cultural gap between the public and the vanguard.
*Teachers discouraged any use of popular cultural imagery in art classrooms.
*Teachers discouraged students from copying, appropriating any graphic
characters from the media or popular culture and dismissed it as worthless.
*Images from the popular media were thought to corrupt students.
*Teachers denied the appropriation of images (existed) and believed in
universal innate graphic symbols (stages of development).
*Only through the study of high arts would students learn about truth and
*Curriculum reforms in the 1960's (like that of urban renewal schemes)is
spiritually linked to modernism in two ways:
1) Based upon the assumption that "the new" is
a progressive reform of past practices. Reforms were
based on disciplined rationality, (beginnings of D.B.A.E.)
2) Progress through standardization by
ordering the sequence of subject matter during art instruction.

Some basic tenets of cultural
Postmodernism (art &society):
*approaches to theories of knowledge must be plural and diverse: a basic
move against either economic or philosophic hegemony (rejects absolutes
:truth, beauty, freedom,"art").
*Questions are raised around the various representations of truth.
*Questions are raised about whether one group of people can represent
*The individual is a social construct, a mythological character who at one
level issupposed to act freely and independently, and at another level is
to act the same as all free and independent individuals.
*Through mass media, international politics, and the global economy, the
geography has been reconceptualized.
*Notions of the innate genius are refuted.
*In art, the borrowing,mixing, copying, and reuse of imagery, ideas and
styles either consciously or unconsciously are celebrated.
*Originality is seen as a myth, a construct.
*Originality and authenticity are challenged in art history and art production.
*Sources are exposed and celebrated.
*Realignment of thinking about the unique and disinterested works of
"great men" as products of social influence and interest.
*Power is dispersed and diversified.
*Collapsing of high and low culture by arguing that the separation of high
culture from culture is an illusion in the current global community.
*Mass media is central as a mechanism of social control and a tool to
enable empowerment.

Postmodernism in Art Education
*Teachers take part in a critical struggle to understand the ways in which
sociohistorical contexts work to construct educational conditions,
including the ideological milieu of teachers, administrators, and
curriculum developers.
*Art teachers reject the notion that the individual and society are
*Students see themselves as part of a larger whole.
*Students contextualize artworks within social constructions.
*Students question the power of art and progress.
*Privileges cultural difference and alternative thought processes.
*Questions of curriculum representing and teaching "truth," and how
curriculum affects knowledge are raised.
*Students address "multiple art histories."
*Students engage in time-based and conceptual artworks.
*Emphasis from the product to the engaging students in art criticism and
art histories.
*Emphasis on critical interpretation.
* Students engage in multiple interpretations/readings.
*Students use of collage/montage techniques
*Instead of metanarratives, students learn smaller narratives which are
reproduced, read and interpreted.
*Investigations into the ways certain ethnic, gender and social groups have
been controlled.
*New theories of equity and democratization.
*Importance placed on local traditions and values in art.
*Multicultural issues are addressed.
*Environmental issues are addressed as a form of "The Other."
*Students use non-western methods of inquiry to discuss non-western art.
*Students understand multiple identities and how they are constructed,
perceived, and propagated through culture.
*Students understand the process of hybridization in culture.
*Students look at popular culture in relation to cultural pedagogy.
*Students critique the media and kitsch objects to discern connections and
expose relations between power, identity and motive.
*Intertextual connections are made between art, culture and the student.
*Students embrace and recycle art from the past.

For more information, these texts provide a wonderful BASIC foundation to
Modernism and Postmodernism in art ed, culture and art.
"Postmodern Art Education: An Approach to Curriculum" by Authur Efland,
Kerry Freedman, and Patricia Stuhr, NAEA, 1996.
"Art Education: Content and Practice in a Postmodern Era" ed. by James
Hutchens and Marianne Suggs. NAEA, 1997.
"Critical Condition,: American Culture at the Crossroads" by Eleanor
Heartney, Cambridge U. Press, 1997.
"Has Modernism Failed" by Suzi Gablik,, Thames, 1984. ( I disagree with
her outlook , but she does a decent job framing the tenets of Moderism and
ON CULTURE (children and popular culture/images)-
"Disturbing pleasures". by Henry Giroux, Routledge. 1994. (He has written
many books/articles on popular culture and teaching)
" Kinderculture: The corporate construction of childhood" edited by Joe
Kinchloe, & S. Steinberg, Westview Press. 1997.

and here are some articles;
"The Originality of the Avante Garde: A Postmodern Repetition" by Rosalind
"Re:Post" by Hal Foster
"Art Criticism as Ideology" by Elizabeth Garber
Art education for new times, by Paul Duncum, in Studies in Art Education,
39 (3), 1997 (excellent article)

Kevin Michael Tavin Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Art Education
The Pennsylvania State University
School of Visual Arts