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Lesson Plans

Re: Democracy vs Despotism

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Mon, 14 Jul 1997 11:44:20 -0700 (MST)

Diane Asked:
> "Why does Art and Art Education appear to us to have such a low status?
> What can we do about it in our own professional lives on Monday, July
> 14, 1997?"

Which reminds me, Felicitous Bastille Day everyone!

On Sun, 13 Jul 1997, Rosa Juliusdottir wrote:

> I don't however think I know the answer but would love to hear what
> people on this great list think. Is it possible that Art Education on
> the lower level, I mean Elementary School, has not been professional
> enough and therfor not earned us the respect we want?

Perhaps. I suspect rather, that the profession has proceeded often with
near-sightedness more inkeeping with a positivistic scientism or
philosophy. Art education has chosen variously:

to train professional commerially viable artists, technicians and
allied professionals who's work was not itself art but rather "about art."

to produce Aesthete consumers of historically art and academicly validated
art as well as peripheral products relating concerns "about art",

to evoke nebulously defined qualities of "creativity" and "personal
expression" in students.

To join education as a whole in providing childcare and activities which
might produce shallow aculturation and assimilation. (a particularly
American point of view, perhaps)

These four come to mind first.

Art education has often or traditionally proceeded from an assumed
understanding of what art "is" or, at least" ought to be. But, for all its
scientism, art ed has often failed to explore art's relationship to
culture in any really broad sense. (Credit goes to E.B. Feldman for making
an attempt in his groundbreaking "Becoming Human Through Art" and to June
King McFee for her writing with conscious awareness of culture in
"Preparation for ART") Too often for my taste have we assumed a naive
Darwinistic and progressive path of ascent for Art with little if any
consideration for its biological, cognitive, or social origins or even its
uses in small scale societies still in existance, tho at risk, around the

In an unjustified focus on the "cutting edges" of art (current ahd
historical", art education has abandoned the non-professional certifying
only "museum quality" as real and in the process denigrating and
trivializing all folk practices. (and how is it that we have managed, in
the process, to erase any sense of participation in a broad and general
folk culture, as it exists outside the western mainstream and to restrict
our vision to a narrow, somewhat exoticised, segment of the larger

When your school experiences begin to undermine and homogenize the local
community cultures and teach generation after generation to devalue and
trivialize anything which might be considered "Art" and still attempt to
exist outside the formally recognized structure of professional and
historic "Art"; it becomes all easy to believe that anything serious or
important in art is too refined to approach as a non-professional or
cognoscenti. Simply, put art becomes the product of genius, and not being
geniuses ourselves why make the effort. Further, as apparently "art is for
art's sake", as it has "no use", and as anything can become art by
assignment (by an accredited professional mind you, kids don't try and do
it at home. A pile of candy is a pile of candy without an imprimature).
Then, THEN, at that point, Art becomes too complex and trivial to
appreciate or support.

Sure, it's ok to play at participation in the art world if one wants to
appear cultured. And, it can be entertaining enough on its own. But,
remembering how few geniuses there are and how they all seem to be holed
up in New York or L.A. it all becomes "academic" and trivial.

The fall-back position becomes an appreciation of childish Kid-Art
as a focus for parental pride and an appreciation of simple,
unpretentious, "realistic" sunday paintings (in mimicry of traditional
work of "the impressionist masters") as good, understandable, art.
Paint by numbers (remember that?) and kits from Michaels situate art as a
hobby and we all know hobbies are trivial in the scheme of things.

So, gee it would be really dumb to support the arts with tax dollars or
by encouraging kids to pursue the practice seriously. Popular demogogues
tell us that the National Endowment for the Arts and those it supports are
interested only in filth and the undermining of traditional values and,
because we are far too removed from the context to really grasp the issues
being addressed by the artists it begins to look like an accurate

"Gee, that's a pretty picture Gerry. What did you DO in school today?"

And so we live in a world of strip malls and mass-produced goodies which
we keep nice and clean and polished until its time to throw them out.
While in other parts of the world a woman leaves her front door in the
morning to paint in colored sand an intricate design on the threshold
which people will cross and destroy in leaving or entering the house.
While old trucks are maintained with chewing gum and baling wire and are
painted by their owners and drivers in all sorts of images, designs, and
patterns. While people paint their bodies and their homes, collect and
arrange found objects in their pockets and yards. While in places the
little sign hung out by a mom and pop store is not simply a scrawled
identification but an opportunity to elaborate and extend the popular
fashions for such things.

For the moment Western Culture has found a nice comfortable niche for art
which seems to be generally outside the reach or involved interest of most
folks. The stats say that there are more people involved in the arts than
ever before. Maybe, but there also seems to be a lot more people around to
be involved. And, as ever, there is art as pure entertainment. It used to
be we often created our own artisic entertainments today we depend on
professionals for entertainment and for recreational activity more often
favor something that looks like sport.

So, I've vented all my frustration with the past century of art ed in my
part of the world. Still, I've become an artist in spite of it all. I've
learned to think deeply (or at least try to) about art and to appreciate
the art of many cultures, even to envy it and to wish to be a part, at
times, of that world and not my own. New artists continue to arise and new
teachers who want to teach art. That represents a lot of successes for art
ed as we know it. Despite my frustration I have to say it's not that bad.
What is being done is viable and it works for so many people, let's not
trash it or disrespect it. There is so so much to cover, choices need to
be made, and priorities assigned.

There seem to be a lot of ways to approach Art Education. DBAE covers much
of the important ground. I don't know that any approach can be all things
in art to all people. Here is a place where we get to discuss whatever it
is each of us thinks is most important to the study of and education of
our children. Thus are cultures built and maintained. Same as it ever was.