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Lesson Plans

Subject: Re: What's worth teaching in art? (Reply to Teresa's

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Thu, 16 Jul 1998 09:49:22 -0500

Howdy, ArtsEdNetters,

At 01:32 AM 7/15/98 +0200, Teresa at <teresatorreseca>wrote:

As a teacher involved in a socially-critical orientation, i am very very
worried about the aims in art education, and my concern is more dramatic
because i live in a south European country, so with less economical power
than the north. However, because of my initial training, i believe in the
values and in the virtues of the academic rationalism, in the excellence of
the greatest in literature and sculpture, film, dance or painting: like
Eisner, i feel that Matisse, Corbusier, Stravinsky and Cunningham are the
real knowledge and examples to transmit by studio-making, by criticism, by
aesthetics, by history and art production. Of course they are not the only
art, there are so many differents arts as different contexts.

On the other hand, i am convinced that art education must prepare students
for the new media, for the new language and, most of all, enable them to
understand manipulation through imagery and give them critical rather than
technical skills.

My Respnse:

This is a very good point that you have made. All of us will do well to keep
it in mind. In the U.S., we are constantly deluged with manipulative
messages as images and in other forms. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and
all other forms of advertising fill our day with a constant stream of
subversive and overt attempts on the part of others to get their hands into
our pockets. I do not remember that mass media was so prolific with this
kind of manipulation when I was younger, but then that was when TV was just
beginning to be marketed to the public. (dead giveaway that I am no spring
chicken.) In our little farming community, the only family with a TV was
that of the village doctor. We children would flock to their house upon
invitation from his children. There in their big basement, we would join
others lined up three deep, sitting on the floor, mesmerized as if we were a
bunch of trained circus puppies or members of a children's choir for
listening and watching rather then for singing. To be sure , we felt that we
were witnesses to a miracle. Little did we know then how people would
learn to use the thing to control, and manipulate populations of all ages
around the globe.

In as much as radio and TV are forms of technology, even if they are older
then the Internet, we can think of your view (that we art educators have a
responsibility to "enable our students to understand manipulation through
imagery and give them critical skills") suggests another of technology's
implications for art education. Certainly if manipulation through the media
has been developed to such a science and art in support of profit, then the
trend will continue into the Twenty-first Century. I appreciate your remarks
on this matter because it helps me understand some issues that I had not
resolved about our role in visual arts education. Just as we help the kids
to become better communicators using images, we do, as you say, need to help
them also become intelligent receivers of images in our culture.

Teresa wrote:

Knowledge must be focused on investigation, understanding, criticism and
history. The aim of education is to provide critical skills to participate
in this new world, in order to improve it morally, socially and politically.
It may be that technique is not so important, or at least some techniques
coming from the past.

My response:

Well, some of us have multiple roles with student populations including
individuals who want to try to make their living as visual artists and those
who will be working in other fields (oh, let us not forget those who also
have no idea what they want). We must talor our art teaching to serve all
kinds of individuals. Unfortunately, our success in the past has been judged
by the group who do well with image production while the majority of the
students we have also gain many positive skills from our efforts even when
they do not developrefined techniques in image making. The public and our
administrators have been slow to see that body of work when they judge our
job performance as teachers.

Teresa wrote:

My orientation is in the sense of criticism, having a theoretical approach
to the contents and giving emphasis to the aesthetics aspects of the themes
because i know that the other art teachers in the school will approach the
other contents by technique and personal expression.

My Response:

Yes, from your writing, I can see that you are well lettered and very
thoughtful. You are correct when you note that some of us do not have as
much interest or understanding of theory and aesthetics and our approach is
heavily weighted toward technique and personal expression in the art
classroom. For example, I am just an old potter (with a little experience
as a part-time college and craft school teacher) who made a pathetic living
for nearly twenty years working with clay, until college costs for our two
girls forced me into public education. My primary interests in the earlier
years were in creative drawing and ceramics, not business (that is probably
why my efforts toward profit were not rewarded), and it is more natural for
me to see developments in the arts from the perspective of the artist,
rather then from that of the critic, aesthnatitian, or sociologist. I
appreciate those of you who can share your perspective because it gives tthe
rest of us a little insight into the whole picture rather then our own
limited view.

Teresa wrote:

I agree with a post structuralist approach like Paul Duncum who argues
that the purpose of education is no longer to distribute information but to
teach how to handle the vast amount that is readily available. Media
education is a solution to deal with this problems? Could we believe that a
semiotic criticism of contemporary cultural forms could give us a new
approach to production and criticism of art education?

For art education to have a healthy future, it must be remade. It
requires a paradigm shift toward a socially levelled, semiotic conception
of culture. An inclusive conception of culture could begin to address the
proliferation of mass media images and their multiple readings by our
multifaceted selves." (Duncum, 1997).

My response:

With these remarks, it certainly seems like Dunkum and you have his fingers
on the implications of technology for all of us. But, I must hold the
opinion that we art teachers have a variety of roles that come with the job.
Some days, the most important thing we can do for a child is let them know
that we appreciate them making the efforts to come to school and try to
participate in spite of the facts that they have had no breakfast, their
lives at home are a nightmare, they were harassed on the bus comming to
school, their cloths are a mess and they have a body odor that would kill a

In other words, from my perspective at the bottom, one must try to key on
the needs of the students. Our work will vary depending upon just how
sophisticated their needs happen to be.

Thanks for the thoughtful remarks, Teresa.