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Re: Is art education dead?

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From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Jun 04 2002 - 05:42:56 PDT


Curious Henry....

Since this is a think tank post...I'll add some questions to further
initiate response. Is the purpose of art ed to be a vehicle for social
engineering, enculturation and preparation for future generations to be
prepared to be citizens of a global community? The United States being a
microcosm of a United Nations, with the hope that people will be more
prepared to embrace a One World union?

It was interesting when I was first hired, that students had lost interest
in art here at our school, boys especially had waned in opting to take the
class. One reason the school board and administration felt I might have
something for the student's to hold interest was that I had in my own
"professional" artistic background near 20 years of winning things like
Wisconsin's Wildlife Artist of the Year, our state's inland Trout Stamp,
etc; With our entire region being forested, 1200 lakes and streams, and
recreation being hunting, fishing, etc., they hoped that students would
connect art to a practical interest on their parts.

Actually, I am painting more plein air landscapes these days, have been
accepted into a major New York show at the National Arts building...and I'm
slowly teaching the kids about the developments of art in American from the
late 1800's to about the 1930's. At the lower elementary levels on up, I'm
introducing African art....etc., but as an "agent" for social change to
welcome that grand global community...its not going to fly well nor quickly
here.

Now I imagine if there is a "here" here...there must be some "here's"
elsewhere. Which makes me wonder aloud if we "here's" people will be judged
as failing as art educators because we are working on the very basic premise
to crusade for art to even find basic value amongst the local community in
at the very least sparking an interest for the kids to create. To "self"
express.

I have just order about $550 art videos for next year, and got about $200
worth last year. When I first came here...my seniors and juniors did not
even ever hear of Vincent Van Gogh. There is no over-emphasis of something
Western here...in fact, there simply had been no crusade for the cause of
art at all! At this point in time...kids are beginning to identify with the
idea that art is a means to look at their world, and a viable effective
means to get their feelings about the world out artistically. To do that, I
have been having to connect them to the works of other artists that have
made such visual expressions about their world. A "natural" world that
these north wood's students identify with. From this experience they are
getting their first sense that art history has value and a place in opening
their eyes. Unfortunately....you will call such currently devalued
influences as having the European Western traditions.

In time, I imagine working more closely with social study/global history
departments we can collaborate on some projects which will find justifiable
cause in a community that has been more "in-grown" Last year, I introduced
a number of Native American projects....and partially because with our
neighboring Native American reservations and casinos...etc., there are some
prejudicial problems. In that way I am applying some social engineering
aesthetic mechanisms to try and broaden and stretch the students.

The main thing though is...I don't believe every district is a vehicle ready
for embracing fully a global vision, and where art perhaps is acknowledged
to have little if any value...(and other issues have dominated), I find
flexibility is important. First to gain credibility and respect as an
inidividual, a teacher. Slowly win people over to want to keep you, then to
their needing you. To the kids standing in line to want to get into your
classes. Then bit by bit broadening their minds...and slowly implementing
other strategies.

What I find interesting to muse over...is how we'll appreciate art made say
perhaps in Africa- (which many argue is really not art at all in the
traditional sense. I mean, in the sense that art is so much a part of their
daily functional lives in producing functional art for cooking, for
spiritual cleansing, etc., in fact, some tribal cultures have no word for
art). and would cringe, mouth drop, roll over for dead if the thought of
interferring with their cultural dependency on art making were threatened
with change from the outside world. I find it interesting that
intellectuals will value that people's right to make an art that is somewhat
sheltered and closed in, and defines their own priorities and values....yet
expect our micro-costic culture to embrace an open ended United Nation's
acceptance that does not encourage self-evaluation and the finding of one's
own priority and values.

We instead insist a de-valuing of our own emphasis's creative interests and
impetus instead to think and thereby judge or assign all other traditions
to have a greater value outside one's own culture.

Now...if I had been hired in a reservation to teach art...it would be
expected for me to go along with the emphasis and support a history of past
heritage. Introducing Western influence of making art would understandably
be out of place. But, then again....why? Ought not the Native Americans be
prepared to become global citizens? Ought not their culture and their
tendencies to assign priority be challenged as well as any other?

It would seem if a global village is really consistent in emphasis, that art
teachers ought to be going to African and tribal cultures to teach about
European art histories, no? About Native American crafts, etc.?

Seems to me that one way that students learn "art" appreciation is to
understand why an individual finds the need to make art in the first place.
How, as a vehicle....art works out inner emotions and passions and with the
right mode/means....gets those feelings OUT in a way that satisfies one's
self. So much emphasis as you subscribe (or rather this art ed philosophy)
seems to suggest more that only how others have expressed themselves in
other cultures counts, and if not carefully balanced diminishes the
importance of them being "creative expressors" themselves.

Students and parents driving about the northwoods are more influenced to the
practicality and necessity of art when they see the likes of myself set up
with an easel on the roadside painting landscapes which in turn find their
way in galleries.

If they saw me making African drums...it would be of course of interest, but
makes no personal connection. I did btw make an African udu...a ceramic
percussion instrument with side valve. And, I did record it on a number of
songs of my latest CD and a new one. Kids have heard it on my CD, now make
a personal connection. It NOW demonstrates having practical value.

When I moved to this area several years ago...I was surprised to discover an
area that is absorbed with its own culture and history. This area is nearly
like going overseas. It is a "here." At this time, I am not the best
ambassador for global change. It became obvious to me that I was not hired
for such. I am trying merely to bring a proud people content with a life of
beer, logging, and 4 wheel drives...the idea that art has value and can find
place in their hearts and lives. A hope that their environment might find
aesthetic value as well as an object of resource provision.

Back to my first question...do you see the purpose of art ed to be as a
vehicle to prepare a people for a global community, a one world village?
Are we merely agents for social engineering? Is there a place for art to be
personalized and internalized without such agents and agenda dominating?

Larry

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