>Dear Fellow Teachers: > I was recently flummoxed by a visit to an American Indian Art Museum and >a companion juried American Indian Arts and Crafts Show in Phoenix. I was >brought face to face with years of my appropriation of various >ethnic/cultural/national concepts for my art room activities: some in the >name of multi-culturism, some because of a visual appeal to my students, >and others because of serendipitous reading on my part. > Historical distance(time) and a reasonable historical awareness were my >usual intellectual props for such activity. I have also considered that a >heritage of Judeo-Christian experience made religious iconography fair >game. > Seeing the pots, baskets, fetishes, and weapons in the museum, and the >living history being sold next door really got to me. The experience >certainly brought some questions to life for me. > 1. How legitimate is it to use cultural concepts and iconography in >teaching art projects when those very records of living or dead cultures >are largely "unearned " by teachers and students alike? > > 2. If the basic experiences of culture are cumulative and world wide, are >there really concepts broad enough to be inclusive and still meaningful? >What can and do we actually share? > > 3. Despite the heresy of the statement is the exclusivity of culture (our >own) a more legitimate format to employ in any student art activity? Is >it best to leave the study of non-western cultures to the purview of a >straight art history class? > > I can not express how powerful an experience it was to see a living face >and watch the hands move in the process of art where the product had its >cousin next door in a museum. >Conflicted Glen Williams
Glen, I feel this same conflict. My response to your first question is that
only when aboriginal and non-western perspectives are fully integrated into
our learning systems, within their own frameworks, without the need of
validation from Canadian/American Eropean ancestry, do we have the
legitimacy to use cultural materials not our own.
2)All humans develop culture around time and place. We all share the
planet. We all have habitat to protect, use, abuse, deify, classify etc. We
all have Landscape History.
3) I believe this questions needs to be asked of those who might be able to
give authentic insight, that is, the non-western and aboriginal cultures
themselves. Loretta Todd, a Metis woman from Vancouver, B.C. wrote in
INDIGINA, Contemporary Native Perspectives, "For postmodernism, we can look
to the present. The erosion of the divisions between high and mass culture
has created a new dominant culture, one on a cultural buying spree. In the
modernist period, it was the lands and resources they sought; in the
postmodern it is the experiences, the sensation they want. Nothing is
authentic or autonomous, therefore, everything is fair game. Couple this
with a sitll-vague yearning for meaning and for the past and what do you
get? Most often, appropriation of "tribal" cultures throughout the world."
I think your questioning is not heresy, but legitimate and
necessary. How we as art teachers deal with these issues sends a very big
message to our sutdents. Thanks. peggy woolsey