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Re: Visual Culture and the Venus of Willendorf

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crago_at_TeacherArtExchange
Date: Tue May 07 2002 - 03:33:59 PDT


Dear People,

Okay everybody here is an idea for the group and let's have fun with it! Look up
the "Venus of Willendorf" in your art history books (Jansen is fine) and let's
critique it according to DBAE, or according to Lowenfeld, or according to VCAE,
or according to a cookie cutter lesson in one of those ubiquitous "365 days of
art" books -- pick any paradigm and imagine you have just shown the slide to a
group of students. It is the beginning of the art year, you are exploring
prehistoric art (but you also want your students to do a studio component). What
are some of the questions you are going to ask to get your students thinking
critically about art? You can be as straight ahead with this or as facetious or
sarcastic, as you want. This can be a parody or a dead ahead lesson. Again --
it's the end of the year, let's have fun.

I got this idea because yesterday, I did a guest/try out lecture at a school.
"The Venus" came up with the slides that the art teacher had prepared -- one
student suggested it was a goddess -- everyone agreed. I suggested it may
instead be a sign or an icon for a woman (like Barbie, who is an idealized female
-- and I know I said that because of all of you on the list and the ongoing
Barbie discussion)...we then discussed Venus' idealized weight versus the
relative weight/body type of hunter/gatherers who are always on the move. We
discussed her fertility and how she is a symbol for fertility and why...hence our
discussion touched on popular culture (Barbie), biology (body types), sociology
(what cultures consider beautiful or ideal), semiotics (the study of signs/
symbols/language) and art history -- no studio component was in place here
because of the time constraints set up by the teacher and school. (it was
straight art history from Prehistory through Egypt).

This has really gotten me thinking though about our DBAE vs. (and in conjunction
with) VC thread. Any takers to create a lowenfeld, VC or DBAE or cookie cutter
lesson plan around this concept of "The Venus" -- I also disussed with students
how long we have been making things -- I postulated that we went from walking
around on two feet maybe four million years ago, and that for two million years
we have been making things. I also said that animals also use tools (chimps,
apes - even an octopus who smashes open a clam with one of his/her tentacles)...

This next idea comes from a very fine art teacher (Mira Modley) who did this
project (without Barbie) at Latin School in Chicago some time ago. One idea is
that there might be an archeological component of the lesson, Barbie could be
buried in a box of sand -- students have imagined that they are four thousand
years in the future -- students then need to measure her and evaluate her
according to scientific/archeological standards, they need to then write a report
on her, and postulate on her role in society in the year 2002 --- who is/was she?
-- Is she a fertility goddess, Goddess, cult figure, voodoo doll, symbol for
someone who really existed (like a crucifix or icon), or simply a child's play
thing? Would this not theoretically help students understand how flawed and
human our interpretations of art history are -- and how we bring our own
prejudices and preconceptions to work we might consider "primitive" or "other?"
Would this help students open up to art that is confusing or strange to them?

Even though I think we should have fun with this exercise, I realize I am very
serious about the implications here -- I am incredibly stimulated listening to
everyone in the group! I also think that humor is a way of opening students'
minds up to critical thinking -- so all you jokers out there (influenced prhaps
by Alfred E. Newman or Chris Tucker --"Do you understand the words I am saying?")
-- let's go with this! Enjoy!

Best wishes,

Carmela

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