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Lesson Plans

Re: Response to Henry (DBAE)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Mon, 26 May 1997 12:59:19 -0700 (MST)

Hi Brenda!

Neat response! Thanks for chiming in here. I got both flames and flowers
off-list on this post but I was actually hoping to provoke some discussion
HERE ON the list. I would hope to get a number of diverse or alternative
perspectives. I'm going to stick in a few of my responses to off-list
but related discussions, but I think you'll follow that.

I have to admit that I'm not used to the idea that I'm being "followed" and
"saved". Very flattering and a little embarrassing to be the subject of
such focus too. This is a great forum with a number of bright contributors
and I save a good portion of it myself.

No need for humility (or awe) in responding to, or disagreement with my
posts. For those who don't know it already, I'm only a mouthy post-bac
grad student with three years experience teaching art in a private
elementary school where as the "artist" parent I was drafted into the
position. When My kids moved out of elementary school I returned to the
university after a 25 year absence. (My BS is Interior design, and I've
worked as a graphics specialist of one sort or another as an interior
designer, an architectural draftsman, a commercial artist and designer a
computer aided engineer-cum-designer of circuit boards, and an illustrator
of technical manuals for jet aircraft and children's educational
software.) Now, I'm at the University of Arizona taking forever to get my
certification and a Masters in Art Ed. And being a meddlesome, 48 year old,
non-traditional type with ideas of my own.

Back in 1967 I considered going to the U of A to become a high school
teacher but decided that, from what I had seen in school, that I was
unprepared to deal with administrators or parents. I'm an compulsive reader
about 20% fiction (sf/fantasy/mystery) and 80% non-fiction (I'll read
anything as long as I can find a connection to the notion of "Becoming
Human through Art", to quote the title of a great Feldman Book, or how the
world works from an aesthetic perspective. I get almost all of my
ideas from my reading and disagree with almost everybody I read as much
as I agree with them.

My heros include: Gregory Bateson, John Dewey, Ellen Dissanayake, Milton
R. Erickson, Edmund Burke Feldman, Edward T. Hall, Suzanne K. Langer
Vincent Lanier, and June King McFee.

So, I cobble together ideas and float them here and on a few other
listservs in hopes that people, with much more experience and study under
their belts than I, will trash the bad ones and force me to re-think them.

What follows is less a direct reply to Brenda, than it is a response to
the issues that she - and others off-list - have brought up. They are
valid issues. I'm not sure I'd want them to go away. One issue below, that
of distinctions, came up with greater force in my off-list correspondence.
It is a particularly important issue and reflects a great deal of care
about others. While I may not agree with the ways in which the making of
distinctions are popularly treated today I do respect the concerns they


The points I was trying to make (and may not have made so well) in my post

* The academic world is not the same as the pop or folk world and
academic prespectives do not seem appropriate to apply in the
discussion of pop and folk cultures.

* The academic perspective has made many alliances with the fine art
perspective and seems to be at home there.

* DBAE comes to us out of the academic world and while technically DBAE,
from it's very inception, has been extremely supportive of pop and folk
perspectives, in practice, it seems to have relied more on in-place
academic models of Aesthetics and Criticism. With the exception of
indigenous peoples, who may maintain their own formal History at
variance with the academic version, the academic version of History
has penetrated and been accepted just about everywhere.

So, what I am/was left wondering is how to incorporate discussion of
aesthetics and criticism from the perspective of the pop world, ...

(now I'm not talking about "Pop Art" as in Warhol here BUT: Popular Art,
like those sculptures of people made out of old muffler parts frequently
seen outside of neighborhood auto repair shops; garden gnomes; angels;
posters; airbrush paintings on the sides of vans, trucks, and motorcycles;
souveniers; and pop music / movies which do so well in sales but are not
always respected by more academically oriented media critics)

...the folk world, and the people who are primarily oriented to those
aesthetic contexts - at least more so than they are oriented to the world
of the big museum and fine art, cutting edge art.

On one hand the distinctions "fine", "folk", and "pop" are artificial and
could be discarded in favor of some other arrangement or in favor of no
distinction what-so-ever. DBAE made the distinction in this context
originally (Ralph Smith's book on the origins of DBAE) and so I follow the
DBAE lead in this discussion.

So how do we discuss aesthetics or criticism in terms of the people who
make, use, and "own" the idea of, folk and popular art. Academics tell us
that in indigenous (folk) cultures there may not even be a formal notion of
aesthetics or art that corresponds to the ideas accepted in urban
cultures. At the same time, they tell us that there are qualities and
works which are valued in certain contexts.

All most all of us participate in popular culture. Practically speaking,
when it gets right down to it, HOW DO WE DISCERN the things which we value
aesthetically and critically? Do we follow academic protocols for
aesthetics and criticism or do we respond more intuitively? And if we
respond intuitively what are our benchmarks? How comfortable the
concept/execution feels? How familiar it appears? How well it corresponds
to or fits our expectations? The balance of novel and familiar?
Sometimes, but not always, we rely on pop media critics who probably would
not be respected as much in the context of cinema, opera, rennaissance or
colorfield painters.

So far, in my own exposure to DBAE, I am getting a lot more information
from the euro-american, formal, and academic side of things. The resources
I'm being pointed towards in aesthetics and criticism are almost
exclusively from philosophically-oriented aestheticians and critical
thinkers. I'm not being given interviews with outsider artists, rural
craftspeople, indigenous makers, or people off the street. (tho to be
fair, I have been given a number of readings on multiculturalism which,
while they acknowledge and indicate the existance of local aesthetic and
critical values, do not discuss them) I have yet to be tested on what
might be of primary value by some regional African peoples for wood
sculpture (hardness and polish in at least one case).

DBAE allows for a great many things, but so far, I'm not yet getting much
help in getting past the "academic" or institutional definitions or
representations. Beyond that I'm not finding them in the context of DBAE.

I do find a LOT of encouragement in DBAE for exploration. That's a very
good thing. Sometimes I find it hard to get beyond my personal ideas and
reactions especially without any pointers to other perspectives from
WITHIN the communities whose work I'm exploring. It is one thing to put
forth my own ideas and reactions, it is another thing to read the
interpretations and experiences of an academic professional such as an
anthropoligist, it is still another thing to explore these ideas with the
mental tools (and sometimes unseen biases) of the academic philosopher and
finally, it is yet another thing to encounter the thinking and responses
of peoples from cultures widely at variance with my own.

I greatly miss hearing or reading different voices and perspectives. It
is one thing to have information "about" and another thing I think to
have information "from". Now there ARE any number of such materials "out
there" (Check out Crizmac) But, the thing is that I'm not finding them in
the context of DBAE. Which DOES NOT MEAN that they don't exist in the
DBAE context. I'm not finding it there and I'm commenting on it.

This would be a good time for people to bring up DBAE resources that they
have found particularly useful in understanding sensual experiences and
objects in the terms of another culture. I'm not sure that we can ever
experience something the way that another might. While it seems important
simply to understand that there ARE other ways of understanding,
experiencing, or thinking about the things WE call art; I'd like the
chance to find new ways for myself of dealing with art. They might not
correspond precisely with the experience of others, but when I'm in the
mode of "artist" part of what I'm doing is playing with these "new ways"
or perspectives and exploring how much utility they have in my own,
private, "artworld".

I'm not sure what value their is in distinguishing between fine, popular,
or folk art, For that matter, and for exactly the same reasons I'm not
sure about the VALUE of distinguishing between Medieval, Babylonian, Ibo,
Northern Renaissance, or Abstract Expressionist art. Or art made by men,
women, or by the peoples of small-scale-societies. Certainly we COULD
view them together and avoid categorization.

I have noticed that people seem incapable of NOT seeking patterns and
deriving meaning or at least categories from the patterns and
relationships that they perceive. This includes "art". Sometimes we
simply categorize art (or whatever) as "good" or "bad" or finer or less
fine. Sometimes we distinguish political patterns, and attribute value to
different political or ethical perspectives (which might not be shared a
decade or so hence).

If we completely banned the making of distinctions after all, what would
there be to talk or write about? How would I begin to make art, not
distinguishing or preferring anything in particular; it all being equally
interesting and valuable?

My wife, currently is editing a novel for an unpublished author. She has
edited a number of other books professionally but never with quite as much
argument as she is encountering here. Our author believes that there are
no longer any formal rules for writing and so, any correction is typically
argued as not worth discussing or changing. It appears that this author
would really like my wife just to read his book (which does have a neat
plot, at least) and take his check. (I cannot talk her into doing this
however. She BELIEVES in grammar! Ah well)

Perhaps we need not make much distinction about the spelling, (he used a
spell checker so everything MUST be spelled RIGHT) punctuation, or word
order. shur Not eM i.

In my head I have carried the "No Distinction" perspective to ridiculous
extremes. Where there is no value in distinguishing light from dark, sound
from silence; feeling from numbness; hunger, thirst or smell from their
absence... can life continue?

The problem I find lies not in MAKING the distinction (which, after all,
seems unavoidable) but in ESTABLISHING the distinctions as FORMAL,
UNIVERSAL, and FIXED categories. Black Licorice ice cream is not a problem
until someone desires to use the flavor "Black Licorice" to define the
concept "Ice Cream" and comes knocking on you door to explain that to you.
(especially when he cannot distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, or
bitter Licorice. I prefer sweet)

All-in-all, this is only my opinion. Nothing more. No particular "universal"
value I wouldn't expect or want everyone reading this to agree with me
however. I prefer diversity of opinion. Clearly I do not understand WHY
people would value non-distinction. And, I will offer a counter argument,
if I'm allowed. At this moment, in the larger academic community I get
the impression that my perspective is a minority one and that suits me
just fine.

It is extremely difficult if not impossible to understand art of "the
other" within its own context. I doubt that even total immersion would be
adequate. Having actual "authentic" objects or artwork can/could be a big
help, but not a final solution. For my part I'd just like to make the

Maybe, say if I were on AOL or some truly GLOBAL Internet Service
Provider, I'd try to find communities served by the ISP, out on the edge,
where there were schools without computers, get together the wherewithall
to send them a computer and (if the ISP was unwilling to donate) the price
for Internet Service if necessary and then begin a correspondence about
"art" or what have you. It would be interesting just to "chat" with people
about their experience with the aesthetic. On a reservation, in a rural
community on the edge of a big city, or in a barrio on the edge of an
urban center in the third world. Having established an electronic
connection we might exchange more material examples of what we were
discussing via snail-mail.

It might be hard to find texts which gave a voice to people from the
different communities we explore in art education. I find so much
"deadness" in texts which are only ABOUT others and not authored BY them.
But I know that is not a major concern for many, which is OK.

In the context of the Euro-American academic world I find it hard to say
that I value something without being read, sub-textually, as indicating
that I repudiate the value of that which I do not mention. It is a
difficult world to communicate in today without being interpreted and
categorized by other people. (Especially when they categorize me in the
position of "villanous categorizer")

(Here I should specifically say that I'm not reading Brenda as putting me
in this position. She give me lots of room here and only indicates that
she favors an alternative view. The above paragraph is more a reflection
on recent flames which have come my way OFF-list)

DBAE is an excellent program and has opened up opportunities not seen
before. I'm incorporating it into my own teaching style, but I believe
that it has yet to address some of the issues I find important. Bob
Fromme initiated an interesting thread and I thought I'd tag my
"wish-list" on at the end.