Ronald Neperud articulates many of the questions that face contemporary
art teachers. In these postmodern times, is it a political choice
to continue to teach an art curriculum based on the formal principles
One proposition in this chapter: Teachers
.are no longer the medium through which information created
by others passes. Anyone who has ever taught knows that teachers
(especially art teachers) have always had a great deal of autonomy
when developing content and objectives. Now, as Neperud clearly points
out, the crises in our culture and in our schools make art teachers
choices about the curriculum of art education particularly urgent.
This society sorely needs people who have creativity, hope, and a
sense of agency.
Neperuds article directs attention to many of the foremost thinkers
about a new kind of art education. Check out the sources listed in
the bibliography. Join the debate and the project of re-inventing
the aims and practices of art education.
era of art education is affected by momentous social and ideological
changes that strike at our conceptualizations of art, of teaching
and learning, and of curriculum development. Young children still
search after meaning through depicting their world, just as graduate
art students search for idiosyncratic imagery, hoping to make sense
of their world. The traditional imagery and valuing of art no longer
provide the universal "truths" that once provided stability
in teaching about art. The methods used to help students to create
and understand art are being questioned more now than ever before.
In the visual arts, at least until recently,
two major orientations of how we come to know and value tradition
and change have dominatedmodernism and postmodernism. These
contrasting ways of knowing in the search for meaning have had such
a pervasive effect on art education, as well as the context within
which it operates, that to propose new directions for art education
without understanding these contexts would be fruitless.
It is important to understand something about postmodernism because
it is interwoven into how teachers make decisions about what and how
to teach. To Hutcheon (1989), "postmodernism is a phenomenon
whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidably political"
(p. 1). In this sense, teachers' actions toward art education are
political, for their decisions about whether to follow a discipline-based,
a socio/cultural, or some other approach are ideological choices.
To act upon an ideological choice is political.
An awareness of differences allows for choices
to be made, whereas unquestioning and unreflexive acceptance of a
position precludes choices. Teachers can either be aware of the political
choice being made or act on unexamined assumptions, in which case
choices are limited to an assumed framework.
This volume [Context, Content, and
Community in Art Education: Beyond Postmodernism] is designed
to assist teachers to understand some of the changes that have taken
place in art education in recent years, the context within which the
changes have occurred, and possibilities for moving beyond the modern/postmodern
debate in art education, particularly toward reconstructionism. The
modern/postmodern debate is examined as the background against which
art education is changing. The thesis for an alternative post-postmodern
paradigm for art education is developed.
THE MODERN/POSTMODERN DEBATE
How art should be taught, ranging from the elementary classroom to
the university studio, has always been, and probably always will be,
an area of contestation, marked by tensions arising from the dynamic
interplay of contrasting views of what constitutes art, its values,
and how best to know it. Until recently, modernist views tended to
dominate, but now, with the rise of postmodern views, the debate between
these orientations has become more heated. These debates have been
characterized by contrasting value orientations, such as the degree
of focus on objects versus context, and the attention given traditional
aesthetics and history versus the development of new approaches, as
well as universal versus specific contextual meaning.
Postmodernism involves changes not only in the visual arts but in
architecture, film, music, drama, photography, video, dance, and literature
as well. In the visual arts, modernism dominated until the early 1960s
when changes began to erode accepted truths. The resultant changes
in art forms and values associated with these movements have resulted
in differing views of art education ranging from discipline- based
to socio/cultural art education. Conflicting underlying assumptions
and practices add tensions to the continuing debate about the role
of art education in contemporary life.
There never has been a clear demarcation of
the shift from modernism to postmodernism, and evidence of both intermingles,
along with some new directions to make the separation and categorization
of events even more difficult. Postmodernism is best understood in
the context of modernism, which it derived from, reacted to, or opposed.
There is no one event or set of circumstances that gave birth to postmodernism.
Its definition is equally in doubt, with as many definitions as commentators;
consequently, it frequently has become a buzzword with little meaning.
However, modernism/ postmodernism has some currency in art education
since these positions, reflecting degrees of ideological orientations,
represent continuing conflicts among art educators.
Habermas (1990) sees the debate as arising out of the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment, when modernity developed into three autonomous spheres:
science, morality, and art, or "specific aspects of validity:
truth, normative rightness, authenticity, and beauty" (p. 60).
These spheres developed into structures under the control of special
As a result, the distance grows between the culture of the experts
and that of the larger public. What accrues to culture through specialized
treatment and reflection does not immediately and necessarily become
the property of everyday praxis. With cultural rationalization of
this sort, the threat increases that the life-world, whose traditional
substance has already been devalued, will become more and more impoverished.
(Habermas, 1990, p. 60)
Habermas believes that art during the mid-nineteenth
century became a critical mirror revealing the "irreconcilable
nature of the aesthetic and social worlds" (p. 61).
Art, representing one of the domains, changed; the others did not,
leaving the irreconcilable differences. This meant that the layperson
could either educate himself/herself in order to become an expert,
or, as a consumer, one could use art and aesthetic experience in one's
life. Applied to contemporary life, we find that neither solution
has completely dominated, although these are the very goals that art
education experts have often advocated and that are sources of tensions
and debates among them.
The modernist view of art and architecture
that prevailed during post- World War II became a style that exemplified
a set of ideas.
This style dominated the visual arts as well as the form of contemporary
buildings (Jencks, 1986). Galleries and museums promoted and explained
modern art to the public. Formalism as a set of values that focused
predominantly on visual qualities became synonymous with the movement
through the writings of Clement Greenberg (1990) and others. Several
developments eroded the dominance of modernism.
The gap between "highbrow" and "lowbrow"
cultures, between the fine art defined by aestheticians, art historians,
and critics, and the mass arts preferred by popular culture, broadened
and was seen as representing a lack of standards and as an unbridgeable
gap between elitism associated with modernism and the growing prominence
of mass culture.
In the visual arts, the critic Hilton Kramer took extreme exception
to developments just as he continues to do today. In response to Lucy
Lippard's comments in the catalogue of the Art
& Ideology exhibit at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
in New York that "all art is ideological and all art is used
politically by the right or the left," Kramer (1990) responded,
"The governing assumption is a belief that all claims to aesthetic
quality are to be regarded as mere subterfuge, masking some malign
political purpose.... that the politics being served by this effort
to discredit all disinterested artistic activity is the politics of
the radical Left" (p. I 11). Kramer regarded "this movement
toward the politicization of art in this country as an attempt to
turn back the cultural political clock" (p. 116). From his perspective,
it was a turning back, not to the radical culture of the 1960s, but
to the "Stalinist"' social consciousness of the 1930s.
What is interesting is that this debate raised a question that still
figures prominently among art educators today. Can art be politically
or socially dis-interested by focusing on art's formal issues, such
as predominates in a modernist perspective?
An affirmative answer further exacerbates the separation of art from
the culture that sustains it, and ignores the contextual interactions
that surround the production and valuing of art in contemporary society.
The modern/postmodern debate has confounded the once clear dominant
view offered by modernism.
The term postmodernism has
such a varied historyand is of such an orientation, as to make
a definitive definition contradictory to its varied meanings. Confusion
over postmodernism has not been helped by differences among major
authors. Linda Hutcheon (1989) has deftly negotiated the many meaning
nuances of postmodernism in The Politics
of Postmodernism. She observes that Habermas, Lyotard, and
Jameson, from their very different perspectives, have all raised the
important issue of the socioeconomic and philosophical grounding of
postmodernism in postmodernity.
To assume an equation of the culture and its
ground, rather than allowing for at least the possibility of a relation
of contestation and subversion, is to forget the lesson of postmoderns
complex relation to modernism: its retention of modernism's initial
oppositional impulses, both ideological and aesthetic, and its equally
strong rejection of its founding notion of formalist autonomy.
In addition to the continuing debate between aesthetic interpretations
associated with modernism/postmodernism, postmodernist thought has
had the effect upon art education literature of raising the issues
of race, class, and gender, as well as of the research methodology
used to reveal hidden truths. The strong relationship of postmodernism
to feminism should be noted, a relationship of particular importance
for art education.
The prevalent patriarchal and masculine basis of much art has been
criticized by feminist thought; feminism has had profound effects
upon postmodernism in terms of the politics of representation. However,
feminism and postmodernism, while sharing a certain cultural base,
are not interchangeable.
Hutcheon (1989) believes, "Few would disagree
today that feminisms have transformed art practice: through new forms,
new self-consciousness about representation, and new awareness of
both contexts and particularities of gendered experience"
Photography, video, film, and performance art are seen as having challenged
the humanist notion of the artist as romantic individual "genius"
(and therefore of art as the expression of universal meaning by a
transcendent human subject) and the modernist domination of two particular
art forms, painting and sculpture.
we are always dealing with systems of
meaning operating within certain codes and conventions that are socially
produced and historically conditioned. This is the postmodern focus
that has replaced the modernist/romantic one of individual expression.
(Hutcheon, 1989, p. 143)
Modern/postmodern debates serve as a brief introduction to those issues
that have particular pertinence to contemporary art education, such
as the meaning of art situated in social and historical contexts.
Issues of race, class, and gender have entered our dialogue of art
(Lippard, 1990) and consequently art education.
Russell (1993) gives a postmodern interpretation of art and aesthetics
that helps illuminate a theme of this volumethe relationship
of context to content in an era of change and contradictions. For
a long time we have recognized art as extensions of recognized patterns
of modernist aesthetic development; however, new aesthetic questions,
new creations, and interpretations of aesthetic experience arise that
may point to the next logical development, having, in fact, effected
a fundamental transformation of the practices of art or literature.
Such is the case with the recently emergent art and literature known
under the somewhat provisional name of "postmodern." The
postmodern presages a radical alteration of art, of its means of describing
the world, its relationship to its audience, and ultimately, its social
function. (p. 287)
Russell sees modernism as disintegrating into an extreme form of defensive
individualism, a direction that Gablik (1991) has corroborated
in several accounts of artists' defense of their works when publicly
questioned. Individual actions, language, and art were seen as ineffective
in altering society; modernism failed to create significant meaning,
isolated as it was from society. Alienated from society and self-conscious,
modern art became self-reflexive. In opposition to cultural meaning
systems, art could end up only referring to itself. In keeping with
Habermas's (1990) contentions, audiences had to constantly learn the
aesthetic conventions of artistic styles and how to interpret their
messages (Russell, 1993). Feldman (1967) emphasizes critical processes
as the means to cope with difficulties in interpreting modern as well
as other art. These critical processes, which if effective at one
time, no longer adequately serve as an avenue to postmodern meanings.
"But what self-reflexive, postmodernist
art demands first of all is that the justifying premises and structural
bases of that speakingno matter what the convention or stylebe
investigated in order to see what permits, shapes, and generates what
is said" (Russell, 1993, p. 292).
Postmodernism has led, in effect, to an examined questioning of artistic
or other discourse, which runs counter to blind acceptance of expert
While postmodernism is linked to the outcomes of modernist practices,
it differs fundamentally in its relationship to society; it is that
difference that is at the heart of a postmodernist art education.
Postmodern art education questions accepted
assumptions about the nature of art, childrens artistic development,
and teaching practices. The social contexts of the creation and valuing
of art have been raised as legitimate issues in art education theory
and practice. Issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and
multiculturalism are now being discussed as essential to postmodern
art education discourse. Aesthetic autonomy, normative statements,
and judgmental pronouncements are questioned.
The model of art as a self-contained discourse also applies to social
discourse; thus, art cannot be considered as separate from cultural
languages. The meaning systems that apply to art take their place
as part of the semiotic systems that structure society. The meaning
of art is dependent on and inter-twined with the context of societythe
multi-dimensional network of Marshall (1992). Marshall reaffirms the
role of language in postmodernism and relates it to society in ways
that art education scholars have drawn upon in their recent inquiries.
Postmodernism is about language. About how
it controls, how it determines meaning, and how we try to exert control
through language. About how language restricts, closes down, insists
that it stands for some thing. Postmodernism is about how "we"
are defined within that language, and within specific historical,
social, cultural matrices.
It's about race, class, gender, erotic identity and practice, nationality,
age, ethnicity. It's about difference. It's about power and powerlessness,
about empowerment, and about all the stages in between and beyond
and unthought of. (p. 4) Contemporary art, aesthetics, and art education,
situated within social discourse have begun to deal seriously with
the social issues as indicated by Marshall.
Considering that art is a function of these social contexts, Russell
(1993) asks, "How is the art context contained in, parallel to,
or separate from other forms of social discourse: a political campaign,
an economic system, the dynamics of 'repressive desublimation' (Marcuse)?
And furthermore, what is it about an artwork that makes people want
to view it, to experience it and think about it?" (p. 294).
Rather than seeking to puzzle out the meaning of art through modernist
analysis interpretation, and evaluation from the post-modernist perspective
one assumes that the work is already connected to the world and that
"whatever is perceived, known, described, or presented in art
or experience is already charged with meaning by the conceptual patterns
governing the artist's orientation and cultural recognition,
an expanded vision, a vision of interconnectedness in societyof
'intertextuality' or even inter-contextuality (Russell,
1993, p. 294). Art in this postmodernist sense is treated not as separate
from the world, but as a vital part of human existence.
Postmodernism demands that the audience of art become involved in
the discursive process of discerning meaning. This postmodernist view
of art means a very different approach to teaching about art than
was contained in our previous misconceptions that meaning was given
by the high priestscritics, aestheticians, and historianswho
were the keepers of the truth
or meaning. Instead, meaning is inextricably connected to the tangled
and changing web of context to be constructed by the audience. This
means that there is no single meaning or truth, but one that is constructed
by all who seek to understand art.
Consequently, context is not simply the addendum
surrounding content, but a dimension that cannot be ignored. These
postmodern interpretations mark a turning point, a significant shift,
in how meaning is sought through art education and within the lives
of us all.
The dominance of art and aesthetics associated with modernism has
been questioned by both postmodernism and feminism. Additionally,
questions relating to the politics of power and representation have
been raised. Not as frequently mentioned, but of considerable import,
have been the methodologies
employed by postmodernists and feminists, particularly, deconstruction
(Cherryholmes, 1985), critical analyses, semiotics, and poststructuralist
approaches that serve art education researchers as tools to critically
examine long held assumptions and to avoid normative, essentialist,
and nonjudgmental statements. The development of critical literature
in educational thought has effectively changed how we perceive schooling,
education, ideology, and power (Apple, 1982, 1988).
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