Diversity, Pedagogy, and Visual Culture

Article excerpt

As new approaches have emerged in art education (e.g., Barrett, 2003; Duncum, 2002, 2006, 2010; Freedman, 2003; Gude, 2004, 2007), teacher preparation programs in higher education have revised existing courses or created new ones that reflect those new approaches. At the university where I teach, one such course is Diversity, Pedagogy, and Visual Culture (referenced in this article by its course number, A ED 225). A ED 225 is intended to offer preservice art teachers opportunities to learn about diversity-related content, along with new methodologies for teaching visual culture.

Penn State's art education program has increasingly focused on issues of diversity in recent years to meet current National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards as well as to put into practice one of the program's missions to "prepare knowledgeable, skilled, and caring professional educators to become critical, reflective practitioners, researchers and artists, and agents of change for social justice in diverse contexts of educational practice" (Art Education, 2009-2010). A ED 225 also is intended to meet general education requirements for students who are not majoring in art education. In this article, I describe the way I teach A ED 225 in order to maximize opportunities for preservice art teachers and other students to explore diversity- related issues that are important to them, and to think critically about the forms of visual culture that surround them.

Constructions of Diversity

One of the first orders of business in the course is to define what diversity means. In the context of A ED 225, diversity includes all aspects of people's identities that help define who they are. Aspects of identity include ethnicity, social class, race, gender, sexual identity, age, and ability, among others. A central objective of A ED 225 is to critically understand how visual culture helps to place some categories of people in positions of privilege and social power, and keep others in disadvantaged or subordinate positions.

A second starting point in the course is to emphasize that visual representations are constructions, not mirrors of reality. This includes photographs as well as other forms of visual culture such as paintings, films, toys, advertisements, and television shows. Whatever forms they take, visual representations are always constructed from some persons or group's point of view; they are never purely objective, unmediated reflections of a supposedly essential or "real" nature of things. As constructions, visual representations may reflect the individual interests and experiences of their creators; just as likely, however, they reflect social beliefs, attitudes, practices, conventions, and other elements of the times and places in which they are created and interpreted. With respect to interpretation, viewers may actively and critically interpret what they see, but viewers may also passively accept dominant constructed meanings that protect privileged social positions. A central objective of A ED 225 is to encourage preservice art teachers and other students in the course to actively and critically interpret visual culture, and in this way begin to challenge conditions of social injustice.

Visual Narratives, Spectatorship, and Multiple Meanings

My approach to teaching A ED 225 is different from older modernist approaches in art education. Instead of grounding my leaching in concepts such as aesthetic experience, individual genius, or elements and principles of design, my approach to teaching A ED 225 is grounded in concepts such as representation, ideology, and social privilege. Based on these kinds of concepts, I structure the course around three central ideas.

* Visual representations characterize categories of people in ways that either protect ov challenge privileged social positions of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, ability, age, and other aspects of identity. …