Teaching Art as If the World Mattered

Article excerpt

I borrowed the theme for this issue of the journal from the title of Chapter 7 in Suzi Gablik's book The Reenchantment of Art (1991): "Making Art as if the World Mattered."This theme captures the essence of what our direction and effort in life ought to be. Questions and musings about the world, and each person's place within it, should become central to art education. A pivotal question to ask ourselves is, "How can art be taught in a meaningful way if we as teachers fail to recognize the influential world in which art is made and also disregard important issues of the world wherein we live?"

Gablik (1991), in Chapter 7, submits multiple examples of artists who fuse life and work, as they use art to help understand and shape meaningful relationships in the world. Gablik tells of Krzysztof Wodiczko, who through his Homeless Vehicle Project, attempted to design a vehicle "based on the shopping cart, that could be used for transport and storage" (p. 100), according to the needs of the homeless. John Malpede moved from New York to Los Angeles and founded a theater group composed of people from Skid Row, so that these participants could express through "direct experience . . . what it means to be a homeless person" (p. 105) . Gablik also discusses Tim Rollins and the students he works with, (known as K.O.S.), to offer a glimpse of meaningful art education with inner-city teenagers. Suzanne Lacy's Whisper, the Waves, the Wind and Crystal Quilt are presented by Gablik as examples of collaborative artwork by women that go beyond the works themselves, as Lacy believes their "success" is measured "by whether or not the process of networking among the women continues once the performance itself is finished" (p. 111). Prisoners, a video-documentary by Jonathan Borofsky and Gary Glassman, was produced "to listen to prisoners in order to try and understand their plight, so they [Borofsky and Glassman] could know for themselves what it means to lose your freedom and live your life locked up in a cement box" (p. 111).

Concluding this discussion of artists who explore art and confront conditions in the world, Gablik (1991) writes: "What is compelling to me about these artists is their ability to respond to the cries of the world as artists, proving that being an artist and working for social change do not have to be at odds" (p. 114) . So too, the goal of responding "to the cries of the world" as teachers, working toward educational and social change, is reflected in the ideas and practices of many art educators, some whose work is highlighted in this issue.

The theme "Teaching Art as if the World Mattered" is embodied in this issue first by Peggy Albers, who tells what emerged from a 2-year ethnographic study in a sixth grade art classroom, in which she investigated how stu dents become literate in art and therein explored the socio-political beliefs these students brought to their artworks. …