Art Education and Visual Culture in the Age of Globalization

Article excerpt

It is an accepted truism that we live in a world of change. People nod approvingly at generalizations about the inevitability of change and its impact upon our lives.

In a sense, the phenomenon of change has always been with us, even in ancient Egypt where permanence and stability were seen as desired ends. What is different in our present time is the rate of change. Seen from our current perspective, we can begin to assess the cumulative impact of change brought about in our lifetime. Just consider change in the speed of transportation and communication in the past 50 years. Simply put, the rate of change in our lifetime has been both dramatic and all encompassing. More than 30 years ago, McHale (1971) wrote:

The pace and notion of change itself has become almost autonomous and no more than routinely perceived; change is now normal. Like sense trauma, the "culture shock" of change may numb our perceptions of its full import and obscure the implications of its forward consequences. (p. 67)

For many of us, revolutionary changes pass almost unnoticed, obscured by the ongoing drumbeat of mass media and communications. One such development is that ofglobalization.

What is Globalization?

The term globalization has come into popular use in many areas of discourse. For the most part, it refers to the development of global financial markets, the growth of transnational corporations, and their increasing domination over national and local economies. As we use the term in this article, the meaning and significance of globalization can be extended far beyond marketplace and economic conditions to include how we think about virtually all areas of human exchange in our lives, including visual culture and art education.

Globalization is not a clearly defined "thing." Globalization cannot be measured completely nor can it be turned fully on or off. For some, globalization "is what we are bound to do if we wish to be happy; for others globalization is the intractable fate of the world, an irreversible process" (Bauman, 1998, p. 1). In this sense, globalization is defined and engaged at any given moment through its construction and context within specific discursive spaces. While meanings of globalization are positioned within specific contexts, for the purpose of this article we focus on four interrelated ideas, each of which might become the subject of more extended discourse in art education:

We are experiencing an overwhelming globalization of economic and cultural exchanges. The speed of information movement, in what has become for many our global village, means that every human action or event involves others in the consequence of these actions and events. According to Hannerz (1996), "Globalization is a matter of increasing long-distance interconnectedness" (p. 17).

Physical and conceptual boundaries that have helped establish and maintain distinctions are now giving way to different configurations and intersections. For example, a salient feature of globalization is that it permits financial capital to move more freely, making it possible for transnational corporations to distribute this capital over various markets. Many transnational corporations go where they can reap greatest financial gain. Oftentimes, this means going to economically deprived areas where they affect existing cultural patterns. There is a new dynamic that comes into play; people need to adjust to the operating system and the system seeks its own balance with its new surroundings.

The forces of globalization make necessary standardization or, at least, systems that cross boundaries to accommodate and fit the larger patterns of manufacture and distribution.

For example, although the products of McDonald's(TM) and Nike(TM) can be seen as global commodities that stem from an unchanging and inflexible system of production, people are expected to translate and utilize these standardized products even if their settings and cultural values are different. …