One of the many important functions of art is to encourage people to see different cultural perspectives and enable them to better understand and appreciate themselves and others. Engagement with art from other cultures may help us transform our understanding of learning (Joseph & Southcott, 2009). Art has the tremendous potential to develop children's cross-cultural competence and experience, and it can reveal the values and beliefs of a culture, while helping children view the world from new perspectives (Graham, 2009).
This article presents a selective review of the literature on cross-cultural art studies, with the aim of identifying their commonalities. The article includes a specific cross-cultural case study, the Art Lunch Project, which the author attended as a representative of Turkey, that aims to exchange practical teaching experiences. The participants come from nine countries across Europe and Asia. It is an ongoing project in which art or homeroom teachers in schools interpret the common theme of "an art lunch," in collaboration with university-based researchers in art education. The project involves making two- and three-dimensional artistic representations of food using recycled materials. Work completed by children is uploaded to a website for mutual viewing by participating teachers and children. The reasons for selecting this theme were that curricula organized around the fundamental human need for food are likely to have universal appeal, and the results would thus reflect national cultural differences (Fukumoto, 2007).
During the Art Lunch Project, participants engaged in a mutual information exchange by sharing their food cultures. The children received help from their grandparents while researching the traditional food of their own cultures, learning about the names of foods and how they are prepared. Thus, this process contributed to the strengthening of communication between different generations as the children gained valuable new insights into their own traditional food cultures. Additionally, the children designed two- and three-dimensional models of foods to share with children of other countries. In this process, they learned about different art materials and techniques. As the children shared their artwork, they learned more about the food cultures of different countries, thus gaining a different perspective.
The definition of the word "culture" is under continuous and serious debate. Social scientists study it from diverse perspectives, and the many differences in definition may stem from these different ways of considering the concept (McFee & Degge, 1980). Nevertheless, a few definitions may be helpful here. Culture may refer to the totality of ideas, customs, skills, and arts that belong to a people or group. This cultural totality is communicated or passed along to succeeding generations. Culture may refer to a particular people or group with their own ideas, customs, and arts (Lazzari & Schlesier, 2008). People's attitudes toward the culture they belong to reflect the culture's worth. As people react to the culture they live in, they become its creators. Thus, each individual is also a carrier of culture.
Despite such definitions, some people lack awareness of their own culture or the effects that it has on other people. For this reason, it is especially important for children in multicultural societies to understand both their own culture and that of others. In their everyday lives, individuals are exposed to several cultural elements, including language, visual symbols, values, beliefs, the status and roles of people at different ages. Children invariably belong to at least one culture (Sahasrabudhe, 1992), and as they grow they begin to recognize and discriminate among particular environments (McFee & Degge, 1980).
As children develop into adults, they are nourished by culture (Guvenc, 1997). Indeed, Vygotsky emphasizes the defining effect of culture in child development (Wertsch, 1997). As culture determines children's outlook on life and shapes their beliefs and value systems (McFee & Degge, 1980), they first need to know the culture that they are born into. Thereafter, knowledge of other cultures is necessary to develop different perspectives (Stokrocki, 1989).
Art is one effective way of introducing children to their own culture as well as that of others, as culture and art are closely linked. Art enables people to view themselves through others' lives, and helps them associate with the experiences of other people (Katter, 1987). It is a principal means of communicating cultural ideas, thoughts, values, and emotional meanings from one person, group, or generation to another. People symbolize the experiences they have through different forms of art. They observe art and obtain new insights into their experiences, and those of others. Therefore, art has a significant role in teaching children about cultures (McFee & Degge, 1980), and plays a vital role in giving children insight into various sources of culture (Fischer, 1999; Sahasrabudhe, 1992).
Cross-cultural studies encourage people to understand other cultures, and question their own. This leads to the development of tolerance and new perspectives (Stokrocki, 1989). To thrive in cross-cultural situations and respond to works of art, people need greater awareness of their own cultural patterns, and to be less ethno-centric, less judgmental, more flexible and empathic, and more prepared to develop cognitive understanding of others (McFee, 1986).
Food plays a major role in culture in that it is a manifestation of the spiritual and cultural ties between individuals and the community (Smith, Johnson, Easton, Wiedman, & Widmark, 2008). Food, like shelter and clothing, is fundamental to human existence. Food culture shows how eating not only nourishes the body, but also reflects how people negotiate their cultural and social subjectivities. Cooking and eating, then, is not only biological, but also a critical social element in the complex nature of what makes us human. Food is as much a medium of cultural expression that mirrors our need to communicate as is language, symbolic behavior, dance, art, music, and ritual (Lee Perez & Abarca, 2007). Food is, therefore, a vehicle for learning about cultural diversity and transmitting knowledge and increasing mutual understanding and social cohesion (Dernini, 2006).
Studies show that cross-cultural education programs often share the following characteristics:
* Acquiring a different perspective and new awareness
* Understanding of self and others
* Remembering and sustaining disappearing values
* Promoting solidarity and cooperation
* Comparing similarities and differences.
In terms of increasing awareness and recognizing the importance of disappearing cultural values, one study conducted by Stokrocki (2001) aimed to help Turkish, Japanese, and Navajo children view a traditional rug through artistic critique, in the process learning to develop new perspectives and express their views. The children examined a traditional Turkish rug, using the four steps of art critique. When talking about the designs they saw on the rug, the children mentioned different animals; however, all three groups mentioned the peacock, due to its distinctive features. When discussing the rug's symbols, shapes, and colors, the children were highly influenced by their own cultures. For example, while Turkish children focused on red and white (the colors in their flag), Navajo children focused on the colors in the U.S. flag (namely, red, white, and blue). A common response by all three groups of children was to highlight the "protective" function of the carpet. This cross-cultural study highlighted two points: children can distinguish between their own and others' aesthetic traditions, and disappearing traditional values displayed in objects (such as rugs) may reclaim their value through interaction and sharing of cross-cultural artwork.
Many cross-cultural studies of art, artwork, and art education emphasize similarities between cultures (Wang & Ishizaki, 2002). To illustrate, Coutinho and Miranda (2006) observed the memory and observation drawings of Brazilian and British children, and found that both groups not only could draw from memory, but also would draw the things they knew and saw around them. This study showed that children from different cultures perceive their environments in similar ways and reflect this in their drawings. Additionally, a study by Kroupp, O'Malley, and Sumner (2006), which aimed to identify the leisure-time activities of North American and Israeli children through the contents of their drawings, concluded that the most popular pastime for children of both cultures was sports, based on what they had drawn.
On the other hand, certain cross-cultural studies have served to highlight the differences between various cultures. For instance, one study (Blaikie, Schonau, & Steers, 2004) compared the end-of-the-year summative art and design portfolios of 107 Canadian, English, and Dutch secondary school students. The researchers' aim was to determine whether the students who were planning to pursue a college degree in art and design perceived these portfolios to be valid preparation for their future and to discern which aspects of the portfolios they valued most. The varying results offered valuable inferences about art and design education in each of the countries.
Comparative studies also have focused on other aspects of art education, such as teacher development. One such study compared the art teacher education policies of Taiwan and England; the results suggested that art education theories in Taiwan could offer a better balance between local and global ideas (Lo, 2006). Other comparative studies have uncovered both similarities and differences. One study, for example, compared English and Chinese children's drawings. Two art advisers in the United Kingdom and one Chinese researcher in Beijing familiar with children's drawings rated the drawings independently. The experts were generally in quite close agreement; very few pictures elicited wildly different ratings from the experts, and there were no consistent and meaningful differences between the drawings, probably as a result of similar art education practices in the countries. On the other hand, observation and video recording during the same study highlighted significant differences between the organization and management of art classes in these two countries. While Chinese children were considered capable of producing three-dimensional drawings from imagination, most UK teachers were observed as discouraging this practice with their students, instead encouraging the children to copy pictures from books (Cox, Perara, & Fan, 1999).
In another study (Wilson & Wilson, 1983), Australian, North American, Finnish, and Egyptian children were asked to draw story pictures. It was found that children from the three Western countries perceived the world they were living in as a place full of competition and struggles. The drawings of the Egyptian children, on the other hand, often showed a concern for others and presented a model of caring, service, and sympathetic patronage. In their narratives, the American children drew contest/combat themes approximately 40% more frequently than did the Australian and Finnish children, and 72% more frequently than the Egyptian children.
In a globalized world, it is important for the peoples of the world to understand each other better. An overview of the education systems throughout the world shows that the aim of understanding others has a major role in most. Culture--and therefore art--are important tools in realizing this aim (Nadaner, 1983). Intercultural studies have thus helped develop a fuller understanding of ourselves, others, and art education (Rubinowitz, 1983). More studies using art as a method to achieve this goal are needed.
Case Study: The Art Lunch Project
This section focuses on the Turkish leg of a cross-cultural art project known as the "Art Lunch Project." The Art Lunch Project is a pilot study involving international collaboration of art educators and teachers. The aim of the project was to compare approaches to teaching the common theme of an art lunch in nine participating countries: Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Turkey, Slovenia, Finland, Denmark, and Japan. Another aim of the project was to introduce the children to the food cultures of their own country and that of others. Art educators collaborated with art education experts and researchers from universities to develop curricula organized around the fundamental human need for food while also generating data that would reflect national cultural differences.
The Turkish leg of the project was conducted in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. Twenty-eight 6- to 11-year-old children of upper socioeconomic status attending private elementary schools participated. They were asked to use different materials, such as string, sawdust, pieces of wood, fabric, styrene foam, and sand, to prepare artistic "lunches" for the children of another country of their choice. Meanwhile, they were encouraged to gain an awareness of the diversity to be found in artistic expression and to appreciate different cultures (Fukumoto, 2007). The main objectives of the Art Lunch Project were to.
* Enthusiastically prepare an original "lunch" through different art forms for foreign children
* Select the best art media and use various materials to actualize ideas of an artistic lunch
* Make a conscious color arrangement to convey the deliciousness of original meals
* Notice cultural differences in art expression and become willing to learn more about other cultures in the sharing session.
The Turkish section of the project was planned in two stages. The first one consisted of raising children's awareness of traditional Turkish food culture. The second stage aimed to increase awareness of the food culture of another country. Finally, the children designed a three-dimensional "lunch" for the children of other countries, using various types of recycled materials.
When the children were asked in the first stage to list names of traditional Turkish food, they were not able to list many items. After a brainstorming session, the children decided to get together with their grandparents to learn more about the subject.
In the second meeting with the children, almost all excitedly recited recipes for traditional Turkish dishes. We imagined together with the children what these dishes would be like. The children then created three-dimensional models of these dishes, using play dough. They also discussed other dishes that their mothers prepared for them. Finally, they made collages of traditional Turkish dishes (see Figure 1).
The second stage of the project took longer than the first. The countries chosen for this stage were Japan and Portugal. The Japanese Embassy in Ankara was contacted and a cultural attache agreed to visit the school. On the pre-arranged day of the visit, the attache arrived with a translator and many materials. He then handed out one-to-one models of traditional Japanese dishes, such as soba, tempura, and sushi. Each child touched the models and asked questions. Meanwhile, the attache explained that many restaurants in Japan had similar models of each dish on their menu and the customers based their orders for food on them.
At a later date, the children visited the Portuguese Embassy in Ankara. The Portuguese cultural attache and three other officials shared information about Portugal, including their most popular dishes, general lifestyle, and how Portuguese children spend their time. The Turkish children, in turn, told their hosts about their own favorite dishes. This conversation showed that both Portuguese and Turkish children like hamburgers. After the conversation, the children watched a video about Portugal and enjoyed popular Portuguese cakes and cookies. They promised to prepare traditional Turkish dishes for Portuguese children.
In the next stage of the project, children created models of traditional Turkish dishes using recycled materials. They spent a considerable amount of time and effort deciding which ingredients they needed to use. They consulted with each other, examined ingredients, and became better informed. In addition to using natural materials, such as seashells, rice, and pebbles, the project also made use of recycled materials, such as newspaper, cardboard boxes, buttons, beads, string, and balloons.
Preparing this "artistic food" took more than half a day. When finished, the children told each other about the dishes they had prepared--mentioning the ingredients they had used and the way in which they had used them. The dishes were placed on a huge table for display (see Figure 2) and other arrangements--plates, cutlery, glasses, and serviettes--were made. Each stage of the project was recorded and broadcast on the Internet by the project manager, Kinichi Fukumoto, and shared with children from the other countries (Fukumoto, 2005).
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The dish shown in Figure 3 is one common to all regions of Turkey; however, it is particularly prevalent in the coastal Aegean region, where it is consumed cold and with rice (Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2006).
Types of food, how they are prepared, and the ingredients used vary greatly across the different regions of Anatolia. In the Southeastern Turkish provinces, near the Syrian border, pastries are very popular. This area is an important producer of pistachio nuts; thus, many of the pastries (of which Figure 4 is an example) use pistachios for flavoring. Perhaps the best known and liked pistachio pastry is the world-renowned baklava (Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2006).
At the end of the second stage, the children completed the questionnaire given below:
* What are the traditional/typical foods in your country?
* Did you enjoy the art lunch lesson?
* How did you make your art lunch?
* Which part of your art lunch work caught your attention more?
* What is the most distinctive feature of your art lunch work?
* What kind of materials did you use, mainly?
* Did you have some inspiration from others to refine your work?
This cross-cultural study based on the theme of "food," one of the elements that constitute culture, used a number of different techniques, ranging from storytelling, discussions with field experts, brainstorming, and trips for observation. As children designed food for children from the other countries included in the project, they used recycled materials. (See Figure 5.) Before turning these materials into three-dimensional forms, the children touched, felt, compared, and defined these materials, sharing their ideas with other children. This stage also included problem solving in terms of modifying and reconstructing the materials, as well as exploring new possibilities with them.
As most of the recycled materials were common everyday items used by children, they were able to undertake meaningful and creative explorations (Eckhoff & Spearman, 2009). The children were able to handle them relatively easily and use them to represent their ideas. They were excited about using the materials to serve different functions. This intrinsic motivation meant that the children were able to focus for a long period of time, given their age. They were satisfied and felt proud of their achievements.
The aim of conducting intercultural studies is to analyze the universality of a given phenomenon in a culture (Lovano-Kerr, 1983). Food is one such cultural touchstone. Founded on the remnants of a huge empire covering almost the entire Arab world, Anatolia, and the Balkans, as well as part of the Caucasus, Turkey has one of the richest cuisines in the world. The traces of all of these people are still evident in today's Turkish Republic. Considering that 32 different countries still exist in the land that was once the Ottoman Empire, Turkey's social heritage can be better understood through its food (Ates, 2005).
The children who had experienced difficulty recognizing traditional Turkish dishes at the beginning of the project were able to list the names of several dishes by the end of it. As the children turned dishes and desserts unique to different regions of Turkey into three-dimensional designs, the diversity was remarkable. This learning was the sort of experiential approach that engaged all the senses, while focusing on diversity and culture in the classroom (Cargill, 2007). Furthermore, the students also had a chance to analyze the artwork of children from other countries in order to gain information about their food cultures, comparing and contrasting these with their own.
The children reported that they were very happy to have taken part in the project. They also noted that while they had prepared their three-dimensional artistic food designs by being true to the original, they also had added their own imaginary elements. In addition, they explained that the most time-demanding part of the design process was putting the materials into an appropriate form. All of the children responded in a positive manner to the challenge of creating three-dimensional artwork. All were able to create forms that were recognizable artwork, and rich in symbolic meaning.
The Art Lunch Project strengthened children's self-confidence in designing both two-dimensional and three-dimensional artwork. Beyond the effort of materializing their own thoughts, the participating children had to imagine their foreign peers' process of creating their own national dishes; in a way, they lived through this process. During the process of artistic expression, the children rediscovered the feeling of taking pride in and valuing their own culture. At the same time, they became able to distinguish the differences between the artistic expressions of children in other cultures and their own.
One of the most distinctive features of project studies is their provision for cooperation and sharing, features that were indeed experienced in this study. The children from the countries that participated made three-dimensional artwork that represented their emotions and thoughts to share with each other in the digital environment. Thus, they had an opportunity to see the similarities and differences in each other's work. Also, similar to the other cross-cultural studies mentioned, the Art Lunch Project gave children the opportunity to appreciate the value of not just their own, but also each other's food cultures.
People are shaped inside their own cultures, because it is culture that shapes the way people perceive life. Therefore, it is important that children get to know their own culture and that of others. In this study, which aimed to use food as a way to explore other cultures, it was noteworthy that the children had actually been alienated from their own food cultures. The project gave the participating children an awareness of their own traditional food cultures.
Although food was chosen as the focal point in this study, art educators may introduce different cultures to children through many themes, such as plays, costumes, music, dance, and architectural structures. In addition, art educators may create new activities unique to the cultures of children in their classes who come from different countries. Families of these children also may become involved in this process. Future comparative studies may be conducted with children of different socioeconomic statuses and/or multicultural children. Future studies also may make use of children's books on the topic.
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I am much indebted to Ayse Cakar Ilhan, without whom the Turkish leg of the Art Lunch Project would not have materialized, for her guidance and encouragement in writing this article.
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Dilek Acer is Assistant Professor, Department of Preschool Education, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Ankara University, Ankara, Turkey…