Celebrating Pluralism Six Years Later: Visual Transculture/s, Education, and Critical Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

In this lecture I examine changes in my thinking, and in multicultural education, since the publication of Celebrating Pluralism: Art Education and Cultural Diversity (Chalmers, 1996). We need to move from "celebratory" to "critical" or "insurgent" multicultural art education and to increasingly acknowledge and embrace changing transcultural migratory experiences. While continuing to teach about art in a variety of cultures, art, and art education, need to be used to make a difference. The unjustness of injustice needs to increasingly permeate our work. It is not so much "where we're from" that matters, "it is where we're at." An alternate subtitle for this lecture could be borrowed from a new documentary film supported by the Australian Centennial Fund. Parra (Ang & Goldman, 2001), about a diverse group of Lebanese-Australian teenagers at a shopping center in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney, is subtitled: It's not where you're from, it's where you're at.

One of the longest book reviews, and I think the only "group-written" review to be published in Studies in Art Education, focused on my (Chalmers, 1996) Celebrating Pluralism: Art, Education and Cultural Diversity. In this review Patricia Stuhr (1999) and her faculty colleagues at The Ohio State University raised a number of points about the text. Kudos were given, but not as liberally as those conferred by James Scarborough (1998) whose laudatory review in Museum News concluded:

In time the book will come to be recognized (if it hasn't already) as an invaluable primary source document as well as a manifesto for educational reform and social action. It is realistic enough to diagnose and confront rapidly escalating sociocultural realities headon while retaining enough idealism to acknowledge the possibility that education can keep apace. Educators, school administrators, museum professionals (particularly curators and exhibition designers), students of all ages-in short anyone who cares for, is involved in, and will be affected by the material the book covers-will ignore Celebrating Pluralism at their peril. (p. 62)

Well, I'm not sure that it's quite that good. As some of you may know, Anita Silvers (1999), an aesthetician operating within a very different paradigm, and reviewing this same book in the Journal of Aesthetic Education was much more dismissive as she sought to defend the Western philosophical paradigm, which she perceived as unjustly and erroneously attacked.

But, to return to the OSU review, Stuhr commented that she thought that one measure of a book's "success" was the amount of discussion that it engenders and the thoughts that it generates beyond the text itself. Paraphrasing liberally, and without assigning particular objections to particular people, members of the Ohio State group seemed to question three things:

* The nature of multicultural education-what it is, and what it isn'tcelebrating pluralism versus celebrating differences. Learning about art in a variety of cultures versus using art to make a difference.

* The book's seeming support for cultural relativism and lack of a clear statement supporting some universal moral values and decrying other more offensive belief systems and cultural practices. One member of the OSU group used the words "wishy-washy." In conversation with me recently, art education scholar Dipti Desai, who writes on the politics of representation, agreed with my own, present, more retrospective stance, that, although one can read between the lines, Celebrating Pluralism is really quite a "gentle" book.

* The OSU group also felt that by endorsing a discipline-based approach, I had made multicultural art education too tidy and too manageable by promoting "evolution" rather than "revolution?"

In order to address these and some related issues of possible interest to art educators, and especially to myself, I've taken a look at what has been happening in multicultural/transcultural education since the publication of Celebrating Pluralism. …