Analyzing Mass Media through Video Art Education: Popular Pedagogy and Social Critique in the Work of Candice Breitz

Article excerpt

This article begins with the premise that art education should engage with forms of popular visual culture in the art classroom so that students can better understand, evaluate, and critique the world around them. The researcher argues that studying video art with students offers a valuable approach to critiquing film and television, among other mass media, because of shared methods of production and persuasion involving sound, language, movement, and time, in addition to visual imagery. Taking the work of South African artist, Candice Breitz, as a case study, this article investigates how video art that re-appropriates multi-sensory popular culture as a form of social critique can provide a model for critical, interdisciplinary conversations in art education. By engaging with Breitz's videos, which utilize largely "found footage" in their production, art educators can enable students to better analyze the forms and effects of entertainment media and help them "find" their own footage for critical artmaking. This article situates this approach within recent conceptual and contextual literature about visual culture art education, re-appropriation in art and video art, and other topics.

"As splintered, repeated moments, the smooth voices of popular culture's soundtrack can no longer sweep us away; instead, they stutter, disrupt, and make us aware of their disruption."

Many art educators have expressed concern for the pedagogical effects of popular visual culture. McFee (1965) recognizes that much learning occurs outside the classroom, envisioning art education about visual cultural forms as an act of resistance to potentially harmful mass media. Duncum (2002, 2008, 2010) emphasizes the importance of evaluating mainstream images in relation to their social contexts and implicit ideologies. Writings from the fields of media education (Buckingham, 1993, 2003) and cultural studies (Giroux, 2002) evince a broader scholarly concern for how educators may analyze the forms, messages, and methods of mass media with students. Whether we consider Giroux's (2002) admonition that films "both educate and entertain" (p. 3), or Freedman's (2003a) concern for the fact that television is the "national curriculum" of the United States (p. 142), it seems that mass media teach and that, correspondingly, we often learn from our interactions with popular culture in the world around us.

Film, television, and music videos are notable amidst conversations about visual culture taking place in the field of art education in that these media are not strictly visual.1 Their seductive power stems, in part, from the unfolding of sound, image, and language over time - and from the relationships developing between sound, image, language, time, and the individual encountering them. More importantly, the totality and ubiquity of these forms of visual-plus culture resemble and help construct our multi-sensory experience of other aspects of the world. It is imperative for our students to be aware of ways in which these mass media can operate, and for art educators to prepare students to be able to understand, evaluate, and artistically respond to these works through a medium with appropriate characteristics. One way to do this in art education settings is by engaging students in critical conversations about video art - specifically, video art that re-frames popular visual culture like film, television, and music videos as a form of social critique.

But first, what is video art and why should we engage with it in art education environments? Particularly when paused, much video art invites us to question the often taken-for-granted "authenticity" or even "authority" of photographic images. As a time-based medium, video art is dynamic and cannot possibly be instantaneously experienced in its entirety. Whether operating in "real time" or misrepresenting the passing of time, it requires our presence and active participation in changing time and everything that changes with it. …