Art Historical Appropriation in a Visual Culture-Based Art Education

By Trafí-Prats, Laura | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
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Art Historical Appropriation in a Visual Culture-Based Art Education


Trafí-Prats, Laura, Studies in Art Education


Critical art histories have strategically contributed to the constitution of visual culture studies as an interdisciplinary field that interprets the mediations of mass-produced imagery in contemporary culture. This article advocates for an anti-historicist perspective of art historical knowledge connected to cultural analysis and centered on the present time. It presents an approach to art as a contingent visual event that responds to theoretical and political emergencies and urgencies in specific times and contexts. The article conceptualizes a pedagogy of art historical appropriation that situates the learner as a critical examiner of cultural legacies, inherited genealogies, and repressed memories. Three instances of art historical appropriation (autobiography, archival work, and global narratives), inspired in the work of contemporary artists, art historians, and curators, are analyzed as possible contributions to a visual culture-based art education.

The motivation for writing this article emerged some years ago when I ended my dissertation. My docroral research was a philosophical study on the critical understanding of modern art practices from the perspective of critical arr histories. Its theoretical framework included a large number of references to critical art historians, who had started their academic careers in the early 1980s. At that moment, their work concentrated on a critique of a model of art history dominated by the ideology of high modernism. Twenty years later, these same historians were contributing to the foun- dation of the interdisciplinary field of visual culture studies (Trafi- Prats, 2003). The writing of the final draft of my dissertation coincided with the publishing of articles in a range of art education journals proclaiming the turn from a paradigm-centered in a Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) to a visual culture-based art education (Freedman, 2000; Tavin, 2003; Wilson, 2003). Those contributions presented visual culture as the opposite of high culture, the institutional frames of the artworld, linear modes of learning, and the knowledge of traditional disciplines, like art history (Duncum, 1999, 2001, 2002a, 2002b). Proponents of a visual culture-based art education suggested a change in the role of historical knowledge in our field, moving from a stress on facrual knowledge, chronologies, and marketable canons, to a cultural and social history of visual practices (Duncum, 2000a, 2002b; Freedman, 2003). However, more in-focus studies on how art historical knowledge contributes to the critical understanding of visuality have been scarce in our field. This article is intended to be a contribution in this direction by introducing: (1) key concepts operating in the intersection of visual culture studies and art history, (2) a model of art history education based on historical appropriation that sees learners as constructors of art historical narratives, and (3) three specific practices of art history appropriation inspired by the work of contemporary artists, art historians, and curators.

Art Historical Concepts in the Critical Understanding of isuality

While some understand art history as a fixed tradition or static knowledge, it is instead a very diversified field of theories, methodologies, technologies, and objects of study (Preziosi, 1991). The field contains its own practices of internal critique and transgression, as the debates on the New Art Histories have demonstrated (Rees & Borzello, 1986; Mitchell, 1989; Harris, 2001). During the last 1 2 years, different voices have discussed possible relations and digressions between art history and visual culture studies (Cherry, 2005). In a contribution to the art historical journal The Art Bulletin, Mitchell (1995) argued that visual culture had to be understood as an "indiscipline" for art history and other traditional disciplines:

[V]isual culture looks like an "outside" to art history, opening out the larger field of vernacular images, media and everyday visual practices in which a "visual art" tradition is situated, and raising the question of the difference between high and low culture, visual art versus visual culture.

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