Does Material Culture Matter?

By Pauly, Nancy | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Does Material Culture Matter?


Pauly, Nancy, Studies in Art Education


Does Material Culture Matter? Bolin, P. E., & Blandy, D. (Eds.). (201 1). Matter Matters: Art Education and Material Culture Studies. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. 170 pages; ISBN 978-1-890160-51-7

Matter Matters: Art Education and Material Culture Studies offers scholars, teachers, museum educators, and community-arts facilitators ways to theorize and apply understandings and practices about material culture in art education. The editors, Paul Bolin and Doug Blandy, assert that material culture is"a description of any and all humanconstructed or human-mediated objects, forms, or expressions, manifest consciously or unconsciously through human-mediated behaviors" (p. ix). The book is divided into two sections consisting of eight theoretical chapters and nine chapters whose contributors apply theories to practices in art education.

Authors in this book discuss ways to investigate how a wide range of human-made objects, places, and expressions might reflect the experiences, values, desires, and cultures of their makers, the people who purchased or used them, as well as the societies to which they belonged. These authors propose interesting ways to examine material culture by offering students tactics to interpret meanings invested by their makers in relational contexts, imposed by their marketers, associated by viewers, or situated within discourses of power/knowledge.

The editors note that art educators have advocated studying common objects and spaces since the 1 930s. Although art educators commonly study museum-based objects, material culture scholars have studied commonplace objects, forms, and expressions similar to scholars in fields such as history, anthropology, folklore, and gender studies. Researchers in most fields have investigated objects as primary source cultural texts, yet few scholars offer insights into the educational value of exploring the meanings of objects, a shortcoming the editors aim to address in this book. They assert that "the current body of literature within visual culture does not address the same range of topics, ideas, objects, and research methodologies examined and utilized with the purview of material culture studies. For these reasons. Matter Matters holds a distinctive place within the collection of literature both inside and outside the field of art education" (p. x).

Many authors in Matter Ma iters cite the work of Bolin and Blandy (2003) as influential. In that piece Bolin and Blandy claim that Material Culture Studies moves beyond Visual Culture Studies for the following reasons. They assert that Material Culture Studies includes a broader range of forms, objects, and cultural expressions. Material Studies scholars investigate truly common objects such as gardens or children's toys, and provide not necessarily the best examples. They also study activities including the ways people participate in events such as parades or dance performances. In other words, "all human-mediated sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects, forms, and expressions are material culture" (p. 250).

According to Bolin and Blandy (2011), scholars of Material Cultures Studies have derived their methodologies from a vast number of academic disciplines. The primary reason scholars investigate material culture has been to learn why people make, use, respond to, and preserve objects or experiences from a contextuallybased viewpoint rather than a descriptive or formalistic examination. They encourage scholars to "engage multi-sensorial texts beyond the visual, such as sound, music, film and voices as layered texts" (p. 255). They contend that the term "material culture" should replace the term "visual art,"with which the field has struggled for 40 years.

With the exception of the word "visual," most of these statements could be made about scholarly works in Visual Culture Art Education in which authors study objects as varied as website images, teddy bears, and teenagers' bedrooms using multidisciplinary approaches (Barrett, 2003; Duncum, 2004; Pauly, 2003). …

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