Thinking through Egyptian Tradition: The Potential of Pre-Colonial Craft Working Methods in Art Education

By Shafer, Ann | Art Education, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Thinking through Egyptian Tradition: The Potential of Pre-Colonial Craft Working Methods in Art Education


Shafer, Ann, Art Education


Egyptian art tradition emphasizes learning from masters and focusing on precision and practice, which can be incorporated into- or compared to-Western art methods.

The January 25th 2011 Revolution in Egypt brought the eyes of the world to the "cradle of civilization" once more, as existing power structures toppled and hidden voices surfaced to forge a unified vision for the future. In many parts of the Middle East, and indeed all over the world, the visual arts embody cultural values and remain a touchstone in times of great change. For this visual arts educator in Cairo, the process of political revolution has underscored the important role of certain deep, shared cultural values in the making of new, potentially unifying national expressions. As student work in an experimental curriculum in Egypt called The Language of Traditional Arts has revealed, both before and especially after the Revolution, there is a persistent desire to cultivate, preserve, and reinvigorate what is considere an essential element of Egyptian cultural identity: its Coptic Christian and Islamic cultural heritage (Figure 1). Although media coverage may focus on conflict between religious groups, what many Egyptians would rather emphasize is a long-standing shared cultural affinity. The 2011 Revolution thus strengthened young creative people's resolve to re-activate Egyptian interconnectedness and sense of community, especially in the arts. The present study shows the value of espousing traditional Egyptian crafts working methods to access and strengthen attachment to heritage, and introduces one curriculum as an example of how that might be done, not only in Egypt, but also in other cultural communities throughout the world.

My own catalyst to examine the history of the visual arts in Egypt was my physical shift to a teaching position in Egypt. For 6 years I served as director of an undergraduate studio arts program in Cairo, based primarily on a Western Fine Arts curricular model that included basic courses in drawing, painting, and Western art history. As my exposure to the arts and methods of the region increased over time, however, I felt the imperative to expand our curriculum to include the "Traditional Arts of Egypt," especially those architectural arts mediated by the historical influences of pre-colonial Coptic Christianity and Islam (Figure 2). The new curriculum was inspired by my own experiences in the heritage-rich city of Cairo, and particularly by the medieval period when craftsmen began producing stunning works in a variety of media including ceramic, wood, stucco, glass, stone, and textiles. Fortunately, those centuries-old practices are still very much alive today in architectural heritage sites and craftsmen's quarters throughout the old city (Dobrowolska, 2005). The dialogue between historical architectural monuments and intangible heritage (contemporary craft production) thus forms the basis of our curriculum, connecting theory with skills, and historical analysis with creative expression (Shafer & Gaber, 2011). The resulting curriculum for art majors consists of a core foundation course, described here, with a more specialized series of upper-level courses focusing on materials and craft.

Confronting Conceptual Boundaries: East vs. West?

Although my impetus to engage Egyptian traditional forms and processes came out of an inspired necessity, the underlying theoretical issues speak more broadly to those interested in cross-cultural hybridity and postcolonial theory. Even a quick look through recent art history reveals that the West's interest in the so-called "traditional" cultures is not new. Whether historic or contemporary, this interest reveals a complex desire to know and to connect with an "other" that is at once exotic and familiar. In the last severa decades, educators in particular have consistently championed cross-cultural awareness and implementation in the classroom (Bequette, 2007). Others, meanwhile, have critiqued and even rejected this perspective toward heritage as romanticized, Eurocentric cultural imperialism (Desai, 2000; Butler, 2006). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Thinking through Egyptian Tradition: The Potential of Pre-Colonial Craft Working Methods in Art Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.