Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art Education

By Wilson, Brent | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art Education


Wilson, Brent, Studies in Art Education


What are the boundaries of art education? Discipline-Based Art Education expanded the content of art education, and now, proposals to move art education toward visual culture promise to further complicate our field. The difficulty encountered in attempting to add the content of emerging contemporary artworks and popular visual culture to a map of art education provides an analogy for the problems faced by proponents of visual cultural-based curricula. In this article, the dojinshi phenomenon, pertaining to the fanzine-like comic books that Japanese teenagers create, is used to illustrate the futility of diagramming within art education content which is rhizomatic-more like the tangle of a patch of grass than the orderly structure of a tree. Three strategies are presented for dealing with contemporary art and rhizomatic popular visual culture within art education curricula: (1) opting for the status quo which precludes the addition of contemporary art and popular visual culture, (2) supplementing existing curricula, and (3) fully submitting to the new and popular. One tactic is also presented-that of moving pedagogy to a space situated between conventional artworld-based school curricular content and content from contemporary art and popular visual culture. This tactic is proposed as a means for teachers and students to collaboratively embrace dynamic changes and expansions of content in a site alongside traditional art education.

The Conventional Realm of Art Education

What are the boundaries of the field of art education? What should the boundaries be? If the basic character of art changes, if new definitions and theories of art arise, if the artworld transforms itself, and if the visual arts are seen as only one component within the vastly larger realm of visual culture, then should art education also change? Should the content of our school subject correspond primarily, as it has in the past, to the world of artists' studios, galleries, and art museums, or should we expand our field to include urban design, graphic design, product design, and material culture, and what of comics, cinema, and the video arts? What if it were not possible to draw a map of the content of our field? And most importantly of all, what are the pedagogical implications that would arise if it were impossible to diagram the terrain of art education?

Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) resulted in a re-mapping of art education in America. In regional professional development institutes established by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, teachers of the visual arts-with the assistance of artists, philosophers, art historians, art critics, and museum and university art educators-provided the material for a new art museum-based conception of art education (Wilson, 1997a).

The new map showed the art world and related worlds almost as geography. Wilson claims that he saw it as a marvelous multi-faceted "crystal crater" awaiting exploration (1997a, p. 62). He describes imagining institute participants standing at the bottom of a complex, four-sided, geometrically-stepped structure. From this vantage point, the art world extended upward and outward on four sides. Directly above, participants could see the realm of the creative artist, forms of visual art, individual artworks, and their attributes. Located to the left were the domains of individuals who inquire into artworks-historians, critics, aestheticians, archeologists, anthropologists, and others. To the right there were the material contexts -the studios, galleries, art centers, and museums-in which works of art are created, housed, exhibited, and preserved. Finally, the quadrant at the bottom of the diagram revealed other forms of art-music, literature, dance, drama, cinema-and the realms of the humanities and the sciences to which teachers of art were expected to connect the content of art (Wilson, 1997a).

In DBAE institute programs, according to Wilson, participants faced the challenge of exploring the four sides of the vast crater-not so much by scaling its walls as by conceptually stretching lines from one point to another until the art-world realm was crisscrossed with relationships among individual artworks, their themes, their forms, their symbols; the ways artworks are created, studied, and interpreted; and the ways artworks might be related to other works from the arts, the sciences, and the humanities. …

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