The Unexplored: Art Education Historians' Failure to Consider the Southwest

By Smith, Peter | Studies in Art Education, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

The Unexplored: Art Education Historians' Failure to Consider the Southwest


Smith, Peter, Studies in Art Education


As concerns for multicultural education increase, the lack of attention in the art education historical literature to areas of the United States other than the Northeast becomes more obvious. Events and issues that arose in the Southwest are particularly relevant to problems related to pluralism or diversity in art education. NewMexico is used as an example for paying attention to multicultural needs in art education, but the point is made that much of the necessary information about relevant New Mexico art education history is found in art history literature rather than mainstream art education publications. The result of this lack of exploration by art education historians is relatively scarce availability of material that might inform practice in multicultural art education.

One of the peculiarities of the published American art education historical literature is the almost complete absence of accounts of art education in the Southwest. An examination of histories by Arthur Efland (1990), Foster Wygant (1993), Peter Smith (1996), or the Penn State Symposium Proceedings edited by Al Anderson and Paul Bolin (1997) failed to turn up much of anything about the Southwest, although in the last book, John Howell White (1997) presented some material on School Arts articles about Native Americans, including persons from the Southwest.

Perhaps this is merely a reflection of art education historians' tendency to follow somewhat falteringly in the footsteps of historians of general education. For example, William F. Connell's A History of Education in the Twentieth Century World (1980) reads as if the Northeastern United States was the only place in this country where anything educational worth considering took place. Connell even ignores the Civil Rights movement that affected education all across the United States, but found its first theatre in the South. This movement was examined by educators in other nations facing the challenges of democratic consideration of hitherto ignored segments of their populations. Later, of course, the Civil Rights movement found further expression in Chicano and Native American ideas in the Southwest, some of which had impact on art of the region.

Considering just one Southwest state, New Mexico, the omission in the literature becomes curious indeed. New Mexico has a celebrated and ongoing art scene involving Native Americans, Hispanics, and those described in the state's tourist publications as "Anglos." The latter formed famed art colonies in Santa Fe and Taos, beginning in the early 20th century. The name Georgia O'Keeffe, as an example of an Anglo artist, brings to the mind's eye many evocative images of New Mexico, but the name Maria Martinez also resonates around the world.

Obviously some forms of education in art must have taken place in the area, quite aside from public school classes or the University of New Mexico's Art Education Program founded by Alexander Masley in 1947. Art education must have taken place in pueblos, in hogans, and other homes of Hispanic craftspeople and santeros, as well as in public, parochial, and Indian schools. Various and energetic art educators must have been in New Mexico.

The consequences of art educators not being aware of the information that should have been available to inform can be seen in the early assaults on Getty DBAE for being too Eurocentric, and too focused on dominant cultural notions.2 Since the Getty Center for Education in the Arts was located in southern California, it is ironic indeed that the first publications from the Center paid little or no attention to Native American or Hispanic arts, or to the conceptual foundations in these cultures for doing, using, or thinking about the arts. These cultures were near the Center's doorsteps, but art education's historians failed to underscore their presence. Only when Celebrating Pluralism by Graeme Chalmers (1996) was published by the Getty Center was there major evidence of awareness of the Southwest cultures in mainstream art education literature.

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