Teaching Visual Culture. Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art

By Chalmers, F. Graeme | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Teaching Visual Culture. Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art


Chalmers, F. Graeme, Studies in Art Education


Teaching Visual Culture. Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art Kerry Freedman (2003). New York and Reston VA: Teachers College Press and the National Art Education Association. 189 pages. ISBN 0-8077-4371-2 (paper), 0-8077-4372-0 (cloth).

We are well-served by this book, because, as Doug Blandy states on the back cover, "This book successfully blends theory with provocative arts education applications." And there can be no doubt that this is a timely book that moves us toward a pedagogy of visual culture in art education. At the 40th NAEA Convention in 2000 there were just seven presentations that included the words "visual culture" in their titles. Just four years later, in addition to special "visual culture" issues of both Art Education (March 2003), and Studies in Art Education (Spring, 2003), two NAEA Advisorys (Spring, 2002 and Spring 2003), and three small thematic conferences, there were, at the 44th NAEA Convention in Denver, four times as many presentations focusing on aspects of visual culture education. Kerry Freedman, together with art educators such as Paul Duncum and Kevin Tavin, has been a major force in directing art educators' attention to visual culture and its implications for education.

The book begins with an attempt to theorize visual culture in education. For Freedman, visual culture is "all that is humanly formed and sensed through vision or visualization and shapes the way we live our lives" (p. 1). Although she also sees the "fine arts" as part of visual culture, Freedman, along with a growing group of art educators, challenges teachers to attend particularly to "the objects, meanings, purposes, and functions of the visual arts students make and see every day" (p. 2). An early section labeled "Remnants of Social Theory that Shape Social Practice: Lessons from the History of Art Education" presents a careful and balanced analysis of the lingering influence of the Enlightenment-an analysis that includes and highlights internal contradictions. But there are other aspects noticeably absent from this historical section. For example, those art educators, like Freedman, who are the most articulate advocates of visual culture education today, need to acknowledge their debt to influential predecessors. The seminal work in the 1960s of Vincent Lanier, Corita Kent, and especially June K. McFee, needs to be affirmed. This reviewer was surprised to find that McFee's (1966) "Society, Art, and Education" contribution to the Penn. State Seminar is absent from Freedman's references. At that time McFee recognized that images were becoming more pervasive than texts and stated: "We need careful content analysis of the values being projected through mass media, as well as continued study of the diversity of values being projected in American society ..." (p. 139). In the same year Vincent Lanier (1966) wrote:

In addition to the many curricular uses of the newer media in art education, these essentially technological materials offer a qualitative contribution of considerable significance. Still and motion picture photography, television, auto-instructional devices and computers are of our time. The boys and girls now in our classes have grown up with technology since infancy. They live in a world of speed and change and mechanization. What is quite often incredible to their teachers, they can accept as a matter of course! (p. 6)

Earlier, other art educators (e.g., Danna, 1929; Teachers College, 1942) had challenged the old constructs of knowledge about the visual arts and concerned themselves with foci and approaches that are again being embraced. To those familiar with histories of our field, Freedman's statements such as, "However, the new technological presence of visual images and objects, the ease and speed with which they can be produced, and the power of their pervasiveness demands changes in curriculum" (p. 87) is an old call, to which art education has, I agree, been slow to respond. …

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