WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING/ A SHEEP IN WOLF'S CLOTHING QUESTIONING THE FINE ARTS IN OUR SCHOOLS: WHAT'S So FINE ABOUT IT?1
A Personal Dilemma1
In the current postmodern moment Cornel West ( 1990), amongst others, has argued that those artists&critics who align themselves with demoralized, demobilized, depoliticized, and disorganized people as "organic intellectuals" (cf. Antonio Gramsci) in order to empower and enable social action, find themselves in an oxymoronic position. Caught in a schizophrenic double bind (cf. Gregory Bateson, 1972) they are simultaneously progressive&coopted by the very institutions they find themselves in. On the one hand, in their cultural productions they must make a gesture to the operations of power within their immediate work contexts, pointing out and critiquing the very limitations of the institution that they belong to, yet and on the other hand, since there is no "outside" from which to criticize, they must remain financially dependent on the very institutions that feed them. Ways, therefore, must be found to stage the ruse -- to interrogate the limits of the discourse that binds a particular institution so that the ampersand moves toward, in oxymoronic terms, a "coopted progressivism."
Although I have no illusions of having the formidable power of an "organic intellectual" that West alludes to, the sense of being caught in a schizophrenic double bind does present itself. In 1990 1 ended a 2-year appointment on the Fine Arts Council of the Alberta Teachers Association (the governing body in the province of Alberta, Canada, which, although not a union, is responsible for negotiating teaching certification and acting as a watchdog for the provincial government's intervention in education). By the end of the second year it had become abundantly clear what the council's mandate was: To promote the teaching of fine arts in Alberta schools, and to do this required some form of advocacy, best achieved, its members thought, by approaching the business community.
The following brief summary speaks to the local politics in the way education in the province of Alberta, Canada, has been successfully managed by the current conservative government in power. While my discussion is highly polemical and accusatory and, of course, ideological, it points to the workings of hegemony. The Lougheed government in 1976 began its first early interventions into the School Act. Then in 1988, to generate its own "crisis" in education, the Lougheed government sent out a public questionnaire in the local newspaper so as to gather public opinion as to how well the school system was doing its job. The results were interpreted by government researchers who subsequently provided the grounds as to why even more state intervention in education was necessary.____________________