Re-Attaching the Detached: In-Class Critical Analysis of Popular Media Images of Karagoz

Article excerpt

The enormous development of image technologies in the last three decades has brought us to a day in which a widespread inflation of images has become an indispensable part of our lives. As aresult, learning about the complexities of visual culture is becoming ever more critical to human development (Freedman, 2003). There is therefore an increasing necessity for young generations to develop a critical visual literacy by which they can appreciate the pros and cons of popular imagery. Art education can and should become a facilitation ground on which such appreciation will develop. Remaining indifferent to today's mass media, excluding it from art curricula will diminish art educators' roles in and influences on visual cultures, and deprive students of the essences of the visual repertoire humans have developed so far.

Images can be and have been used in various ways, and by their man-made nature they cannot be considered independent of their providers' intentions. Yet, in our age, identifying such intentions is complex, and requires a critical look supported by relevant information on what is being represented, how, and why.

In this article, I try to illustrate some of the ways the traditional Turkish shadow theatre became an item of easy consumption with little historical, cultural, and artistic essence, if any at all. I have collected artifacts regarding the shadow puppet tradition from Turkish popular culture that demonstrate an increasing poverty of relevant references to original resources, a widespread exploitation of history and cultural values for dominantly commercial ends, and an alarming need for a sound art educational initiative on the issue.

The Necessity of a Critical Visual Literacy

In our overly determined daily lives at schools, offices, factories, and stations, we are continuously instructed to follow linear paths toward practical ends with tight daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules and deadlines. It seems almost absurd to have the luxury to direct our gaze beyond what is in our practical reach. The love of simple step-by-step instructions, "no-brainer" manuals, prescribed curricula, and standardized tests manifests a one-size-fits-all concept of life in which, more than anything else, the ease with which something can be executed counts (Anijar, 2000). History, culture, and art, in such ease-oriented contexts, become compressed in the shape of Mona Lisa magnets on our refrigerators, half-page "artsy stuff in our newspapers, or a stereotypical scene of our favorite actress in a "based-on-a-realstory" movie. As Edward Said (2003) noted six months before his death, the famous Hollywood phrase "you are history" equates history with nonexistence, nothingness, and death. Such equations resume at light speed encapsulating our values into commercial signs, logos, and icons. What meets the eye constitutes most, if not all, of our ideas under a popular regime of pre-packaged and shortened information or "info."

At this point teachers come face-to-face with a question, a question so relevant to our times: Should schools be institutions where we indoctrinate "info" so that students will comply with the demands of a global capitalistic discourse? In other words, must we perceive schools as only training institutions for future preparation, or is educing (the root of the wornout word "education") still essential in our professions?

It is obvious that compared to the financial, technological, and access power of local and global media corporations, public education is a modest enterprise. Yet, schools can still play essential roles in facilitating students to better understandings of human cultures through a historical perspective along with what Dewey (1934) once called "the greatest intellectual achievement" of humankind: art (p. 25). This role, however, is only possible if teachers of art attend carefully to the marketplace mechanisms that alienate students from the essences of culture, history, and art. …