The End of ART in Education

Article excerpt

The art education literature has recently given a good deal of attention to the topic of Visual Culture in Art Education (VCAE). VCAE, in fact, appears at least to some art educators as the next new emphasis in art education following Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE). At least four recent theme issues of Art Education have addressed the topic in various ways including the May 2002 issue on "Redefining Art Education," the March 2003 issue on "Visual Culture," the January 2004 issue on "The Non-Verbal Nature of the Visual Arts..." and the May 2004 issue on "Reflection and Dialog." All of these issues have, in one way or another, been devoted to a dialogic rather than a studio emphasis in art education instruction.

Articles on VCAE have also appeared in Studies in Art Education. Discussions have been held in at least three recent conferences at the University of British Columbia, Penn State, and most recently at The Ohio State University. Two new books on the topic have appeared including Teaching Visual Culture by Kerry Freedman and Art and Cognition/Integrating the Visual Arts in the Curriculum by Arthur Efland. What some consider most radical about the VCAE approach is its attempt to shift the Art Education field from its traditional emphasis on studio art into a dialog about art as a socially constructed object, devoid of expressive meaning.

In an effort to change the art education agenda from its past emphasis on individual creative self-expression, some art education writers now choose to address such topics as "the linguistic message and the connoted images" (Barrett 2003), complex contextual and symbolic relationships (Krug 2003), art as social action, and art as being manipulative, colonizing, and disenfranchising (Freedman 2003). Moreover, while claiming that art production is still part of the curriculum, some VCAE supporters also make the counter claim that the modernist curriculum promotes the weakness of individualism, competitiveness, and focuses too much on Western art (Freedman 2003, p. 12, p. 158). The question we really need to ask is whether VCAE may be the beginning of the end of art in art education.

Up until recently, what is known about VCAE in practice has been limited to journal articles like those of Barrett (2003), Taylor and Ballengee-Morris (2003), Anderson (2003), and Duncum (2002). Terry Barrett reported that art education students in his Ohio State class interpreted a magazine cover featuring the popular music group "Destiny's Child" which appeared on the cover of the Rolling Stone depicting "three women seemingly African American, with light brown skin and slim and fit bodies" (Barrett, 2003). He notes further,

The two women on the left gaze down on us while the woman on the right looks over our heads above our right shoulders. Two of the women have their lips parted while the third keeps hers closed. The woman in the middle smiles slightly raising an eyebrow and tilting her head to the right.... The woman in the middle holds a belt of large caliber bullets. Her pierced navel is visible and her cleavage is apparent. (p. 9)

As to whether VCAE can be taught in K-12 art classrooms today, Barrett (2003) recently assured us it can. He says that he was able to teach it in a seventh grade classroom where he set aside his lesson plans and spontaneously engaged the students in a 45-minute deconstruction of their university apparel in which students discussed the various denotations on their shirts including oil lamps, open books, Latin words and phrases, tie-dyed colors, tape-wrapped hands of football players, football helmets, M, U of M, and OSU in large sizes and type. He also notes that he has engaged kindergarten children in a discussion of cereal box iconography in two groups: cereals for adults and cereals for children. Equally successful, he notes, were his attempts at working with 3- and 4-year-olds, discussing their teddy bears and confronting them with questions such as "If bears are dangerous and sometimes eat people, how come your bears are not scary? …