Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Complicating Visual Culture

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Complicating Visual Culture

Article excerpt

This article grew out of discussions begun in an art education graduate course, "Understanding the Visual in Contemporary Art and Culture," taught autumn quarter 2004 by Professor Sydney Walker in the art education department at The Ohio State University. The previous work of art education scholars writing about visual culture provided a strong foundation for a continuing conversation among professor and students beyond the course, particularly the work of Paul Duncum (2002, 2003, 2004; Duncum & Bracey, 2001), Kerry Freedman (2000, 2001, 2003a, 2003b), jan jagodzinski (2002, 2004), and Kevin Tavin (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005). The conversations gravitated toward the theoretical possibilities offered by Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and subjectivity, an aperture that art educators have only begun to explore. Most helpful for understanding this theory were jagodzinski's (2004) rigorous and astute insights and conceptualizations in Youth Fantasies: The Perverse Landscape of the Media. Our writing effort was indeed a collaborative endeavor with ideas examined, stretched, questioned, puzzled over by the entire group.

Why Complicate Visual Culture?

In Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction (2003), James Elkins advances a provocative notion: "visual studies is too easy." Elkins insists, "visual studies is too easy to learn, too easy to practice, too easy on itself" (p. 65). Elkins bases his assessment of visual studies on what he observes to be a lack of stringency and vigilance in questioning the visual. To this end, Elkins (2003) speculates that a more rigorous and complex visual studies would be:

denser with theories and strategies, more reflective about its own history, warier of existing visual theories, more attentive to neighboring and distant disciplines, more vigilant about its own sense of visuality, less predictable in its politics, and less routine in its choice of subjects, (p. 65)

Elkins' statements are a call to action for an educators and visual culture. For while the discipline of art education struggles to define its object of study, pedagogical goals, and academic identity, Elkins is suggesting that the situation is already not complicated enough-and in its present conceptualization, too reductive and too predictable. What might be gained by entertaining some of Elkins' ideas within the current flux of discussion about visual culture in art education?

In the following article, we consider the contribution of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory in recognizing subjectivity as a primary factor in art education practice with visual culture. We begin with a brief discussion of subjectivity as background to a consideration of critical pedagogy and psychoanalytic pedagogy, one that distinguishes key similarities and distinctions between these educational approaches. A more in-depth explanation of Lacanian psychoanalytic pedagogy and subjectivity follows and is amplified with a Lacanian reading of artist Glen Ligon's online artwork, Annotations (2003). (see www.diacenter.org.) The example of Ligon's work is intended to demonstrate how a concern for the unconscious, the role of desire, and the gaps, silences, and resistances that affect one's agency can be relevant to classroom study and visual culture.

Terminology within discourse about visual studies and visual culture is problematic and the latitude for setting definitions is unsettled. W. J. T. Mitchell (2002) distinguishes visual studies as a field of study implying a process and visual culture as the object of study. We might follow Mitchell and employ visual studies to reflect our emphasis on the study and pedagogical practice of the visual; however, given that the term visitai culture is more commonly employed among art education scholars, we use this terminology throughout as an inclusive term indicating both a field of study and the object of study.

Psychoanalytic Theory

In our search for multiple theoretical perspectives for art education and visual culture, we recognized the self as significant and a common concern within sociocultural and psychoanalytic theories. …

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