Voices of Color: Art and Society in the Americas

Article excerpt

Voices of Color: Art and Society in the Americas P. Farris-Dufrene (1997). Prometheus Books. 207 pages. Hardcover. ISBN 1573925861.

The Power of Cultural Narrative in Art Education Pedagogy

In this essay review of Phoebe Farris-Dufrene's edited collection, Voices of Color (1997), we investigate the power of cultural narrative when used as a pedagogical tool for exploring issues of diversity. "Researchers who have adopted narrative methods have found them particularly useful for addressing the unmet challenge of integrating culture, person, and change ..." (Daiute & Lightfoot, 2004, p. viii). We utilize three narratives' spaces from the perspectives of diverse cultural groups. These spaces are characterized by the voices of artists, educators, and graduate students focused on the realities and issues of ethnicity. The power of narrative as a pedagogical tool has long been supported by major curriculum theorists such as Slattery (1999, 2003), Slattery and Rapp (2003), and hooks (1994, 2003). Art educators have also supported the use of narrative as a strong pedagogical form when exploring issues of diversity (Daniel, 2003; Smith-Shank, 1993).

We felt that Voices of Color offered us an opportunity to teach and learn about the complexity of diversity and the related concepts of empowerment and disempowerment. This opportunity we further believe, offers other art educators the possibility of doing like-wise. Recently we used this text as a basis for conversational discussions in a team-led, 5-week summer graduate seminar course. The issues raised by our discussions of the book, although it was published in 1997, were of such quality and interest to the contemporary topic of diversity and visual culture that we wish to share them with you in this essay review. Dufrene and the other authors gave us a starting point from which to teach about difference. The voices of color in her book represent and speak on behalf of the disenfranchised and marginalized members of societies. Through their stories of struggle, negotiation, and strength of conviction, our understandings of what it means to be and act as responsible members of the human race can be expanded. Moreover, we explore "the power of narratives to lead readers to action" (Daiute & Lightfoot, 2004, p. 7).

In our essay review, we point out some of the salient issues raised during the class discussions concerning the authors' contributions as they related to visual culture education. However, our intent is to extend the dialogue beyond the authors' written narratives and to include the voices of our students and our own, into the discourse. We tape-recorded the class discussions, and frequently included student contributions to the conversation referring to them by their first names. Each week we investigated two to three chapters of the book. We were guided in our discussions by individual students who reviewed specific chapters of the book. Those chapters that contained similar or related topics we present in our narrative as a group, and those that dealt with particular perspectives or issues that did not reasonably form a group, we present separately.

The Political Effects of Contemporary Art: Cultural Diversity and the Myth of Art in Popular Culture. Carl E. Briscoe Jr.

Briscoe's chapter created a problem for the class because the purpose of it was not initially apparent. It was evident from the students' comments that there was confusion about the main point of the text. Keith, one of the students, explained in defense of Briscoe; "The reader has to make the leaps; Briscoe wasn't doing it for you."

Possibly, the students' confusion was based on their lack of exposure to Briscoe's domain of inquiry: critical race theory and African-centered theory and philosophy. Despite this deficiency, a great deal of discussion ensued. Ultimately, two main issues emerged from the class discussion. One issue was the complexity of the concept of cultural appropriation and how this topic can be brought into the art curriculum. …

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