Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Nostalgia of Art Education: Reinscribing the Master's Narrative

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Nostalgia of Art Education: Reinscribing the Master's Narrative

Article excerpt

How often does it happen that you are suddenly hit in the face by an image that is so blatantly and powerfully iconic of what is wrong with art education today that you are obligated ethically to respond to it? Seldom. What is more often the case is a clever guise that shrouds itself under such master signifiers as progress, standards, and excellence. But here, exposed in a full two page spread, is a rhetorical statement by The Getty Center For Education in the Arts (see figure 1, page 95) that is so bold and daring in its expositionary rhetoric that only the most cynical of art teachers would dismiss its address in a time of pluri-cultural crisis. The discussion which follows does not try to interpret this advertisement per se, or to offer a sociological explanation for Getty's program, nor do I want to offer the outlines of a curriculum that stands in direct opposition, although that is possible as well. Rather, I want to provide a map of desire that interpellates (hails) the art educator1 into three registers of subjective identification with the Getty's cultural world-view as designated by Lacanian categories, Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real, that manifest themselves respectively in signifiers, images, and fantasies to get at the level of desire.2

The concept of interpellation into ideology is developed by Althusser ( 1971 ) wherein he discusses the phenomenon of being hailed as a "reading subject" constructed by the text. According to Althusser the construction of subjects-in-ideology is the major ideological practice in capitalist societies. "Art educator" in this context does not refer to an actual social subject, but to a psychical subject of desire created by the effects of the signifying structures of the Getty program. The empirical subject occupies this unconscious position so that the coherence and readability of the text is established.

The Symbolic Order refers to that dimension of the human subject that is identical to language as it has been identified with certain signifiers. The Imaginary (capitalized here, imaginary with no caps usually refers to its common usage as a conscious mental image) refers to the preverbal aspect of subjectivity and is of central importance when linking Lacan with the arts. The Imaginary is the order of perception and hallucination, fantasy-full but never fanciful. The Imaginary is constituted by schemata of memory and cognition that are dominant before the child learns to speak, and Lacan refers to this register as the Getty's seductive world, I will argue, provides a postmodern form of neo-racism, "differential racism," or "civilized racism" that is the very antithesis of the multicultural program the Getty purports to be advocating.

Embodied Desire in the Getty as the Symbolic Other

I shall begin my psychoanalytic cultural criticism with the Symbolic Order, since in the Lacanian paradigm it is the signifier that holds the key to desire.3 What might then be the master signifiers through which an art teacher would identify him or herself? What is being offered here as an ego ideal by which an art teacher can recognize the Other? What wish is being addressed by the Getty, as an authority, that gives the impression that its subjects, art teachers, are cared for, even loved because of the signifiers the Getty embodies? Answer: a managed world of cultural harmony where virtually each and every familial, national, ethnic, racial, and (possibly) even sexual identity is potentially recognized. Pushed within the context of emerging technologies, this is a "virtual community" where an identificatory self can be created by plugging into the Getty system through its programs, thereby assuaging active narcissistic desires to comply with the Getty's passive narcissistic ones to be the teacher's Symbolic Other. There are five synecdochic avatars4 of this community which act as the art teacher's representative stand-ins. Four are named and made visible, one remains absent, but acts anamorphically5 as a voice that is oblique to the frontal perception of the frame itself. …

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