Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art, Ecology and Art Education: Locating Art Education in a Critical Place-Based Pedagogy

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art, Ecology and Art Education: Locating Art Education in a Critical Place-Based Pedagogy

Article excerpt

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plough and sail for it. From the forest and wildness come the tonics and barks that brace mankind.

" - Thoreau

Three difficult conditions, with their attendant consequences, define the context of art and education that would be responsive to ecological concerns. First, human progress emphasizing the domination of nature has devastated many parts of the earth (Berry, 1990; Bowers, 1993,2001). Modern civilization has created environmental conditions characterized by pollution, depletion of natural resources, climate change, threatened biodiversity, and diminishing wilderness. Second, mainstream American education reform is deeply committed to a standards and testing culture that tends to ignore the peculiarities of places in order to standardize the experiences of students. Local human and natural communities are not usually important parts of the school curriculum (Gruenewald, 2003). Consequently, education that ignores issues of ecology and community becomes complicit in their erosion. Third, although many contemporary artists make ecological issues an important part of their work, contemporary art and visual culture are often not a significant part of the art curriculum (Wilson, 2003). The issues of gender, power, privilege, politics and social change that are associated with the study of visual culture are sometimes problematic in the traditional art education classroom (Freedman, 2003). Art education that neglects contemporary art and visual culture deprives students of the prospect of becoming conversant in emerging forms of artistic discourse, deprives them of information about the issues of social and ecological justice, and hinders them as artists in fostering social and ecological justice.

The intersection of mainstream educational purposes and taken-for-granted practices among art educators leaves vital matters of ecology largely unexamined. Such omission neglects the potential of art to educate and encourage active engagement with ecological concerns. Contemporary artists raise provocative questions about nature, community, and culture that reflect the complex character of our relationship with the natural world. The work of these artists often has connections to the peculiarities of specific places and is attentive to the web of relationships that constitute local culture and ecology. Their work makes ecological relationships comprehensible in a way that can be a catalyst for awareness and consequently change.

Critical place-based pedagogy creates a rigorous theoretical framework that combines the ecological focus of place-based education with the social focus of critical theory (Gruenewald, 2003). This article considers the ingredients of a critical place-based pedagogy for art education as a prelude to describing art education that is responsive to the ecology of local places and culture. That these approaches may also find resistance among students who have not garnered interest in local content or in the politics of social transformation is an important issue that will also be examined. Locating art education within a critical place-based pedagogy disturbs standardized curriculum models and re-envisions educational purposes by valuing the peculiarities of the local and questioning taken for granted assumptions about progress and our relationships with nature. Teaching becomes responsive to ecology and local culture and artmaking becomes socially aware, reflective, and transformational.1

Education and Ecological Crisis

Thoreau's question "Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?" (1854/2004, p. 303) seems pressingly relevant today. The world is in an ecological crisis that is difficult to ignore. Evidence of man's influence on the climate as reflected in global warming is becoming increasingly alarming. …

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