Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Agents of Possibility: Examining the Intersections of Art, Education, and Activism in Communities

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Agents of Possibility: Examining the Intersections of Art, Education, and Activism in Communities

Article excerpt

If artists and long-term protestors are similar in their thoughtful creativity and material deprivation, the underlying reason is a sense of moral and personal calling to their work, the fusion of social and individual fulfillment.

-James M. Jasper (1997), The Art of Moral Protest, p. 341

To varying degrees, artists and art educators either embrace or struggle against the notion that they are isolated and alienated from society. Exemplary of the modernist era in art, but with roots back to the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment (Anchor [1 967] in LaChapelle, 1 984; Gablik, 2001), the stereotype of the isolated, alienated artist and his or her accompanying artistic genius has permeated mass media, our schools and institutions, and the general public's ideas of art and its place in our world. In a sense, "the artist" is an ultimate embodiment of individualism, full of "autonomy and self-sufficiency" (Gablik, 1 995, p. 74), notions which are prized in the United States. Generally accompanying this viewpoint is a belief that art is neutral, "created not for moral or practical or social reasons, but to be contemplated and enjoyed" (p. 74).

This version of art and artists, though valid and valuable in its own right, can obscure the more integrated roles that art, artists, and educators can have in community-building, cultural affirmation, and articulating a need for change. In these broader social functions, the boundaries between art, education, and activism fade. The individuals in this study are all three - artist, educator, and activist - at once. In practice, these three roles come in no specific order, and depending on context, one may take precedence over the others. Their intersection leads to something more than the sum of the three parts. And the ongoing manifestation of that sum is rarely static or confined to itself, as it is also influenced by the needs and contexts of a collaborating community or group. Working in communities and dedicated to social change, the role the artist/educator/activist plays is significantly different from artists or teachers as we have experienced and sometimes assumed them to be. They are no less a vital aspect of our conception of what community art education, and indeed, any educator, can be.

F. Graeme Chalmers (1974) writes of the many roles artists can play, including "magician, teacher, mythmaker, sociotherapist, ascriber of status, propagandist, and catalyst for social change" (p. 21). He also sees the arts' place In social movements, change, and culture, noting that those intersections are not often acknowledged or valued in education. He also addresses community as an important realm for art education: "The community is the primary association about which the integration of art activities and democratic goals should be organized" (pp. 22-23). His is a tantalizing, though vague, perspective born in a time often defined by social movements and challenging the status quo. Today, what do "community" and "activism" mean in relation to art and visual culture education? What are some of characteristics of artist/educator/activists' backgrounds and identities that might shed light on the role higher education could play in their preparation and support? These questions will be explored here.

Community in Art Education

Today's art education field finds its center solidly within the school setting. Certainly, schools are central to education in the United States, and to the development of art education in this country. But as Giroux (1995) suggests, "Education cannot be reduced to the discourse of schooling" (p. 8). There is a whole range of issues that youth and communities confront which schools cannot fully address or influence, at least not within current school education. Given the complexities of contexts and social structures in which people negotiate their responsibilities, dreams, obstacles, and values, to focus almost solely on schools is to limit the field and potential for art and visual culture education. …

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