Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Wrestling with Angels, Searching for Ghosts: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Visual Culture

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Wrestling with Angels, Searching for Ghosts: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Visual Culture

Article excerpt

A visionary, vision is scary, could start a revolution... I'm interesting, the best thing since wrestling..A nuisance, who sent, you sent for me? (Eminem, 2002) While some K-12 art educators still engage their students in exercises based on creative self-expression ideologies, many others attempt to help students gain critical acumen to themselves and their world through the study of artworks exclusively from the museum realm. Although this practice is admirable, it nonetheless ignores the way that children and youth frequently construct their ever-changing identities through popular culture (Tavin, 2001). Television programs, music videos, movies, CDs, and fashion merchandise, for example, contribute language, codes, and values that become the material milieu of everyday discursive formations (Grossberg, 1992). These formations help shape and regulate students' understanding of themselves and the world-their social relatedness. While art educators place art from the museum realm at the center of their curriculum, their students are piecing together their expectations and dreams in and through popular culture. By focusing upon certain "art" objects and authorizing what counts as legitimate culture, art educators help subjugate students' experiences with everyday life. This form of pedagogy "supports the familiar concept of culture as a hierarchy, with the upper strata as the best and most correct. The art preferences and interpretations of privileged groups reside at the top, and those of students [popular culture] at the bottom" (Cary, 1998, p.55). By inculcating students to existing cultural hierarchies, the canon of high art is maintained as unproblematic. This position disregards the fact that "canons are the condition and function of institutions, which presuppose particular ways of life" (Spivak, 1990, p. 785). By erasing the politics of 11 culture," educators reify insider practices and privileged myths and codes of classification that, at best, reproduce the status quo.

While much of art education practice remains tethered to so-called high culture, other more transdisciplinary discourses and fields of study recognize and embrace popular culture as an urgent and necessary object of study. For example, critical pedagogy problematizes the role of popular culture in relation to knowledge construction, social desire, and student agency. In addition to critical pedagogy, a new project called "visual culture" has emerged that supports the study of popular culture in order to understand and challenge the way subjectivities are constituted through images and imagining. Wrestling with Angels: Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of (Popular) Culture Although critical pedagogy cannot be reduced to a homogeneous body of discourse, it is primarily concerned with challenging individuals to investigate, understand, and intervene in the matrix of connections between schooling, ideology, power, and culture (Leistyna & Woodrum, 1999). In this sense, critical pedagogy refers to a variety of practices that problematize the epistemological and sociopolitical nature of authority and experience towards the goal of social justice. Critical pedagogy is thus rooted in a democratic ethos that attends to the practices of teaching and learning and focuses on lived experiences with the intention to disrupt, contest, and transform systems of oppression. Accordingly, critical pedagogy focuses on classrooms as well as other sites-especially the terrain of popular culture-as places of production and exchange.

Critical pedagogy recognizes that one of the most common and meaningful shared experiences for students is through popular culture. Of course, popular culture is defined in a wide variety of often-conflicting ways, depending on the area of inquiry, theoretical analysis, and political project. Each definition is dependent on the ideological position that the author holds in order to make his/her argument for or against popular culture. …

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