Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Studies of Mass Arts

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Studies of Mass Arts

Article excerpt

Topics of interest in a number of disciplines and newly labeled "studies of visual culture" merit the attention of art educators. I have reservations about the phrase visual culture, because it can limit discussion of imagery associated with poetic and rhetorical language; multi-sensory experience; the materiality of three-dimensional artifacts as well as environments we inhabit, travel to, or through. If studies of visual culture are envisioned as a new discipline (Evans & Hall, 1999; Duncum, 2001), it seems likely that territorial claims will soon be made for studies of spatial culture, gustatory culture, auditory culture, tactile culture, kinesthetic culture, and so on. This should serve as a gentle reminder to be wary of the phrase visual culture even as we may consider how ideas circulating under this banner might inform our work.

Although I am fascinated by many topics in the literature on visual culture,1 I will here focus on the "mass arts" spawned by mass production and mass marketing for profit, especially in the here-and-now. The educational significance of the mass arts arises from their ubiquitous presence in our lives, and the central role of artistry and aesthetic persuasion in quests for profit from them. In my judgment, the forms of image-making and impression management within the mass arts are too rarely examined in ways that highlight their overall social, civic, and educational significance.

In this article, I will offer a tentative definition of the mass arts, followed by some expansion of its implications through ideas from many sources, including a selective review of literature. This over-view is intended to provide some grounds for asserting the educational importance of the mass arts and to recommend topics that should be more prominent in arts education theory and practice.

I do not wish to position studies of the mass arts (or visual culture) as the singular focus of our work. Instead, studies of the mass arts should be integral to our longstanding traditions of promoting active engagement in the arts and forwarding a broad understanding of them. Insofar as the themes here resonate as worthy of attention in schools, they also argue for a broader concept of artistry informed by the humanities (social studies) and by cross-disciplinary discussions among teachers in the literary, visual, and performing arts.

The Mass Arts: A Tentative Definition

I begin with the proposition that artistic expression in American life is dominated by mass-circulated images, mass-produced artifacts, events, and environments that flow from a consumer-based economy and quest for profit. These conditions allow for certain efficiencies in delivering cultural fare to the maximum number of people at multiple points of reception. They also favor the creation of forms of artistry that ordinarily require little formal training for their appreciation and use.

I will call images, artifacts, environments, and events created, produced, and distributed under these conditions the mass arts. As occasions for perceptual activity, the mass arts can be regarded as art insofar as they are descendants from more traditional art forms and intentionally contrived with an interest in merging form and content aesthetically (Carroll, 1998). By aesthetically contrived, I mean that techniques and devices common in the visual, literary, and performing arts are deliberately used to do what the arts do well: a) attract attention, sustain and direct it, even distract it; b) organize ideas, associations, and emotions from diverse sources; c) evoke responses through imagery that tend to suppress deliberative reasoning associated with facts, principles, and propositional logic; and d) narrow the meanings perceivers are likely to ascribe to their experience (Chapman, 2000a).

The word imagery, as I will use it, does not rest on immediate and active sight alone. Almost all images held in mind arise from multi-sensory experiences as we take action in the world and interact with others. …

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