Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

From Procedures, to Principles, and Beyond: Implementing Critical Inquiry in the Classroom

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

From Procedures, to Principles, and Beyond: Implementing Critical Inquiry in the Classroom

Article excerpt

Art criticism was originally introduced into the literature of art education as a mode of inquiry for helping students understand and appreciate works of art (Munro, 1956; Barkan, 1962). Yet, in prescribing instructional models for schools, educators have usually conceptualized criticism as a procedure for students to follow. The model of criticism proposed by Feldman (1967, 1970), one of the earliest, is typical of the kinds of prescriptions encountered in the literature. In Feldman's model criticism is broken down into a number of discrete steps or stages through which students proceed in a linear fashion. Students criticize by first describing, then analyzing, interpreting, and finally evaluating works of art.

From the outset, thoughtful educators have found difficulties with the Feldman model and many alternatives have been proposed. Indeed, the fashioning of different procedures for criticizing art has become something of a minor industry. Proposals for alternative procedures have appeared, and continue to appear, in this and other journals with some regularity. Recognizing the limitations of existing models, educators have also suggested using combinations of procedures. Chapman's intelligent methods text for elementary school art is perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, to adopt this strategy. In her book, prospective teachers are presented with "inductive," "deductive," "empathic," and "interactive," procedures as alternatives for criticizing works of art (Chapman, 1978).

While a sizable literature has developed as educators continue to uncover deficiencies in existing models of criticism and argue for the merits of their own proposals, there is one deficiency that they have consistently overlooked: namely, that there are fundamental differences between any procedure, no matter how carefully crafted, and the inquiry process itself. In a perceptive article, Efland (1990) has pinpointed where educators have gone wrong. In appealing to the philosophical literature on art criticism for guidance, they have formulated their models of criticism, not on what critics actually do, but rather on philosophical reconstructions of the findings of critical inquiry.

It is worth dwelling on this point in some detail to clarify why educators have made this mistake and how the procedures they have formulated misconceive the inquiry process. The misreading of the philosophical literature was not simply the result of tyros blundering into an area in which they had little expertise, but was also the result of underlying ambiguities in the philosophical literature (Geahigan, 1996). Philosophers such as Beardsley (1958), Osborne (1955), Stolnitz (1960), and Weitz (1964), the likely sources that educators consulted, explicitly presented their studies as logical reconstructions and much of their discussion was given over to an explication of the language and arguments used by critics. But they frequently lapsed from their stated research agenda to write about different ways of seeing and thinking. In the philosophical studies educators consulted, words such as "description," "analysis," "interpretation," and "evaluation," were used not only to designate different kinds of speech acts (and the corresponding product of such acts, critical statements), but various perceptual and cognitive processes as well. Educators who relied upon such accounts were unable to separate these different strands of thought.

The net result has been a conflation of different ideas. The steps or stages of most proposed models of criticism-and not just Feldman'snot only designate various ways of talking or writing about works of art, but various ways of perceiving or thinking about them as well. This muddle has undoubtedly contributed to the current confused identification of critical inquiry with procedures for talking or writing about works of art. When one is able to read proposed models of criticism as both models of perception and cognition and models of critical discourse, it is not surprising that teachers and practitioners have accepted them as representations of the inquiry process. …

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