Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Application of an Expert Model of Interpretive Skill to a Multicultural-Multimedia System on Ethnic Dance

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Application of an Expert Model of Interpretive Skill to a Multicultural-Multimedia System on Ethnic Dance

Article excerpt

Any activity or object whose meaning is not immediately evident can capture attention and inspire a need for explanation in the quest for understanding. This possibility certainly inheres in art in all of its manifestations. The folk dance of a people strange and mysterious to us, created 450 years ago, stimulates this need to understand. And does not the creation of meaning, to ponder to oneself or to communicate to others what the art signifies, complete the process of encountering the art?

We begin our research with the conviction that the knowledge and skills that support the interpretive act are essential to the process of becoming an educated person. We further assume that interpretive skill is not hopelessly mysterious, but can be analyzed, taught, and eventually learned. Our method of testing these assumptions was to develop an approach to multimedia learning that focused on the development of proficiency in the interpretation of dance as a cultural artifact. Our model of interpretation skills was developed with reference to Los Concheros, a ceremonial Mexican Indian folk dance performed by predominantly male Concheros Societies. Los Concheros has its roots in post-conquest Mexico and has remained more or less intact for some 450 years. It is generally understood to be a ceremonial dance that sustains the Concheros community by embodying elements of their history and values.

To casual observers, the richness of meanings in Los Concheros is not immediately apparent. To understand and appreciate Los Concheros requires, to some degree, an interpretation of the dance. In our usage, interpretation is the process of finding meaning in an art object. It is not an all-or-nothing affair, but rather "a series of insights that continue to complement and modify each other, and have no obvious end" (Parsons, 1987, p. 83). How are those insights gained? To produce complex and warranted interpretations requires placing the artifact in a cultural historical perspective, that is, viewing examples from the perspectives of their creators and intended audiences. The interpretive process, therefore, must be aided by sources of information that lie outside the art object itself. Walker (1996, p. 80) has expressed this powerful idea by citing art's inherent intertextuality, "which specifically connects the artwork to the social and cultural text."

The development of complex interpretations therefore requires embedding interpretations in a narrative and historical argument. Narrative is not limited in utility to the interpretation of art objects; rather, narrative is central to all human experience (Bruner, 1986; Sarbin, 1986). As Walsh (1993) asserts, "If art does not tell a story of some kind to us, if it does not connect to our human sense-whether it uses words or not is unimportant-then it remains inaccessible" (page 20). But if intertextual and narrative interpretation is to occur, these resources must be in the hands of a person who is sufficiently skilled and disposed to frame and test hypotheses concerning the building of meaning; knowledge and skill must potentiate.

Elements of Interpretive Skill

According to our model, the knowledge of the culture and history of the people(s) who created or were represented in a dance is indispensable to discovering the range of meanings communicated by the work. But the interpreter also needs certain procedural knowledge, especially the dispositions of mind to frame hypotheses about meanings and to test such hypotheses against evidence. The interpretation of art is therefore not merely a function of the art object itself, but equally of what the skilled interpreter brings to the situation (Koroscik, Osman, & DeSouza, 1988). The competencies of the skilled interpreter include both declarative and procedural knowledge.

The conceptual separation of declarative and procedural knowledge is said to derive from Ryle's (1949) classic distinction between "knowing that" and "knowing how" (Johnson-Laird, 1983). …

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