Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Pedagogy to Expose and Critique Gendered Cultural Stereotypes Embedded in Art Interpretations

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Pedagogy to Expose and Critique Gendered Cultural Stereotypes Embedded in Art Interpretations

Article excerpt

Gender biases continue to exist in art education practice. In 1970, internationally recognized artist Judy Chicago, initiated the Feminist Art Program, an extension of the California State University of Fresno (CalArts). The first of its kind, Chicago designed the program to help women art students develop a positive sense of identity and to validate female experience as a source of artistic content (Chicago, 1996). The Feminist Art Program was part of the second wave of feminism, known as the "woman's movement," with consciousness-raising group sessions that not only questioned beliefs about women's roles, potential, and abilities, but also family, community, religion, education, and career structures and institutions that normalize male and female gender roles. Judy Chicago laments that the CalArts Feminist Program is now a ghost at the institution. Its history has been erased from the curriculum and from the students. Chicago states in the minutes of a 1999 meeting at the University of Western Kentucky, in the process of planning for the "At Home" project:

One of the reasons this is morally draining is the last time I taught twenty-five years ago when I started the first women's program, when I brought the first women's program to CalArts, it swept the entire school. It had a huge impact on the school and on all of the students, both male and female, who were around. Then the institution attempted to totally remove every shred of memory of the Feminist Art Program. So what had happened is, because the issues have not gone away in the curriculum, in fact have intensified, the young students at CalArts are themselves looking for this material because they feel gypped and they can't believe that this was there, and they lost it.

Feminist art educators in the 1970s asked: "Could the same activities women had used in life be transformed into the means of making art?" and "What is trivial and why is it considered so?" (Chicago, 1982). These second wave feminist art educators guided their students to look for contradictions between inscribed gender roles, and everyday experiences of women and men. Instead of defining lived experiences by oppositional characteristics to inscriptions, they conceptualized fluid, overlapping, indeterminate, and open systems.

Hayles's (1992) delineation of inscription as societal accepted perceptions of gender traits and roles is the focus of exposure in the feminist pedagogical strategy explored in this study. The approach presented here is informed from discussion with Judy Chicago (personal communication, November 23, 2002), who coined the terms feminist art and feminist art pedagogy 30 years ago (Schwibs, 2002). It also is informed from the study of others who practice and write about feminist pedagogy, especially bell hooks (1994, 1995) and Patti Lather (1991). Feminist pedagogies share several commonalties with critical pedagogy. Both have the goal of empowerment of all peoples to create knowledge, particularly pertaining to self-representation. Another shared goal is the pursuit of social equity through the disruption of hierarchical formations. Both approaches share an awareness that there are always imbalances of power in relationships and that there are hegemonic processes of knowledge creation, including what counts as art (Luke & Gore, 1992). While both feminist and critical pedagogies intervene in the institutional structures that sustain oppression, they differ in origins, theoretical roots, and ways of questioning authority. Feminist pedagogy and research places the social construction of gender at the center of inquiry. "Feminist research sees gender as a basic organizing principle which profoundly shapes/mediates the concrete conditions of our lives" (Lather, 1991, p. 71). Lather's methodology is applied in this study, to "maximize a dialogic, dialectically educative encounter between researcher and researched" (1991, p. 70).

From a comprehensive review of feminist pedagogical literature in feminist journals and books, Linda Forrest and Freda Rosenberg (1997) concluded that feminist pedagogy is "the fusion of feminist values into the process and methods of teaching" (p. …

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