Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Effects of Photography-Based Public Art on the School Environment

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Effects of Photography-Based Public Art on the School Environment

Article excerpt

Public art addresses historical change through representation, metaphor, or by encouraging direct action among viewers. Although traditionally associated with monumental outdoor art, percent-forart funding increasingly supports siteintegrated public art in indoor settings such as hospitals, government buildings, and educational facilities (Cohen, 2009; Heartney, 2005; Hutzel, Bastos & Cosier, 2012). The latter's pedagogical missions dictate which works are selected and frame how they are interpreted. Original artwork was first commissioned in schools, as a form of decoration and as a teaching aide, at the end of the 19th century.1

The role of such work, which traditionally included relief sculptures, wall murals, and stained glass, has evolved over time in tandem with changes to schools' architecture. More recently, artists have harnessed new digital technologies to engrave or print on durable surfaces, incorporating custom, industrialgrade, display cases,2 that confront viewers with large-scale indexical reproductions (Dubois, 1983; Van Lier, 1983) of primary source evidence of the past.

Photographic installations are physically present, original objects that consist of images otherwise experienced as multiples. Like auratic artworks (Benjamin, 1968) before the advent of mechanical-and now digital -reproduction, they suggest both uniqueness and authenticity. At once departing from and dependent on documentary qualities found in individual negatives, they mix fact and fiction, challenging conventional depictions of social order. Whereas some artists have used text-based installations3 to likewise resist authority in the learning environment, interactive media artists more readily create spectacular, playful interventions that do not critique normative values.4 Photography installations subvert familiar modes of display to address issues of authorship, originality, and intention within schools. They do so at a time when image-making has become an automatic impulse, and image assessment has focused on individual appearances rather than narrative content.

Artworks that critically re-examine documentary representations (Lind & Steyerl, 2008) invite viewers to position themselves as historical subjects in relation to their present situation. Contemporary artists have used photography for temporary public interventions (JR, Mike Hewson); projections (Krzysztof Wodiczko); permanent sculptures (Jaume Plensa); and permanent indoor installations (Orlan, Alfredo Jaar) that juxtapose physical locations with social/conceptual sites (Meyer, 2000). Rather than reinforcing the status quo by imposing an authoritative narrative of history (Finkelpearl, 2000), they create spaces for imaginative critique of political and economic inequalities.

Art in schools exists along a spectrum of binary oppositions: it can be decorative or morally uplifting, goal-oriented or exploratory, personal as well as social. In public schools, traditional loci of both moral authority (Durkheim, 1925) and social stratification (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990), the singular character of the learning environment, have long reinforced teacher-rather than studentcentered learning models (Bossert, 1977; Jackson, 1968). Historically, meaning making has largely been a top-down guided activity5 rather than an open-ended exploration. Traditionally, public art addressed this imperative through allegorical depictions of civic values such as diversity, growth, and equality that supported a harmonious learning environment. Commissioned artwork has been expected to build community (Kwon, 2002) without faulting those currently in power for supporting and enacting unjust policies. Schools often avoid politically charged art (Jeffers & Farth, 1996; Ulbricht, 2003) that compels learners to analyze relationships between their institutions and larger social issues, alienating socially engaged contemporary artists that distrust institutional bureaucracies. …

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