Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Case for an Art Education of Everyday Aesthetic Experiences

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

A Case for an Art Education of Everyday Aesthetic Experiences

Article excerpt

According to Featherstone (1991), the aestheticization of everyday life "refers to the rapid flow of signs and images which saturate the fabric of everyday life in contemporary society" (p. 67). A concern for everyday aesthetics arises from the societal turn towards the cultural and the simultaneous turn of the cultural towards the visual. These simultaneous shifts lie at the heart of cultural postmodernism (Harvey, 1989; Jencks, 1995). Postmodern theory draws attention to the idea that we live in a "culture society" where the once separate discourses of money making and aesthetic experience constantly implode as part of our normal daily life (Lash & Urry, 1994). Characteristic sites of everyday aesthetics include environments such as theme parks, shopping malls, city streetscapes, and tourist attractions, as well as mass media images especially on television and now on computer screens. The focus of the aesthetics of the everyday are objects, events, places, and experiences that for most of us, children and adults alike, form part of ordinary, daily life. They are neither especially refined, nor are they exotic in the sense that they belong to someone else's culture. In high-tech societies, despite unequal access, at least some sites of everyday aesthetics are part of most people's daily experience. They are mainstream.

Everyday aesthetic experience has been variously described. This partly reflects the very different sites of everyday culture and partly the diverse attitudes towards their experience. Condemned by some for being superficial and self-referential (Baudrillard, 1987; Jameson, 1991), it is applauded by others for offering both immense pleasure and rich resources for the construction of identity (Johnson, 1997; Lemke, 1998). Drawing especially on theme parks, shopping malls and television, Featherstone (1991) writes of the sense of intoxication, sensory overload, disorientation, and the intensities of experience to be had where there is a playful mixing up of codes and numerous unchained signifiers. He describes everyday aesthetic experience as "calculated hedonism" (p. 59). McRobbie (1994) compares the "single, richly coded image" to one's experience of a busy everyday life where "a slow, even languid" examination is "out of tempo with the times" (p. 13). The aesthetics of the everyday "deflect attention away from the singular scrutinizing gaze ... and asks that this be replaced by a multiplicity of fragmented, and frequently interrupted "looks" (p. 13). Everyday aesthetics involves immediacy, participation, and desire (Lash & Urry, 1994). Where fine art aesthetics stresses the cultivation of distance, everyday aesthetics emphasizes involvement. Where the former delays gratification and cultivates refinement, immersion in dreamlike states and a reveling in immediate pleasure characterize the latter.

The purpose of this paper is to make a case for incorporating everyday cultural sites into art education. The case is twofold. First, I argue that ordinary, everyday aesthetic experiences are more significant than experiences of high art in forming and informing one's identity and view of the world beyond personal experience. Secondly, I argue that there exists a powerful synergy of technological, economic, and social dynamics driving the proliferation of everyday aesthetic experiences and, moreover, the significance of this synergy to cultural life is set to increase. I make the assumption that art education cannot ignore these driving dynamics because they are delivering a revolution in cultural experience that sidelines, even further than today, the role of the fine arts in the lives of our students. They are inaugurating, even now, conditions that make marginal an art education that takes its reason for being the visual arts as defined by the artworld.

The Ascendancy of the Everyday over the Special

Fine art is said to focus feelings, beliefs and values, in a particularly intense, concise and multilayered way (Dobbs, 1998). …

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