Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Social Perspectives on Art Education in the U.S.: Teaching Visual Culture in a Democracy

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Social Perspectives on Art Education in the U.S.: Teaching Visual Culture in a Democracy

Article excerpt

This article presents social perspectives on art education. It is not a critique, but neither can it be neutral. Rather, it is a sympathetic description of what I believe to be some of the important conditions, characteristics, and purposes of these perspectives in and of the field.

It is difficult to describe these perspectives because there are so many of them. They include, but are not limited to, a concern with issues and interactions of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, special ability, and other body identities and cultures; socioeconomics, political conditions, communities, and natural and humanly-made environments, including virtual environments. Their common ground is based on the conviction that the visual arts are vital to all societies and that representations of art in education should seek to reveal its complexity, diversity, and integral cultural location. These perspectives represent the lived meanings of art and arts communities through, for example, change in curriculum, collaborative instructional methods, and community action. Social reconstructionist versions of these perspectives are founded on the belief that art education can make a difference in student understanding of and action in the world and that, that difference can enrich and improve social life.

I do not claim to speak for the many art educators who approach art and art education as a social endeavor and I cannot do justice to each of these perspectives. It is not my intention to devise categories of perspectives or delineate distinctions between them. Rather, I am concerned with the task of understanding what they have in common and why art educators maintain social perspectives. So, I will simply try to describe some general characteristics and explain why I believe that social perspectives of art education are just good art education. This article has three parts. First, I will summarize what I believe to be influential theoretical foundations of these perspectives. Second, I will briefly discuss related historical and recent developments in the. field. Third, I will reflect on some of the recent changes in visual culture that led me to my social perspective. Democratic Art Education: Some Theoretical Foundations The visual arts help to make life worth living. They enable us to create,

force us to think, provide us with new possibilities and allow us to revisit old ideas. It is artistic Freedom-that is the freedom to create and have access to those mind-expanding ideas and objects-that perhaps best illustrates democratic thought. At a time when democracy is being challenged by even our own policy-makers, the protection of art and an education in social institutions is increasingly important.

One of the most quoted statements ever written by an American is the following:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life> Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The beginning of the second paragraph of the United States Constitution (with my small adaptation) states the reason why the visual arts and art education are necessary in a democracy. If we view art and art education as aids to making life meaningful, as reflections of liberty, and as means through which people might pursue constructive forms of happiness, an education is a sociopolitical act.

The social perspectives I discuss are, at root, forms of democratic education-that is, they concern the ways in which teaching art can promote democratic thought and action. At least four general foundations underpin these perspectives: a) a broadening of the domain of art education, b) a shift in the emphasis of teaching from formalistic concerns to the construction of meaning, c) the importance of social contexts to that construction, and d) a new definition of and emphasis on critique.

Visual Culture: Broadening the Domain The central theme of postmodern debates, especially in the form exemplified by the work of Frederic Jameson (1984; 1991), has been that a shift in the cultural sphere-above all, the emergence of an all-encompassing visual culture-has fundamentally transformed the nature of political discourse, social interaction, and cultural identity. …

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