Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Approaching the Real and the Fake: Living Life in the Fifth World

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Approaching the Real and the Fake: Living Life in the Fifth World

Article excerpt

New York City (NYC) sits where the Hudson River empties into Long Island Sound. Seven-and-a-half million people, living in myriad neighborhoods, call NYC home. Another 34 million people will visit each year (NYC & Company-the Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2000). Beginning in 1524, with the arrival of Giovanni da Verrazano, the history of this place is one of waves of immigration from all parts of the world. Probably no other city in the United States, and possibly the world, has inspired so many artists. Even those who have never lived or visited NYC imagine it through the paintings of the New York School, the photographs of Diane Arbus, the films of Woody Allen, the poetry of Hart Crane and Allen Ginsburg, the journalism of Jacob Riis, the novels of Edith Wharton, and music such as jazz, hip hop, rock, and R&B.

Upon leaving the airline terminal we see New York City's Manhattan skyline in the distance. Prominent is the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the United Nations. In the foreground is the Statue of Liberty, Grant's Tomb, and the Coney Island roller coaster.

Our view of NYC from the airline terminal is comforting in its snapshot familiarity, but disorienting because we know it is impossible to see all of these architectural landmarks simultaneously. Equally disorienting is the hot desert air and the far distant snow-covered Spring Mountains. More congruent, but still incongruent, with this landscape is the Great Pyramid, obelisk, and sphinx located less that a mile south of NYC.

Despite visual clues to the contrary, we have not arrived in NYC or Cairo. We have arrived in Las Vegas and what we are seeing are the megahotels "New York, New York" and the "Luxor." This NYC does not contain those activities so well documented by famed artists like those mentioned here. The bowels of this NYC contain casinos, wedding chapels, buffets, workers masquerading as New Yorkers, and hundreds of thousands of tourists speaking a multitude of languages. "New York, New York" concretizes within the high desert of the Great Basin the NYC of the popular imagination. This fake NYC is much like the souvenir NYC snow-globes that visitors to NYC take home and recontextualize within their curio cabinets.

As "New York, New York" demonstrates, living in place is no longer associated with common sense conceptions or experiences of reality. Similarly African terrain is re-created in California, Oregon, and Florida animal parks. People live in a reconstructed 19th-century town called "Celebration" and are governed by an entertainment-oriented corporation. Homes across America are furnished with new antiques from "Pottery Barn" and forged classical and medieval masterpieces are available via mail order through "Tuscano." Juke joints and roadhouses are widely copied and franchised. Life forms can be cloned.

Gomez-Pena (1996) encourages us to understand and appreciate that this experience of unreality is the reality of living in what he refers to as the "fifth world." He proposes that many of us now live much of the time in this world. According to Gomez-Pena, Worlds one through four consist of administrative domains, geo-political limbo lands, communities of color, ex-underdeveloped countries, and conceptual places for indigenous peoples, exiles, immigrants, and deterritorialized people. The Fifth World is "virtual space, mass media, the U.S. suburbs, art schools, malls, Disneyland, the White House & La Chingada" (p. 245). It is in this Fifth World where the false and misleading are predominate-where the real is fake and the fake is real.

Our purpose in this article is to consider the challenges of fakery within the concurrent dilemma of living in the Fifth World. Towards this end we will discuss conceptions, values, attitudes, and beliefs associated with fakes. Integral will be a discussion of the responsibilities and opportunities associated with teaching and learning about art within the Fifth World. …

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