Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Technological Lifelines: Virtual Intimacies and Distance Learning

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Technological Lifelines: Virtual Intimacies and Distance Learning

Article excerpt

This article examines the transgressive influences of digital technologies such as distance learning, e-mail, and chat rooms on the lives of artists, teachers, and students. By "transgressive," we refer to bell hooks's (1994) concept of education as a practice of freedom, in that learning at its most powerful liberates. Within these terrains, we define technologies as lifelines, links of support that specific artists, teachers, and students traverse for information, dialog/chat, sanity, survival, and liberation. Technologies can serve as transgressive spaces, where learning, pleasure, passion, and excitement can subvert traditional pedagogical authoritarian models (hooks, 1994), and invite us to truly re-imagine and express ourselves. These links, that can provide validation and support, are not often allowed in traditional educational venues.

In virtual reality, communities of knowledge, pleasure, survival, and empowerment exist side-by-side (Gomez-Pefia & Sifuentes, 1996). Artists create virtual works involving safety and/or pleasure where they are able to map out/act out realities and fantasies that might not be possible at work or school (Rindler & Willis, 1997; Tomassi, Jacob & Mesquita, 1994; and Weintraub, 1996). It is as simple as creating a web page with information not usually talked about in public venues (sexual identity, sexually transmitted diseases, pain, pregnancy, abuse, addictions, spirituality, etc.) or visiting a chat room to share stories and to compare strategies. On these individual and institutional technological networks, people are inventing and reinventing themselves. We assert that these technologies can provide lifelines serving as informational support systems.

Technological Lifelines

Technological lifelines serve partly as a means for creating, living, speaking out, and surviving in ways that are not possible in day-to-day public social spaces (Gomez-Pefia & Sifuentes, 1996; Wojnarowicz, 1991). This study examines how students and artists rethink technologies as beautiful necessities (Turner, 1999) in their lives and art. Their testimonies reflect a frank intimacy, an intimate nature that may seem initially awkward, almost embarrassing, especially within the guise of art education discourse where school art lessons depersonalize/depoliticize identities and where any reference to intimate is highly inappropriate, suspect and controlled (Bigelow, Harvey, Karp, & Miller, 2001; Cahan, & Kocur, 1996; Derman-Sparks, 1989; and Perr, 1988).

Technological lifelines provided through the Internet, are not democratic constituencies. One must be able to afford these digital technologies (memberships, maintenance, and upgrades), or at least have access to them. Schools and other public venues offer limited access usually with time restrictions or filters.

Our idea of technology as a lifeline is part of a dialectic of recovery that Herman (1992) describes as establishing safety, retelling the trauma, and reconnecting with community. In establishing her theory about trauma and recovery, Herman depended on the testimonies of trauma survivors. We similarly use our contributors' testimonies to develop a standpoint (Harding, 1993; Hartsock, 1983; Langlois, 1997). Our research will traverse difficult concepts such as intimacy and eros, words not normally associated with technology or education (hooks, 1994; Lorde, 1984). bell hooks (1994) discusses eros (not just sex) as "the potential of not erasing our bodies into mind/body splits, but entering whole and not disembodied" (p. 193).

Such mind/body splits are common in public and private educational and cultural discourses (Clarke & Dawson, 1998), and these are what we hope to pull closer together. Erased and fractured lives (Check, 1996; Kritsberg, 1985; Wann, 2000; Wojnarowicz, 1991) that split too easily in public spheres can begin recovery through lifelines. For example, A. S. Neill (1960) suggests a radical approach to child rearing and teaching that explains if the emotional needs of a student are met, the rest (the intellectual) takes care of itself. …

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