Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Hauntological Shifts: Fear and Loathing of Popular (Visual) Culture

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Hauntological Shifts: Fear and Loathing of Popular (Visual) Culture

Article excerpt

Ghosts, specters, and liminal spirits haunt the field of art education. These phantoms disembark from the past and hover in a spectral presence, whispering in the ears of their hosts and hiding in the spaces between their words. They are sometimes seen, but often vanish below the surface, among the unconscious. Some of these ghosts have made their apparitional debut through current debates concerning the legitimacy of visual culture as a paradigm shift in art education. Others have returned repeatedly through the phantasmagorical discourse that fears and loathes popular culture. Thus, the history of art education's struggle with popular (visual) culture can be understood through the trope of spectrality.

The term "popular (visual) culture" is used to signify the purpose of this article. It is a sign of the convergences and discontinuities between popular culture and visual culture, while distinguishing that visual culture is both a field of study and an inclusive register of images and objects well beyond the popular (Elkins, 2003; Tavin, 2003b). Although visual culture and popular culture are not one in the same, arguments against the shift towards visual culture in art education are often based on the same arguments against the inclusion of popular culture in art education curricula. Sometimes these hauntingly familiar arguments intermingle in an un-fixed temporality fragmented by ideological dichotomies-through hauntological shifts.

Hauntology is a term coined by Jacques Derrida (1994) that refers to a trace of voices, epistemologies, and temporalities that haunt history and awareness, where the past, present, and future come together. Derrida's notion of hauntology is a pun on ontology-the study of being-and a way of understanding ourselves and acting in the world informed by spirits, "the history of the possessed ... the impure history of phantoms" (p. 120). To engage in hauntology is in part a search for "spectropolitics ...separatfing] out the good from the bad ghosts" (p. 107).

In art education, hauntology can help expose the phantoms of the past that leave their palimpsestic trace on recent arguments against visual culture, and through the longer more "spirited" debate over the inclusion of popular imagery in art education curricula. In this article, the trope of speciality is used to expose past and present discourses that define and impose particular notions of culture on students. Often these discourses attempt to strip away the culture that belongs to students and reconstitute the boundaries of good taste and social order. These phantoms of the past and their ghostly allies of the present argue for a "form of education that presupposes moral and social regulation ... its pedagogy is profoundly reactionary as its ideology and can be summed up simply in these terms: transmission and imposition" (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. 225).

What specters have helped restrict particular forms of knowledge through a prohibition of popular culture in art education? What historical movements have informed art education discourse that frames popular culture as an embodiment of aesthetic and artistic suffering? Who engages in a cultural séance, arguing against art education's paradigmatic shift towards visual culture by raising ghostly utterances of the past? And who continues to haunt the field by fearing and loathing popular (visual) culture?

History, Hauntings, and Inheritors

The dispute over the pedagogical role of popular (visual) culture in art education in the U.S has invoked dichotomies such as low culture versus high culture (Ianni, 1968; Kaufman, 1966), populism versus elitism (Hobbs, 1985; Smith, 1981), mediocrity versus excellence (Eisner, 1978; Feldman, 1982, Smith, 1985, 1994), images of quantity versus works of quality (Clark, Day & Greer, 1987; Eisner, 1983; Nadaner, 1985), and, more recently, art study versus visual culture (Dorn, 2004; Eisner, 2001), social context versus aesthetic experiences (Dorn, 2001, 2003; Efland, 2004, Smith, 2003a; Stinespring, 2001), and visual culture studies versus art education (Kamhi, 2003; Smith, 2003b). …

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