Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Personal and Cultural Narrative as Inspiration: A Painting and Pedagogical Collaboration with Mayan Artists

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Personal and Cultural Narrative as Inspiration: A Painting and Pedagogical Collaboration with Mayan Artists

Article excerpt

A Problem of Perspective

I would use the term disengaged learning to describe my art experience in high school and later in art school. I felt my personal and cultural history, gender, interests, and passions were not reflected in the curricula. As a female artist, student, and teacher, I was seeking alternative ways to teach and study art. This led to the exploration of indigenous artistic living traditions as a means for understanding a more holistic process for teaching art.

A living artistic tradition integrates respective philosophy, aesthetics, and cultural traditions. This process involves the making of artworks that actively reflect the historical environment and directly influence the community that, in turn, is responsible for molding society (Pio, 1997). Art is derived from the traditional values and beliefs of the culture.

Upon encountering two Mayan movements where painting was taught out of artists' studios in a situated learning context, I wondered if any of the practices informing such pedagogical models, including their curricular contents, might serve as means to broaden art teaching traditions in higher education in the United States. As the teaching and learning of art is individually directed, yet culturally shaped, I believed that thete might be merit in seeking instruction in art in these two Mayan indigenous cultures where conversations and collaborations among artists might take place.

Ecker (1998) argued that "cross cultural aesthetic inquiry requires participation in artistic activity of another culture for the purpose of understanding it on its own terms" (p. 7). I was hoping that this investigation into the ideas and structures that inform Mayan painting and pedagogical practices might broaden Eurocentric art pedagogy and curricula. In this study, therefore, I posed the general question: How is artistic knowledge transferred from a Mayan Indigenous artist to a nonMayan artist? Further, what are the implications for the integration of Mayan ways of knowing into a studio art teaching context in higher education in the U.S.?

Several art educators have discussed the role of the art educator as ethnographer and issues of creating a truly multicultural education through immersion in the cultures that they later seek to incorporate into curricula (Ballengee-Morris, 2002; Bresler, 1994; Desai, 2000; Desai, 2002; Garber, 1995). Yet, in the fields of art education and ethnography, the researcher too often maintains the "gaze" of outsider, examining "the other" (Behar, 1996; DiLeonardo, 1998; Lassiter, 1998; Rosaldo, 1993). It seems that artists are in a unique position to communicate crossculturally, but have they taken advantage of this as microethnographic researchers?

Mentorship as collaborative ethnography attempts to respond to issues that have traditionally created false separations between ethnographers and "informants" prior to the inception of postcolonial approaches to ethnography (Lassiter, 1998; Lawless, 1992; Lawless, 1993; B. Tedlock, 1991; Tedlock & Mannheim, 1995; Titon, 1988). Mentorship as collaborative ethnography has as its core two assumptions: first, artistic language can transcend certain cultural boundaries; second, by forming an artistic mentorship, the teacher-student relationship creates a kind of "insidership" that is otherwise not possible to experience.

In this article, I argue that apprenticeship/mentorship in an indigenous context different from one's own is a method of inquiry, a conscious way to critically examine underlying theoretical principles and methodologies of ethnography. Furthermore, I propose that entry into a learning environment through the practice of art, which comprises a mentoring relationship between teacher and student, can foster a more complete understanding of another culture. Entry through transcultural art mentoring enables the student to retain information more easily because teaching is both individualized and experiential. …

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