Star Wars, Model Making, and Cultural Critique: A Case for FILM STUDY in Art Classrooms

By Briggs, Judith | Art Education, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Star Wars, Model Making, and Cultural Critique: A Case for FILM STUDY in Art Classrooms


Briggs, Judith, Art Education


Seeing film in a theater with a group of people can be considered a group gestalt, like going on a rollercoaster ride or On a road trip. We are in a darkened space. Outsized light, sound, color and action sublimely transport us to another place. Sequences provide a sense of journey and completion. Our emotions are aroused. Afterwards, we are somewhat transformed, often longing for more. Viewing film is similar to attending a religious service; it puts us into an altered state of mind, and we often forget about ourselves as we move into the story (Benjamin, 1939/1968). Images and music trigger subconscious emotions, and, if repeated enough times within the plot, they can elicit the same emotional reactions even after the film is through (Renner, 2006). Films are multimodal, often memorable, and change our way of thinking. Movie merchandising, film scores, and celebrity-endorsed products act as emotional prompts, and filmgoers buy these commodities to recapture the films experience. The films aura, then, is not in the celluloid itself, but includes the films stars and the artifacts and merchandise that go with them (Arendt, 1968). No other film has amplified this phenomenon in the United States more than the Star Wars Cycle (Schiller, 2005). Sfar Wars exemplifies the multidimensionality of the film industry, its technological developments and pervasiveness. The Sfar Wars franchise has spanned generations, impacting lives and creating its own culture: It remains the film industry's greatest commercial and cultural success (Lawrence, 2006), deeming itself worthy of study.

If as art educators we view art education as a form of cultural study (McFee, 1961), we can examine film within our classrooms to decode and analyze its artifacts for meaning (Keifer-Boyd 8c Maitland-Gholson, 2007). Inherent in this discussion is a review of the socialization and ideology that accompanies film and an analysis of changing technologies that has enabled its production (Panton, 2006). Also noteworthy is how technology has altered the way in which we view and interpret the world (Freedman, 2003). Analyzing film narratives and artifacts within the art classroom can lead to discussion of gender roles, morality, and stereotyping. Correlating classroom studio production with this analysis can explore issues of identity, values, and cultural critique. Viewing and interpreting film within the art classroom is a way to connect with our students' increasingly virtual world (Freedman, 2003). Star Wars, understood within its social and historical context, provided the perfect vehicle for such exploration within my seventh grade art classroom.

Star Wars: Historical Context

Star Wars, originally conceived for 8- to 12-year-olds by filmmaker George Lucas, is a space mythology in. which a young man on a distant planet comes of age and saves his galaxy from evil forces (Windoif, 2005). In the process he discovers his past and experiences temptation, near-death experiences, atonement, and renewal (Stone, 2005). When the first film, now called Sfar Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, was nationally released in 1977, the United States was still recovering from a defeat in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. The country felt a general sense of self-doubt about its purpose in world affairs. Star Wars and other superhero films of the 1970s expressed a longing for a better future for society and ourselves (Sibley, 2007). Acting as more than a simple escapist fantasy, Star Wars, and other memorable films such as The Wizard of Oz and The Matrix, "struck a populist chord and touched something deep inside the American psyche" (Monk, 2007, p. C3). The Star Wars cycle acted as new American mythology. It is based on Joseph Campbell's (1949) book, Hero of a Tiwusand Faces, a reiteration of psychiatrist Carl lung's concept of collective unconscious with archetypes that are met as part of a hero's quest (Stone, 2005). The youth, the swashbuckler, the damsel, and the wise old man are all part of Star Wars. …

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