Analyzing Mass Media through Video Art Education: Popular Pedagogy and Social Critique in the Work of Candice Breitz

By Spont, Marya | Studies in Art Education, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Analyzing Mass Media through Video Art Education: Popular Pedagogy and Social Critique in the Work of Candice Breitz


Spont, Marya, Studies in Art Education


Many art educators have expressed concern for the pedagogical effects of popular visual culture. McFee (1965) recognizes that much learning occurs outside the classroom, envisioning art education about visual cultural forms as an act of resistance to potentially harmful mass media. Duncum (2002, 2008, 2010) emphasizes the importance of evaluating mainstream images in relation to their social contexts and implicit ideologies. Writings from the fields of media education (Buckingham, 1993, 2003) and cultural studies (Giroux, 2002) evince a broader scholarly concern for how educators may analyze the forms, messages, and methods of mass media with students. Whether we consider Giroux's (2002) admonition that films "both educate and entertain" (p. 3), or Freedman's (2003a) concern for the fact that television is the "national curriculum" of the United States (p. 142), it seems that mass media teach and that, correspondingly, we often learn from our interactions with popular culture in the world around us.

Film, television, and music videos are notable amidst conversations about visual culture taking place in the field of art education in that these media are not strictly visual.1 Their seductive power stems, in part, from the unfolding of sound, image, and language over time - and from the relationships developing between sound, image, language, time, and the individual encountering them. More importantly, the totality and ubiquity of these forms of visual-plus culture resemble and help construct our multi-sensory experience of other aspects of the world. It is imperative for our students to be aware of ways in which these mass media can operate, and for art educators to prepare students to be able to understand, evaluate, and artistically respond to these works through a medium with appropriate characteristics. One way to do this in art education settings is by engaging students in critical conversations about video art - specifically, video art that re-frames popular visual culture like film, television, and music videos as a form of social critique.

But first, what is video art and why should we engage with it in art education environments? Particularly when paused, much video art invites us to question the often taken-for-granted "authenticity" or even "authority" of photographic images. As a time-based medium, video art is dynamic and cannot possibly be instantaneously experienced in its entirety. Whether operating in "real time" or misrepresenting the passing of time, it requires our presence and active participation in changing time and everything that changes with it. Video art commonly engages sound and has a spatial dimension, especially when in installation; as Morse (1990) notes, it can seemingly surround us. Perhaps more wholly than other art media, video art can approximate and draw attention to our multi-sensory experience of and bodily existence in the world. As such, video art may enable new ways of theorizing and understanding experience of multi-sensory artworks and - coincident with these - new ways of knowing, learning, and analyzing not accessible through solely image-based education.

It is clear that the medium of video art shares many properties with film, television, music videos, and video games, among other forms. Beyond the properties described above, these media share many methods and strategies of recording, editing, representing, and replaying, and - today - all are most frequently experienced in their digital form. Through an examination of and engagement with these commonalities, studying video art can enable understandings of how mass media structure and convey audiovisual information and frame identity and experience. In this article, I argue that the analysis of "found footage" video art - that re-appropriates film and television, in particular - offers a valuable means by which art educators can broach critical conversations about the multiple sensory methods by which these media persuade; I also argue that the video art work itself can provide a model for critically re-creating mass media. …

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