Six Acts of Miscognition: Implications for Art Education

By Tavin, Kevin M. | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Six Acts of Miscognition: Implications for Art Education


Tavin, Kevin M., Studies in Art Education


Employing Lacanian theory as a necessary supplement to contemporary approaches in art education, this article provides a critique and response to art education discourse around "cognition." This response unfolds in six acts: (1) Unknown knowledge, (2) Unmeant knowledge, (3) Missing metaphors, (4) Stupidity, (5) Symptoms and sinthomes, and (6) Truth untold. These six acts presuppose the given symbolic order of cognitive theories in art education and attempt to disturb the fantasmatic kernel of these theories for the larger field. Together, the six acts articulate the concept that every act of cognition in art education is also an act of "miscognition."

"What is the navel of my theoretical dream of understanding?"

(Felman, 1997, p. 41)

Over the last 40 years, the field of art education in the United States has gone through a number of paradigm shifts. These include the creative self-expression movement, the disciplineoriented movement, and more recently, the visual culture movement, which (arguably) is still in process (Carpenter & Tavin, 2010; Duncum, 2006; jagodzinski, 2008b). Across all of the paradigms, a number of art educators have focused their attention on the areas of cognition and cognitive theory and have argued that making, viewing, and teaching art be understood as cognitive endeavors (Dorn, 1999; Efland, 1995, 2002; Eisner, 1976; Freedman, 2003; Parsons, 1987, 1992; Read, 1945). This work has been a somewhat necessary correction to the general attitude that art education is at best a marginalized subject area governed only by a mystical matrix of subjective feelings or, at worst, simply a frill to occupy the time between more legitimate cognitive endeavors through other areas of study. One of the most detailed accounts of the history of cognitive theories and their relationship to art education is offered by Efland in Art and Cognition (2002). As Smith (2002) points out,"Efland's purpose is to undo the damage done by such biases... to make a stronger case for the value of art education... to present the teaching of artas more demanding" (p. 33). In Art and Cognition, Efland writes extensively on the history of cognitive views of learning, especially as they developed in the second half of the 20th century. In his book and elsewhere, Efland describes "six revolutions in cognition" each representing a change in conception of the mind in the arts and sciences.

For the most part, the history of cognitive views of learning described by Efland focus on the conscious mind, the acquisition of knowable knowledge, and an attempt to understand conceptual systems of cognition that construct different ways of knowing. Efland (2002) describes early cognitive views of learning which relied on knowledge as given and absolute, and later, constructivist views of cognition where knowledge is seen in relative terms. In the end, Efland supports an integrated approach to, and an imaginative theory of, cognition in art education that still relies heavily on both "well structured knowledge and complex and illstructured knowledge" as well as "maps of knowledge and understanding" (p. 164).

Other contemporary and progressive views of cognition in art education come from Freedman (1997, 2003). In Teaching Visual Culture (2003), for example, Freedman focuses on the relationship between cognition and the arts with a particular emphasis on "form, feeling, and knowing to learn" (p. 64). Similar to Efland, Freedman stresses the correlation between emotion and learning, meaningmaking, and cognitive connections. Like Efland, Freedman still relies, however, on the conscious mind's "access to knowledge relevant on a greater range of knowledge" (p. 7). In the end, she supports an approach to "distributed cognition," similar to integrated models of cognition that takes into account situated knowledge and psychobiological conceptions of development. In my estimation, when referring to the subject of knowledge,1 even the most progressive theories of cognition, such as the constructivist approaches situated within art education discourse by Efland (2002), Freedman (1997, 2003), Parsons (1992), and Dorn (1999), tend to focus on the possibilities of how rational subjects come to know something - that is, for the most part how conscious knowledge is constructed both individually and socially. …

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