Embodied Aesthetics, Evocative Art Criticism: Aesthetically Based Research

By White, Boyd | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Embodied Aesthetics, Evocative Art Criticism: Aesthetically Based Research


White, Boyd, Studies in Art Education


"I see my role as an educator to be less about establishing hierarchies in regard to artistic worth and rather more about guiding students towards personal, meaningful interactions with specific pieces."

Research is seldom mentioned to, or expected of, undergraduates. I argue, however, that what I ask of undergraduates that I teach is a form of arts-based, or more specifically, aesthetically based research - into personal and social connections to artworks and emergent interpretations (Barone & Eisner, 2006). My claim to an aesthetic base borrows in large measure from Johnson (2007): "Aesthetics becomes the study of everything that goes Into the human capacity to make and experience meaning" (p. x). This article addresses such study through the examination of critiques of art that emerge out of initial aesthetic encounters. In the process I examine the limitations and capacities of types of interpretations.

I base my study on one preservlce teacher's attempts to grapple with elusive meanings in relation to an artwork she chose to study. Her work exemplifies ways of interacting with artworks that I see frequently in my classes.

My own role here might be considered as akin to that of a curator, as one who oversees the work, categorizes it, and puts it on exhibition in the hope that the effort will engender extended dialogue. Within this article, my student's critiques constitute the exhibition, and my invitation to dialogue takes the form of a follow-up discussion where I present some of the literature related to, in particular, poetic art criticism. I conclude the article with commentary on difficulties inherent in the writing of art criticism generally.

Context

I teach an undergraduate course to preservlce teachers on Aesthetics & Art Criticism for the Classroom. The course Is an elective, and most students taking it have little or no background in art. In our Education Faculty, students must accumulate a certain number of credits chosen from methods courses. The art methods course is one of the options; but it is just that - an option. Then too, there are a few studio classes, but these too are électives. The result is that many preservice teachers graduate without experience in visual art beyond what they may have taken In elementary school. Even if they do take the methods course and perhaps one or two studio classes, their knowledge of art is slim; and many who do take the methods course do not take the studio classes. But, as non-specialists, these preservice teachers anticipate having to teach art in the elementary grades and want to develop some confidence in addressing artworks.

To encourage the development of confidence, I try to draw students' awareness to their capacities for engagement with given artworks, capacities that honor their individual ways of experiencing and making meaning. My assumption Is that once they understand their own processes of meaning making they will be in a position to foster a similar engagement with artworks in their own students. In short, with all due respect to Susan Sontag (1 967) and her argument against Interpretation,1 my goal Is to encourage interpretations and their sharing.2

As Palmer (1998) notes, education of others requires, as a starting point, self-knowledge. In relation to experiences with art, that self-knowledge can be articulated as a form of art criticism. The art criticism that I encourage results In research into the self and becomes an aid to educational interactions (Bresler, 2006; Denzin, 1989). That is, the criticism my students pursue addresses their own responses to artworks as opposed to attempts to establish a hierarchy of quality. (The latter form of criticism would necessitate far more background In art history than my students have.) The resultant criticism is interpretive rather than evaluative (Scruton, 2009).

Initially, however, student attempts at interpretive criticism are often timid forays into the genre - dutiful expository reportage, but lacking vitality and individual voice. …

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