From Translation to the Transnational: Reading Art for the 21st-Century Classroom

By Li, Yujie Julia | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

From Translation to the Transnational: Reading Art for the 21st-Century Classroom


Li, Yujie Julia, Studies in Art Education


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Wi 'orks of art and (art) educational practice have long had an intricate relationship. Traditionally, artworks have been used as objects or media to teach art appreciation or history. However, this has been changing. New ways of understanding art educational practice have emerged. For example, some art educators have developed the notion of arts-/studio-based inquiry and arts as research (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2008; Cole, Neilsen, Knowles, & Luciani, 2004; Eisner & Barone, 1997; Irwin & de Cosson, 2004; Sullivan, 2004, 2005, 2007). At the same time, our sense of art in relation to other aspects of cu ltu re has been in flux. Many artists have made art with a global consciousness and have participated in mushrooming international biennales and triennials. In an age of g legalization, art educators have inquired about the nature and characteristics of this new type of art and are integrating artworks of this kind into their educational practice. Consider Marshall (2009), who analyzed the strategies of contemporary artists for making art that references multiple cultures in a globalized world; Garoian and Gaudelius (2009), who looked into specific artworks to examine how transnational art and visual culture form counter-narratives against globalization; and Jones (2009), who raised the notion of border art pedagogy in the contemporary context of transnationalism.

In thisarticle, I take advantage of my bilingual, multicultural, and transnational background to introduce to our field a transnational artist whose major works heavily rely on language. By analyzing and (reinterpreting his art, I intend to draw educational and pedagogical insights for a curriculum that aims to develop students not only into future artists and art teachers, but also individuals who have a global perspective and thus, are capable to make sound judgments as global citizens.

The focus of my analysis is the art of the Chinese American artist, Wenda Gu, especially his installation, the forest of stone steles: re-translation and re-writing of 'tang poetry. The questions I ask are: (1) what interpretations can be offered for Wenda Gu's forest of stone steles project? and (2) are there pedagogical or educational implications that can be drawn from this piece of transnational art that may help today's art educators teach to and develop transnational students, encouraging a transnational stance in the 21stcentury world?

The Method: Dialogic Inquiries

To seek answers to these questions, I have employed a blended methodology. On the one hand, I have offered interpretation and criticism of artworks; on the other, I interviewed the artist, read about his art, and underwent reflection and self-reflection. As Eco (1992) pointed out, a piece of literary or artistic work, once created, somehow has gained a certain degree of autonomy and has its own tntentio opens (p. 25) - that is, its own intention. As an intentional viewer and interpreter, I have engaged the artwork in a dialogue of sorts with a view to articulating a negotiated meaning to a targeted authence.

In a dialogic encounter, neither participant is self-sufficient. As Bakhtin (1981, 1990) stated, a literary work is not complete in itself; it was made and also has to be understood in a context. According to Ba khtin,adialogicwork of literature - and by extension a work of art - has both informed and been informed by previous works. Further, an artistic or literary work is not only in a dialogic relationship with other works but is also related to its many contexts. Such contexts include its making and its viewing as well as the individual relationships with its viewer/reader.

When theorizing contemporary art, Bourriaud (2002) suggested that reading and viewing art also creates and results from relations. He further states that art has always been relational in varying degrees - that is, "a factor of sociability and a founding principle of dialogue" (p. …

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