Multicultural Art Education and the Heterosexual Imagination: A Question of Culture

By Desai, Dipti | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Multicultural Art Education and the Heterosexual Imagination: A Question of Culture


Desai, Dipti, Studies in Art Education


This article discusses the place sexual diversity has within multicultural art education with a specific focus on the ways culture is discussed in multicultural arteducationdiscourses.ldraw on queer theory's contribution to issues of identity and subjectivity to address and rethink the concept of culture. I specifically analyze how the term "culture" operates in both mainstream and social reconstructive approaches in multicultural art and whether the term limits our understanding of the complex intersections of sexuality with race, ethnicity, gender, and social class.

To raise the question regarding the kind of place sexual diversity has within the multicultural enterprise in art education is not simply rhetorical, but crucial at this particular historical moment because the discourse of cultural difference has become institutionalized. Similar to many other state mandates, the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (The University of the State of New York, 1996) clearly specifies that all students 11 will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society" (p.1). This institutionalization of multiculturalism has not led to a proliferation of literature that addresses issues of sexual diversity in art education (Honeychurch, 1995). Rather, the number of published articles in art education that focus on sexuality (Check, 2000; Check & Lampela, 1999; Honeychurch, 1995; Lampela, 1995, 2000, 2001) is limited, but none-the-less very important. Moreover, the issue of racial, ethnic, and social class differences within gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered communities is still under-theorized in these articles. If we are to work within the multicultural framework to include sexual diversity in art education, the challenge is to articulate a concept of culture that best serves the complexity of diverse racial, ethnic, social class, gendered, and sexual communities in our society.1

Queer theory's (Anzaldua, 1991; Beemyn & Elisason, 1996; Butler 1990; de Lauretis, 1991; Sedgwick, 1990; Seidman, 1996; Warner, 1993) contribution to our understanding of identity has been crucial to rethinking the concept of culture. Consequently, if multicultural art education is to take seriously issues of sexual diversity, it needs to examine critically its own discourse in terms of the usefulness or limitations of its concept of culture. In this article I examine the ways culture is discussed in multicultural art education and its relation to sexual diversity. What constitutes the notion of culture? Who can claim a culture? Can some cultural groups claim more legitimacy than others? I am particularly interested in how the term "culture" operates in multiculturalism and whether it limits our understanding of the complex intersections of sexuality with race, social class, ethnicity, and gender.

As a curricular reform movement in schools, multiculturalism has led art educators to question dominant assumptions regarding art and challenged its relationship to a homogeneous "American culture." Some of the questions multiculturalism asked were: Who defines art? What art is of most worth? For whom? Whose culture? (Chalmers, 1981; Freedman, Stuhr & Weinberg, 1989; McFee, 1986; Neperud, 1995). Because multiculturalism encompasses a range of different perspectives within schools, this questioning of the discipline of art education centers on particular theories about culture, which continue to be a site of debate and conflict. The tensions, limits, and possibilities condensed in the term "multiculturalism" are articulated in various opinions about culture. These opinions range from celebrating cultural diversity to changing the unequal structure of society through cultural empowerment to those who believe that multiculturalism is a moral threat to "American" culture.

In what follows, I briefly discuss the various approaches to multicultural art education, which for analytical reasons I have categorized as mainstream and social reconstructionist discourses. …

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