Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art Education

By Wilson, Brent | Studies in Art Education, April 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Of Diagrams and Rhizomes: Visual Culture, Contemporary Art, and the Impossibility of Mapping the Content of Art Education


Wilson, Brent, Studies in Art Education


The Conventional Realm of Art Education

What are the boundaries of the field of art education? What should the boundaries be? If the basic character of art changes, if new definitions and theories of art arise, if the artworld transforms itself, and if the visual arts are seen as only one component within the vastly larger realm of visual culture, then should art education also change? Should the content of our school subject correspond primarily, as it has in the past, to the world of artists' studios, galleries, and art museums, or should we expand our field to include urban design, graphic design, product design, and material culture, and what of comics, cinema, and the video arts? What if it were not possible to draw a map of the content of our field? And most importantly of all, what are the pedagogical implications that would arise if it were impossible to diagram the terrain of art education?

Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) resulted in a re-mapping of art education in America. In regional professional development institutes established by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, teachers of the visual arts-with the assistance of artists, philosophers, art historians, art critics, and museum and university art educators-provided the material for a new art museum-based conception of art education (Wilson, 1997a).

The new map showed the art world and related worlds almost as geography. Wilson claims that he saw it as a marvelous multi-faceted "crystal crater" awaiting exploration (1997a, p. 62). He describes imagining institute participants standing at the bottom of a complex, four-sided, geometrically-stepped structure. From this vantage point, the art world extended upward and outward on four sides. Directly above, participants could see the realm of the creative artist, forms of visual art, individual artworks, and their attributes. Located to the left were the domains of individuals who inquire into artworks-historians, critics, aestheticians, archeologists, anthropologists, and others. To the right there were the material contexts -the studios, galleries, art centers, and museums-in which works of art are created, housed, exhibited, and preserved. Finally, the quadrant at the bottom of the diagram revealed other forms of art-music, literature, dance, drama, cinema-and the realms of the humanities and the sciences to which teachers of art were expected to connect the content of art (Wilson, 1997a).

In DBAE institute programs, according to Wilson, participants faced the challenge of exploring the four sides of the vast crater-not so much by scaling its walls as by conceptually stretching lines from one point to another until the art-world realm was crisscrossed with relationships among individual artworks, their themes, their forms, their symbols; the ways artworks are created, studied, and interpreted; and the ways artworks might be related to other works from the arts, the sciences, and the humanities. The diagram represents how DBAE complicated the content of art education. Nevertheless, for all its complexity, it fails to show much of what the contemporary field of art education might be about-and perhaps should be about. The diagram does not account for artworks which never find their way into galleries and museums-say, digital works on the Internet. And the most obvious component missing from the DBAE conceptualization of art education is the vast realm of visual culture.

Envisioning A New Art Education: Problems with Contemporary Blindness

We art educators are typically stuck in the past. In his book, Educating Artistic Vision, Elliot Eisner (1972, pp. 46-48) decried the fact that the American "Picture Study" movement of a century ago presented students with French academic paintings and artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Eisner explained that while the works of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism had entered the artworld decades earlier, they were not yet found in the literature of art education. …

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