Fixed, Fluid, and Transient: Negotiating Layers of Art Classroom Material Culture

By Woywod, Christine | Art Education, March 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Fixed, Fluid, and Transient: Negotiating Layers of Art Classroom Material Culture


Woywod, Christine, Art Education


Objects of material culture have meaning. American flags, worktables, bulletin boards, interactive whiteboards, and large white-faced clocks signify classroom while color wheels, cupboards, cabinets, sinks, drawing supplies, and that particular scentthat lingers after years of exposure to painting materials even more specifically symbolize art room. Layers of soft gray dust that cling to every surface and tool indicate the ceramics area, while shelves with old shoes, glass jars, ceramic vases, and animal skulls in this context symbolize still life. Furthermore, interior design, permanent fixtures, specialized art equipment, reproductions of well-known artworks and vocabulary posters, informational resources about artists, teachers' personal collections, piles of students'art projects, and teachers and students working among these items are observable in many high school art classrooms.

I propose that the items of material culture within art learning environments need to be examined fortheir role in communicating ideas and values about art education curriculum and pedagogy. The following sections are excerpts from a study of high school art classroom material culture. After presenting brief background information, I identify descriptors that can be used by art educators negotiating institutional histories and histories in our field that influence art classroom material culture. I suggest that relational aesthetics is an important lens that can help focus adjustments in art learning environments and address disconnects with contemporary art practices. In describing forms of art classroom material culture and posing questions related to these forms, I hope to persuade art educators to regularly critically reflect on their individual classrooms and, if necessary, revise or adjust their classroom material culture to the benefit of their art program and the students in it.

Background

Art educators have studied art learning environments in relation to learning theory (McFee & Degge, 1980), social facets of school environments (Kushins & Brisman, 2005; Wilson & Wilson, 1977), the spatial aspects of art classrooms connected to usability (Araca, 1986), behavior management (Susi, 1989), and effective learning (Broome, 2013). As art educators using a material culture approach recognize that the art world is expanding beyond the purely visual and engaging with holistic forms, including environments (Bolin & Blandy, 2003, 201 1,2012), it is timely to consider how a material culture approach can offer insights into objects within a teaching space as signifiers of teaching philosophy and identity.

Art classroom "environments" a re often inseparable from the people who interact [withjin them (Stokrocki, 1986). The objects within school-based art educators'classrooms are often the focus of their stories about history; personal memories; and decisions related to curriculum, instruction, identity as an artist, and personal preferences. Art educators may also describe their classrooms'material culture as creating pedagogical challenges, setting the tone for what happens behaviorally and cognitively in the art room, being items of art education and cultural importance, and serving as essential facets of a good education ((Woywod, 2010; Woywod and Smith-S+ra-nk, 201 3).

Layers of Art Classroom Material Culture

In an effort to understand what is communicated through art classroom material culture, I interviewed five National Board Certified high school art teachers, observed within their classroom spaces, and analyzed classroom photographs to describe and interrogate the narratives emerging from their art classrooms (Woywod, 2010). Not only did this lead me to questions that art educators can use in examining how ideas, beliefs, and expectations are manifested through the material culture of our classrooms, but it also helped me arrive at descriptors that can be used by art teachers in negotiating the art education and institutional histories that influence the material culture in their classrooms. …

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