A Journey toward an Art Education for Wired Youth

By Duncum, Paul | Studies in Art Education, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

A Journey toward an Art Education for Wired Youth

Duncum, Paul, Studies in Art Education

The invitation to give the Studies in Art Education (Studies) Lecture had me reflecting back over what is now 29 years since the appearance of my first Studies article in 1985 In light of Bruner's (1991) claim that narrative is one of the two ways in which humans construct knowledge, I offer here something of my own narrative I have attempted to navigate through our field over the span of the past three decades to describe the field as it was and is now I do so largely by referring to my 13 articles published in Studies

In some respects my own journey merely echoes the broad transition from modernism to postmodernism, which is characteristic of our whole field On the other hand, some aspects of it are more or less my own I suspect it helps to understand what I am about to describe if I identify from the outset that my interest is not, and never has been, so much in art as in pictures While I have changed my mind on other matters-and this article is mostly about these changes-my primary interest remains with the circulation of beliefs and values though pictures as sites of social contestation

I began 30 years ago with an interest in children's unsolicited drawing-the drawing children produce in their own time of their own accord Recently, I have returned to similar work, though now in the form of videos posted on YouTube by what Mesch and Talmud (2010) called the "wired youth" of the networked, information age Both cultural forms, unsolicited drawings and unsolicited videos, draw heavily on popular culture for their models And both exemplify the central theme that runs through all my work: trying to understand both the pleasures of popular culture and the social contradictions of popular culture

In this article, I cover five topics, describing each as they first presented themselves, how I have tried to deal with them, and what I believe today In each case, I will be referring to the research literature of art education rather than to teaching practice

From Copying to Remixing

As quaint as it may now seem, back in the 1980s the value of children copying when learning to draw was still a controversial issue for art education Art education was still under the long shadow cast by the copybook regime, and, consequently, Lowenfeld's (1957) dictum "never let a child copy anything" (p 14) was widely endorsed Equally, such was the influence of high modernism that anything popular was still considered cheap and trashy, so that copying from popular imagery was doubly problematic Rudolf Arnheim's (1978) view was representative: copying from popular sources engendered a copy-cat mentality that endangered the very health of the human mind

In this context Brent Wilson's and Marjorie Wilson's (1977) studies of children's unsolicited drawing caused quite a stir The Wilsons showed that copying from popular sources was the principle way in which children were learning to draw When teachers did not teach drawing, children taught themselves by copying from comic books, caricatures, even the cartoon characters on the back of cereal packets Moreover, the Wilsons argued that the influence of such popular sites was not insidious; rather, they offered graphic and narrative models from which children recreated age-old themes like the hero's journey, explored normative social values, as well as expressing their own idiosyncratic perceptions

Following the lead of the Wilsons, I studied the environmental circumstances conducive to highly prolific, unsolicited drawing Like the Wilsons, I observed children teaching themselves primarily by copying from popular media and being enabled, thereby, to live out through fantasy their preoccupations, fears, and aspirations Children were facilitating their own development (Duncum, 1985, 1988)

In support of copying, I demonstrated that many notable artists in the past had copied as children-mostly from popular sources- and when their sources had been fine art, it was popular lures like violence, sexuality, and mayhem that were clearly the primary attraction I also showed that when closely examined, the arguments against copying were more about protecting a Rousseauian notion of creativity than with learning, and that Lowenfeld's (1957) absolutism notwithstanding, many selfidentified opponents of copying allowed some degree of it for the sake of learning

Like many others at that time (for a review see Duncum, 1988), I considered learning and creativity to be separate things; and, again following the Wilsons (1977), that children typically copied, even mechanically; then, in subsequent drawings, modified, extended, and synthesized to create something of their own (Duncum, 1988) In short, learning and creativity appeared as a two-step process, creativity being built upon lessons learned

Today, I am studying youth's unsolicited video production posted on YouTube, and I have abandoned the idea of learning and creativity as a two-step process and see them as collapsed into the one process (Duncum, 2013) Such fusion may not apply to all media but in youth's YouTube videos, I find it impossible to say where one process stops and the other starts

The now ready access to networked digital technology has changed the way youngsters express themselves Today, many youth no longer draw for a limited audience of close friends and relatives but produce videos for anyone on the net They are Mesch and Talmud's (2010) wired youth They no longer draw as much from comic books as make unsolicited videos that draw upon blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Heyman & Columbus, 2001) and The Hunger Games (Jacobson & Ross, 2012), which then inspire still other youth to produce their own, further versions And whereas unsolicited drawing appears to cease during puberty, unsolicited video production appears to continue unabated through the adolescent years (Duncum, 2013)

Equally, much remains the same In the 1970s, the Wilsons (1977) drew on structuralism to argue that nothing comes from nothing, and that all children were doing in drawing from popular sources was cultural recycling, albeit filtered through their own dispositions and predispositions to create something of their own Today, I draw on swarm theory (Miller, 2010); Jenkins's (1992) idea of "textual poachers" (p 1); Toffler's (1980) idea of "prosumers" (p 289), consumers who produce on the basis of their consumption; and the idea of a read/write culture (Burgess & Green, 2009), to argue that youth's unsolicited, mashup, remixed videos on the net continue to draw on cultural forms they borrow, modify, and extend to create new forms The videos feed off their models while offering evidence of youth's ability to create their own, often comedic, interpretations And they offer certain proof that creativity remains alive and well (Duncum, 2013) Although much of what youth produce online is by any standards talentless and inane, lacking even the most rudimentary skills and knowledge of film, some of it is not only hilariously funny but also highly inventive Drawing upon cultural forms about which they are passionate, youth produce loving homilies; and, filtered through their own transgressive and resistant culture, they also produce highly imaginative parodies (Duncum, 2013) Other art educators, notably Freedman, Heijen, Kallio-Tavin, Karati, & Papp (2013) and Marjorie Manifold (2013) have observed the same

One of the main reasons the Wilsons and I studied unsolicited drawing back in the 1980s was to learn what skills even highly prolific children struggled to master-perspective for example-and then, to teach such skills Today, one of the main reasons I take an interest in youth's online productions is to understand their limitations and how best teachers can help Many unsolicited videos would be greatly improved by a better grasp of the technicalities of time-based narrative media; for example, how to frame, choose angles-of-view, consider depth-of-field, achieve continuity, even how to focus The Do-It-Yourself aesthetic is not necessarily something to celebrate Today, I teach my undergraduate art education students about framing, angles-of-view, the effect of different lenses and lighting, the use of different camera movements, and so on; in short, I teach a basic grammar of movie making

The technologies of expression and the social relations they enable have radically changed Consequently, the skills we now need to teach to encourage expression have changed Yet, the task of enabling students to express themselves by teaching appropriate skills has not And while social media has changed the reach of youth culture many times over, creativity as reimagining pre-existing cultural forms remains as it ever was That young people themselves continue to show the way for art education to follow is equally evident

From Popular Culture to Visual Culture

No doubt one reason art educators largely ignored unsolicited drawing until the Wilsons was that children mostly drew for inspiration from popular culture sources Popular culture was so antithetical to the modernist art education enterprise that, with few exceptions, art educators simply ignored it Unlike Arnheim (1978), they did not even bother to attack it

Notable exceptions included Edmund Feldman (1982), Vincent Lanier (1982), and Laura Chapman (1978) However, Feldman (1982) addressed popular culture only to find it degenerate-his espousal of an anthropological view of culture as a whole way of life irreparably contaminated with reverence for the quasispiritual aspirations of high culture-and Lanier undermined his avowed sympathy for popular culture by celebrating only high-end examples of popular culture At that time, even the Wilsons saw popular culture largely as a hook with which to introduce students to the allegedly richer pastures of real art

By contrast, Chapman (1978) dealt with popular culture as an expression of democracy at work in a liberal pluralist society (Tavin, 2005) Liberal pluralism dominated social theory in the United States at that time, a position then widely considered to be socially progressive because it championed diversity over elitism Liberal pluralism conceived of society as comprising different social groups of inherently equal value that worked co-operatively to form a functioning, organic whole (Duncum, 1987a) At first, I was sympathetic to Chapman's (1978) pluralism Pluralism offered a way to legitimize children's use of popular sources and popular culture more generally, but I worried about the conservative, even reactionary, values and beliefs frequently espoused by popular culture Pluralism appeared utterly inadequate to address popular culture's reproduction of regressive beliefs and values It appeared to be more an ideology than a description of the way societies worked

In the face of art education's general indifference toward popular culture, combined with what I considered the political naiveté of pluralism, I looked elsewhere, outside of our field, for an intellectual framework that was at the same time prepared to address popular culture without immediately condemning it for offering superficial and false pleasures, but also to critique it for its oftentimes socially objectionable values Back in the 1980s, two quite different disciplines appeared to present themselves as candidates: Popular Culture Studies, based in the US, and Cultural Studies, then still largely based in the United Kingdom (Duncum, 1987a) Popular Culture Studies turned out, like Chapman's (1978) approach, to be undergirded by a liberal pluralism that celebrated popular culture as the US's distinctively national culture

By contrast, Cultural Studies was informed by European critical theory, in which society is conceived in terms of competing social groups vying for power Where pluralism saw groups as merely different from one another and working together to create an organic whole, critical theory understood different social groups to be in constant conflict over their pursuit of frequently incompatible agendas Popular Culture Studies conceived popular culture as a way to understand everyday American life, a way to preserve the national heritage, and, further, it considered attempts to evaluate popular culture as merely attempts to understand oneself (see Duncum, 1987a for a review) Unlike liberal pluralism's unproblematic view of society as a more or less harmonious whole way of life, critical theory understood society to be a whole way of conflict, or, better still, whole ways of conflict, whole ways of struggle Critical theory viewed popular culture as an inherently contested terrain of preferred meanings and negotiated and resistant readings (Hall, 1993) Images were considered sites of ideological skirmishes, brawls, and outright battles in an inherently hierarchical, asymmetrical society

My studies of children's unsolicited drawings were, therefore, on the one hand, informed by an appreciation of the pleasures they offered to children and the developmental functions they played; and, on the other, by how they reproduced the social contradictions of the cultural forms from which they drew (Duncum, 1989) I was especially interested in their reproduction of violent imagery, not as an unhealthy preoccupation of children but as an unhealthy preoccupation of society

However, while the 1980s saw the emergence of postmodern theory, most art education remained firmly undergirded by modernism and, consequently, by and large it remained hermetically sealed from the popular culture of students' lives The prejudice against popular culture was informed by what, in Cultural Studies, was called the high culture critique of society, and I decided to take on its long-standing assumptions (Duncum, 1990) With its origins in the late 1700s, though continuing with growing alarm thereafter, the high culture critique assumed the passivity of popular audiences; the existence of self-evident, time-honored cultural standards; and, with the spread of popular culture, selfevident social decline It was profoundly pessimistic about the future of both high culture and society as a whole

In response, and drawing upon Cultural Studies' scholar Raymond Williams (1958), I attacked the critique for being ahistorical and ignorant of its target Using arguments that are widely accepted today but were not then part of art education discourse, I argued that popular audiences actively discriminate, cultural standards vary over time, and that categories of culture are descriptions and should not be used to evaluate Drawing upon the work of sociologist Herbert Gans (1974), I argued that critics of popular culture characterized its content as trashy, simple, formulaic, and so on, only because they remained outsiders to it, whereas insiders were keenly conscious of its infinite complexity and nuance To compare the use of high culture by cultural elites to the use of popular culture by its audiences was to compare apples and oranges To regard popular culture as evidence of social decline not only disregarded historical continuities, but offered no position with which to engage the future The growing despair of the high culture critics, which had come to resemble hysteria, represented only their increasing marginalization from centers of power The social decline of which they protested was more autobiographical than serious social commentary based on historical evidence

While modernist apologists argued that only fine art could offer an especially heightened experience, I argued that it was the everyday ordinariness of popular culture that conferred its infinitely greater power to form and inform minds; and, moreover, the unprecedented proliferation of popular imagery was being driven by a powerful symbiosis of forces that were on the increase (Duncum, 1999) Emerging digital technologies were enabling the proliferation of imagery; a consumer economy was dependent for its very survival upon an ever faster turnover of evermore ephemeral goods such as digital images; and, in a post-traditional society, people were not only increasingly habituated to new and improved visual technologies, but with the collapse of traditional sources of authority-religion, family, class affiliations, unions, and the state-people increasingly turned to the media for their reference points for living In the face of these developments, to continue to focus on fine art seemed ridiculously limited

Up until the late 1990s, I employed these arguments to help legitimize the study of popular culture, the much more inclusive term visual culture not then being in common currency During the 1990s, however, the term visual culture came into circulation and, by the year 2000, was beginning to be used by art educators, notably by Kerry Freedman (2000) who, for example, advocated the study of television and video games from a sympathetic yet critically informed position

I also adopted the term It resonated with all my previous interests and theoretical framework Although the emerging field of Visual Culture Studies was an amalgam of many disciplines-a spaghetti junction of interests-it emerged as much as anything else from Cultural Studies As such, Visual Culture Studies assumed a critical theory view of society as conflictual; it leveled the analysis of popular culture and fine art by means of semiotics; and while it focused mostly on contemporary imagery, it also contextualized them historically through examples of pre-modern fine art (e g , Barnard, 1998; Walker & Chaplin, 1997) Additionally, Visual Culture Studies focused on viewers as much as on what they viewed, on what it called "visuality"; that is, on how people viewed images under different circumstances and how this implicated people in their viewing This represented an extension of my focus, which until then had been on images only as texts that referred to broad social constructions, not to individual acts of viewing

However, the emerging field of Visual Culture Studies also appeared very much more inclusive of the kinds of imagery that I considered the province of art education, including as it did scientific, medical, and surveillance imagery It seemed necessary, therefore, to clarify what visual culture could mean for art education (Duncum, 2001) To do so, I assumed that the primary purpose of art education was to explore, through production and critique, imagery concerned with the circulation of social values and beliefs, their promulgation and contestation Many images ordinarily belonged to quite different discourses, being concerned primarily with data, be it medical, scientific, or surveillance As such, they were of no concern to art education, although medical, scientific, and surveillance imagery become of interest when, as happened regularly, they were used to signify values and beliefs Images that either reproduced, resisted, or offered alternatives to dominant values and beliefs were of potential interest to art education Furthermore, and again following Brent Wilson (2000), I conceived the content of art education no longer tree-like with a core of skills and knowledge and to be taught lockstep, but as rhizomatic with numerous entry and exit points (Duncum, 2001)

From Visual Culture to Multisensory Multimodalities

It did not take long before visual culture became a catch-all term, much in the way Discipline-Based Art Education became, and some conference presentations used it in a way that, at best, were hard to reconcile with the literature of Visual Culture Studies More seriously, Paul Bolin and Doug Blandy (2003) criticized the proposal for the expansion of art education to embrace visual culture for not going far enough They argued that, since the focus remained on visual material and the optic sense, it excluded other communication modalities as well as senses other than sight: the auditory sense, and the proximal senses of taste, touch, and smell Bolin and Blandy drew on the field of Material Culture Studies with its emphasis on multiple senses and multiple modes of communication In response, I attempted to stress the importance of the visual while also acknowledging that visual imagery invariably involves multimodal forms of communication as well as requiring multiliteracies to make meaning (Duncum, 2004) In drawing on the literature of multiliteracy (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), however, the examples I initially offered were confined to the interaction between images and written text in which the meaning of images is typically anchored with words My examples were mainly limited to picture books Thus, in expanding from visual culture to a multimodal culture, I continued to rely solely on the optic sense, not on the use of different senses In a more recent article, I more thoroughly acknowledged Bolin and Blandy's (2003) corrective critique with the aid of the concept of the sensorium (Duncum, 2012) Supported by developments in both psychology (e g , Gibson, 1986) and philosophy (e g , Lakoff & Johnson, 1999), the sensorium described the senses as working in concort to form perceptual systems that operate across the whole body in an ongoing, ecological interaction with the environment and where knowledge is embodied

The sensorium has offered a theoretical framework with which to understand both a great deal of contemporary art and popular culture as multisensory and multimodal, not just visual It has offered a way to consider theme park rides and playing video games as being as much kinesthetic as visual, involving as they do weight, movement, even heat It has expanded a visual investigation of digital screens to consider how they evoke the seductive potential of the proximal senses of taste, touch, and smell as well as all the other senses that are acknowledged today

The term visual culture was and has remained problematic, for images have always been embedded with other forms of communication And yet, while acknowledging that the optic sense works in concort with other senses and that visual images are invariably anchored by other communication modalities, I have continued to use the term It has the benefit of highlighting not only the power of images, but in a networked society, their insistent insertion into everyday life

From Neo-Marxism to New Times

The field of Cultural Studies that I drew upon in the 1980s was grounded in neo-Marxism with its emphasis on class conflict; economic causation; collective, progressive action; false consciousness; and an assumption of a unified human subject It also retained the remnants of a grand narrative in which it was common to speak of "social reconstruction" as a realistic goal (Duncum, 1987b) It was best not to examine too closely what was meant by social reconstruction, but there was at least the sense that it meant more than something marginal A socially progressive agenda, often called "radical" back then, was still driven by the belief that fundamental, structural change was possible Today, it seems easier to think of the end of the world than to think of the end of consumer capitalism

My own awaking came during my first visit to the US in 1992 when, in the course of 4 days, I visited Las Vegas and the Californian theme parks of Universal Studios and Disneyland The experience left me utterly disoriented My Cultural Studies framework had worked well enough in dealing with sites like drawing and television programs, sites that were small and discrete, but it appeared desperately inadequate to deal with such overwhelmingly immersive experiences that were at the same time exciting and utterly artificial

Struggling to find an interpretive lens, I began to read such postmodernists as Baudrillard (1986) and Jameson (1991) on the aestheticization of everyday life in what Debord (1967/1995) called a society of spectacle It was a sobering and depressing experience The prospect of radical structural change seemed to have been com- pletely destroyed by a new consumer society founded on a pervasive, hedonistic narcissism It took some time to discover that postmodern theory was not confined to such wrist-slashing pessimism but also consisted of a discourse that remained faithful to a progressive social agenda, albeit one attuned to post-Fordist niche manufacturing and the emerging social realities of an image-based and profoundly fragmented, consumer society This was essentially an optimistic postmodernism that embraced postmodern conditions but was called "New Times" to distinguish it from the other, profoundly pessimistic critique of postmodern social formations (Duncum, 1997) New Times theorists like Stuart Hall (1991), Dick Hebdige (1991), and John Urry (1995) continued to believe in the possibility of progressive action, though no longer framed as part of a grand, historically inevitable narrative edging its way toward deep structural change Change would be piecemeal, a matter of many little narratives, of local battles on many fronts; in Foucault's (1970) terms, progressive action would come by finding the fissures between discourses and exploiting them

Nowadays, no one speaks of social reconstruction, and the term progressive has replaced the term radical Today, while economic and social class remains a site of serious contention, battles are also waged on behalf of many other demographics be they, for example, ethnic, racial, women, children, the aged, LGBTQ, and the physically or mentally challenged Marginalization has become mainstream Moreover, the idea of the false consciousness of the masses had been abandoned, replaced by a new respect for the rational choices that individuals make in light of their circumstances The pleasures of the marketplace are no longer denied but accepted as part of a now infinitely more complex set of social contradictions Now it is more common to speak of identity formation not in opposition to goods and services but through them, albeit a fragmented identity cobbled together as an ongoing, self-actualizing process

Popular culture is now more pervasive and more immersive than ever before, making it perhaps an even more important site with which to understand our society as a field of incongruities, of progressive, conservative, and reactionary values More than ever, popular culture is constitutive of our contradictions and fragmentations; it reproduces them, drawing upon them and reflecting them back as normative, with every belated progressive step a cause for media self-congratulations Our so-called new times has only made more urgent the task of addressing the cultural forms through which students are living their lives

With this as a motivator, I have for the past several years been engaged in a study of the lures of popular culture I have been interested in why we are attracted to images of high emotion, to sentimentality, vulgarity, eroticism, exoticism, the spectacular, the miraculous, and to horror, humor, and violence In each case, I continue to balance the pleasures and socially worthy aspects of popular culture with its frequent exploitation by reactionary interests For example, highly aroused emotions act to bind groups together but render people vulnerable to manipulation; while sentimental emotions elicit tender emotions, they can also be used to deny unpleasant realities Celebrating gross bodily functions reminds us of our common humanity, but vulgarity can also be used to denigrate others The erotic arouses pleasure but commonly objectifies, and the exotic excites an interest in others but can also stereotype The spectacular effects a sublime ego loss but can also distract from serious concerns by substituting surface for substance, and the miraculous evokes wonder but can also be used to deceive Horror thrills but can also be used to crush dissent and secure consent, while humor enlivens though it can also be used to ridicule others And violence assists mood management in an overly rationalized, sanitized society, but it also helps engender a culture of fear and anxiety that, in turn, serves the socioeconomic and sociopolitical status quo because a perva- sive sense of fear and anxiety has the effect of quelling resistance as well as allowing the state to take violent action on our behalf (Duncum, 2006)

I have attempted to deal with the pleasures and problematics of these lures through the concepts of aesthetics as sensory lure and ideology (Duncum, 2008) Recently, I have also attempted to combine these concepts-aesthetics and ideology-under the rubric of Aristotelian rhetoric Aristotle's conception of rhetoric neatly fuses propositions with what he called the eloquence of delivery (Duncum, 2014) Today, having students develop an awareness of how the seductive lures of imagery serve a myriad of power struggles continues to be, for me, the single most important challenge for art education Developing such awareness, however, is anything but easy

From Critical Pedagogy to Playful Pedagogy

Until the early 2000s, what I wrote on pedagogy for popular culture was largely informed by critical theory (e g , Duncum, 1987b, 1997) I assumed this to work in the classroom as a two-phase process, the first being an acknowledgement of students' cultural preferences; and, second, following Media Education, the contextualization of student preferences by the social, institutional, legislative, and economic framework through which their preferences were formed

Along with many other art educators who by the 2000s were employing the language of critical theory (e g , Freedman, 2000; Tavin & Anderson, 2003), I assumed a relatively unproblematic translation of critical theory into critical pedagogy Reading the experience of media (e g , Buckingham, 1998; Buckingham & Sefton-Green, 1994) and literacy educators (e g , Janks, 2002), however, convinced me that the effectiveness of critical pedagogy was deeply problematic

Early attempts by art educators to adapt the language of critical theory to the K-12 classroom were consistent with media educator David Buckingham's (2003) observation that in every country where teachers had introduced the study of popular culture in schools, it was only in the first phase that critical pedagogy was adopted The problem with critical pedagogy was twofold It was typically taught in a topdown way that assumed direct transmission, and it appeared to condemn students' own cultural preferences Media and literacy educators had noticed that students might well acquire the language of critical critique and be able to regurgitate it to please their teachers and pass exams, but that it had virtually no influence on students' out-of-school practice Even worse, critical pedagogy was often counterproductive In either explicitly or implicitly condemning students' own, deeply affective investments in popular culture, teachers only widened the gap between them and their students, effectively ensuring that students rejected earnest attempts to raise their consciousness

It was, therefore, disheartening, though not surprising, that early self-reports by US-based art teachers who embraced a visual culture approach indicated the use of a didactic, authoritarian pedagogy where, if students wanted either to please or pass, they had no choice but to be seen to adopt their teacher's own critical position (see Herrmann, 2005 for a review) Well-meaning teachers were keen to transform their student's consciousness, as well as to spin what they considered success, but questions about the actual transformative impact of their pedagogy beyond the classroom went unasked (Duncum, 2007)

Today, I follow media and literacy educators (Buckingham, 1998, Janks, 2002) in advocating a playful, dialogic pedagogy (Duncum, 2009a) A dialogic, playful pedagogy acknowledges students' pleasures by allowing students to have fun with their cultural preferences It sees students gravitating to certain popular icons for deeply affective, developmental reasons It credits students with autonomy in intuitively knowing what is best for their growth and self- maintenance For wired youth, didacticism must be leavened by dialogue and play Of course this cannot mean a free-for-all It means a dialogue between the avowed rational agenda of schools and the irrational impulses of students, the rational culture of formal educational institutions, students' popular cultural models, and students' culture of subversive transgression


Since the beginning of the 2000s, the literature of art education has indicated that some art educators, in both K-12 schools and in higher education, have investigated a wide range of popular sites-everything from tourist souvenirs to music videos, cosmetic surgery to GI Joe dolls (see Duncum, 2007, 2009b for reviews) Nevertheless, these educators appear to remain relatively few in number Today, the art education research literature appears to be mostly concerned with exploring and teaching contemporary art in terms of inquiry processes where ideas often count more than their visual construction Whether it is in dealing with gender, race, the environment, violence, or technology, art education increasingly focuses on new art For a field called art education this is hardly surprising, and many would say this is as it should be Working largely outside market conditions, contemporary fine artists are able to bring a critical perspective to social life in a way that popular culture can rarely do

For me, what remains missing with a focus primarily on fine art, whether old or new, is an engagement with a student's own, dominant cultural preferences and unsolicited means of expression It is one thing to deal with social contradictions through contemporary art, quite another to deal with them by exploring the cultural forms through which students live their lives Contemporary art can challenge the dominant culture by offering alternatives, but a primary focus on contemporary art may well do no more than the modernist curriculum in implicitly disparaging student taste If so, an art education of contemporary art may be experienced as no more than of academic interest, lacking any transformative power beyond the classroom It may be no more relevant to students' cultural development than the endless color wheels of modernist formalism

And so, I conclude this article as I began 30 years ago, asking, first, when will art education as a whole take seriously the idea that popular visual imagery offers youth rich resources from which to cobble reference points for living? …

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