Opening Re-Marks: Critical Antecedents of Visual Culture in Art Education

By Tavin, Kevin M. | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Opening Re-Marks: Critical Antecedents of Visual Culture in Art Education


Tavin, Kevin M., Studies in Art Education


Over 40 years ago Vincent Lanier remarked, "An examination of the literature in art education reveals several new and newly colored old ideas, which in their conception of the process and function of art education describe the direction of movement in the field" (1961, p. 5). Although Lanier was describing other movements in art education, his words help frame the recent shift toward visual culture as a new movement informed by ideas from the past, with substantial differences between older theories and practices. On the one hand, visual culture is a new idea in part because of the current inventory of images and technologies associated with global virtual culture, new relationships between humans and their experience as networked subjects, new levels of theorizing about visuality, and the growing number of sites/sights/cites1 within the field of art education (Freedman & Stuhr, 2004). On the other hand, visual culture is a newly colored old idea, in part because of previous work in art education dealing with the relationship between popular culture, new media, and social theory (for example, Chapman, 1967; Hobbs, 1977; jagodzinski, 1981; Lanier, 1966a; McFee, 1961). Thus, new and newly colored ideas about visual culture intermingle through layers of palimpsestic discourse in art education.

Palimpsestic discourse is text that is written, then partially erased, and written over again. It "both erases and retains the past [and] disrupts a sense of temporality; and the kind of history facilitated by its retentive function is at once restorative and violating" (McDonagh, 1987, p. 214). As intertextual writing, palimpsestic discourse situates text within the field of other text(s) and the past within the present, while always accruing new layers of meaning. As Vidal ( 1995) notes, palimpsestic writings are re-visions: "literally, a second seeing, an afterthought, erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text" (p. 6).

Palimpsests are also remarkable texts. They can be marked upon literally, then erased and re-marked. In this sense, the word mark "refers to both the written word and to the drawn image," and die prefix re- "positions the subject as a re-examiner, a re-flector, a re-interpreter who comments again, re-reading, re-writing, and re-drawing the frames of art and education that frame us" (jagodzinski, 1989, pp. 128-129). By uncovering the historical accretion on the palimpsest of art education, we find antecedental marks about art, culture, and everyday life that in turn open up a space for re-marks about visual culture.

Opening Re-Marks

Tom Anderson, Paul Duncum, Kerry Freedman, and Kevin Tavin have, in their own ways, attempted to interpret the antecedental re-marks of visual culture in art education.2 In 2001, Duncum investigated the development of visual culture in part by "reviewing the literature of the emerging field of visual culture" (p. 101). Two years later, Duncum (2003) addressed what he called three starting points or parent fields for the emerging paradigm: "Cultural studies, material cultural studies, and contemporary art practice" (p. 19). Anderson (2003) examined visual culture in its historical context, exploring its "conceptual roots in psychology, the social sciences, and art education" (p. 5). In her book, Teaching Visual Culture (2003), Freedman explored changing conceptions of art and technologies, and "recent changes in the field of art history and other postmodern conditions of the academy" (p. xiii).

Tavin (2003) also examined the influence of art history, as well as critical pedagogy on the emergent field of visual culture. Additionally, Tavin (2005) researched discourse within the field of art education that disparages popular culture and critiques the shift toward visual culture. He positioned this through the trope of spectropolitics, exploring the "phantom influences on the current debate regarding the legitimacy of visual culture as a new paradigm" (p. …

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