Personal and Cultural Narrative as Inspiration: A Painting and Pedagogical Collaboration with Mayan Artists

By Staikidis, Kryssi | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Personal and Cultural Narrative as Inspiration: A Painting and Pedagogical Collaboration with Mayan Artists


Staikidis, Kryssi, Studies in Art Education


This mentorship project between three artist-teachers from different cultures reveals insights into the transmission of cross-cultural painting pedagogy. A collaborative ethnographic study is described that explores my perspective as a North-American painter participating in a mentorship learning experience with Mayan Tz'utuhil painter Pedro Rafael González Chavajay and Mayan Kaqchikel painter Paula Nicho Cuméz. The study examined the philosophy and methods underlying artistic studio practice and pedagogy and took place in a nonformal learning context in which artwork was made in the home and surrounding community. The objective of the project was to develop insights into Mayan pedagogy and delineate implications for transformative curricula for the art experience of preservice art educators in the United States. Entry through mentorship is presented as an investigative strategy that can contribute to the larger body of cross-cultural research in art education in general and studio-led art learning in particular.

A Problem of Perspective

I would use the term disengaged learning to describe my art experience in high school and later in art school. I felt my personal and cultural history, gender, interests, and passions were not reflected in the curricula. As a female artist, student, and teacher, I was seeking alternative ways to teach and study art. This led to the exploration of indigenous artistic living traditions as a means for understanding a more holistic process for teaching art.

A living artistic tradition integrates respective philosophy, aesthetics, and cultural traditions. This process involves the making of artworks that actively reflect the historical environment and directly influence the community that, in turn, is responsible for molding society (Pio, 1997). Art is derived from the traditional values and beliefs of the culture.

Upon encountering two Mayan movements where painting was taught out of artists' studios in a situated learning context, I wondered if any of the practices informing such pedagogical models, including their curricular contents, might serve as means to broaden art teaching traditions in higher education in the United States. As the teaching and learning of art is individually directed, yet culturally shaped, I believed that thete might be merit in seeking instruction in art in these two Mayan indigenous cultures where conversations and collaborations among artists might take place.

Ecker (1998) argued that "cross cultural aesthetic inquiry requires participation in artistic activity of another culture for the purpose of understanding it on its own terms" (p. 7). I was hoping that this investigation into the ideas and structures that inform Mayan painting and pedagogical practices might broaden Eurocentric art pedagogy and curricula. In this study, therefore, I posed the general question: How is artistic knowledge transferred from a Mayan Indigenous artist to a nonMayan artist? Further, what are the implications for the integration of Mayan ways of knowing into a studio art teaching context in higher education in the U.S.?

Several art educators have discussed the role of the art educator as ethnographer and issues of creating a truly multicultural education through immersion in the cultures that they later seek to incorporate into curricula (Ballengee-Morris, 2002; Bresler, 1994; Desai, 2000; Desai, 2002; Garber, 1995). Yet, in the fields of art education and ethnography, the researcher too often maintains the "gaze" of outsider, examining "the other" (Behar, 1996; DiLeonardo, 1998; Lassiter, 1998; Rosaldo, 1993). It seems that artists are in a unique position to communicate crossculturally, but have they taken advantage of this as microethnographic researchers?

Mentorship as collaborative ethnography attempts to respond to issues that have traditionally created false separations between ethnographers and "informants" prior to the inception of postcolonial approaches to ethnography (Lassiter, 1998; Lawless, 1992; Lawless, 1993; B. …

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