Friday, September 30, 2005

Multiculturalism: Should I be Afraid of it?

As my teachers continue to remind me "Revisionist" is really shorthand for a much larger group of ideas. I am still struggling to define the term or even continue to use the term. I came about the term through reading works by Howard Zinn. What I am hoping to embrace in my teachings from this canon is one, the flux nature of revisionist literature. Revisionist works are constantly engaged in the society they come up in. There are always more voices to include and as history progresses there will be more to add from multiple perspectives. The second aspect of revisionist history I look to embrace is its influence of multiculturalism. In the past I have been afraid to really dig into this term because of its complex and multiple meanings. I do not want to have my curriculum pegged as multicultural without understanding what type of multiculturalism I am actually promoting.

However through further reading within Doing Democracy with Professor Tavin (one of my Fall 05 classes) and readings outside of that course I am finding that I should not be afraid to use the term multicultural as long as I am unpacking that term and concretizing it within my subject. In readings by Kinchloe and Steinberg as well as Takaki and Hooks, I am attempting to engage a type of course that is based in Critical Multiculturalism. Art History cannot be colorblind. I cannot teach a course where race is the only starting point. Should artists of other races be as prominent as white western males? Yes. But this cannot be the only factor. What about class, age, ability? These must also be factors in presenting an Art History that students can engage in personally and critically. I mentioned at one time that I did not want the materials in the course I teach to be "separated or generated by culture" (Ruthven, Thesis Panel Presentation) Hehe, I just quoted myself! I was asked to unpack that statement and I believe with critical multiculturalism I can now do that. One element is that in creating a more rhizomatic course content I do not want culture, meaning Chinese, Greek, etc. to be the only starting point or organizational method. But what I also mean is that only looking at works of art's culture leaves out a discussion of economics, abilities, and age. The art history class that I TA in now is a multicultural course. The professor is very careful to not just present western art. This is important but in doing so is engages in a type of "essentialist multiculturalism" defined by Kinchloe and Steinberg. This type of multiculturalism sees a set of unchanging properties that defines a category of people. (Kinchloe p19) By looking at images that "represent" a culture but only one aspect of that culture, art history misses out on other discussions. For example, this week in the survey course I TA in the lecture was on early Greek works. The images were shown and their location was described and seen. We saw the disc thrower and the spear bearer and many of the heavy hitters in art but also less seen images. The class saw that now many of the works have artists so we know the role of the artist is now more important. This still barely hints at a discussion of art from different economic classes, or from young apprentice artists versus older master artists (the early buddings of the apprentice system). In engaging students in multiple entry points I can allow them to bring in their own experiences as well as help them to avoid making large generalizations about one culture. A critical multiculturalist approach I believe would require art works that address these issues and not essentialize but explore differences in a critical way.

Works cited:
Seinberg, Kinchloe. (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Buckingham Open University Press

1 comment:

Pastor Stew said...

One of the hardest things for people to comprehend is the plight of someone who is of a differing social/economic group than themselves. It is nearly impossible to simply imagine how someone else might feel at any given time let alone someone who has a life experience that completly differs from our own. This is the continued "problem" within the field of "humanities" as I discoused earlier. The "problem" lies with the fact that you are trying to teach what the artist is trying to convey in his/her work. If the artist is conveying a part of his/her soul into the work, can one truly grasp the full complexity of this subject? I think the solution lies in the dialogue of how one can find avenues into the lives of others who differ from them. There is no way to be able to produce the exact context of each work of art without world travel. Hmmmmm. However, one must teach others how to locally engage in their comunities and try to see who they are first and then to be able to see others. I think one mistake in the pursuit of multiculteralism is the removal of one's own culture. By definition, if one knows his/her own culture they can be aware of differing cultures and hence aware of a multicultural world. The second step is to encourage the dialogue of differing cultures and to embrace the differing cultures as just that, differing.
I think it is important to undertand that we can not teach neutraly in the sense that we teach through our perspectives and understanding. Therefore the best way to teach a multicultural view of art is to embrace that view yourself, which knowing you is already there. However, it is important to understand that there are limitations in that you are not a man or hispanic, black, jew, muslim nor me. You nor I will ever understand Guernica in its entirity because neither of us know what it is like to go through that horrible civil war. I cannot fully understand it even though my grandfather fled Spain because of that war. However we can, I believe understand Picaso having the desire to express/share his pain and suffering with anyone who will listen. It is the same trend I find in theology in which the pursuit of theology is discovering who we are as people as well as discovering who God is. Perhaps multiculterial art is the same type of venture in which the goal is to discover who we are as we attempt to discover who the artist is. Maybe I am wrong but I think the "study" of art is to study the story behind the piece than to simply study the piece. Every stroke or chisle or ampiture of art conveys a piece of the soul behind the artist. We begin to form our own picture of who that person was/is and what their culture/society is like. I guess in a survey class it is important to bring in the anthropological aspects of art into the equation. Then again I feel the same way about art as I do about theology. One cannot grasp something that one does not reach out to. In other words why do we teach survey classes that do not allow the student to participate in the subject. Maybe as an assignment or project they can make their own art that they feel displays their social/economic status and share that with others who then discuss who that person is and what is their cultural. In a theology survey class I was encouraged to share my own theological views as we investigated others. When I took an art survey class I was never asked to be an artist to see what it is like. Maybe that is something to investigate.