Sunday, November 20, 2005

Not Hiding my Political Agenda

In preparing to teach my own class for the first time next semester and attempting to truly engage in praxis (practice informed by theory, and theory informed by practice) I am really looking at my choices and attempting to define or uncover bias and politicals.

In a reading by Elizabeth Ellsworth, Why Doesn't this Feel Empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy, she suggests that we must always question those who are producing power. In my mind a critical educator does this. But what does it mean then to be a critical educator. The definition is not static, it continues to revise itself. This is helpful for me because I believe that history and art history do the same.

But as I begin to plan out the next semester and my art appreciation class I find terms like empowering, critical, and even my own term revisionist to be troublesome. This is not meant to be a look at only language and fight for the use of one word over another. It is an exploration of why I choose the methods I choose and what it reveals about me as a teacher. In this way I am mining my choices in the classroom. I like the way Fred Wilson describes mining in his Mining the Museum Exhibit. He says mining like uncovering something and mining like making it mine.

So I begin with "revisionist" art history: Here I am rejecting traditional celebratory history as well as eurocentric historical understanding as the only way of knowing. I then place emphasis on experience of myself, my students, and the art itself. Experience as an epistemology can still be abstract. In the school I attend it is believed that experience matters and is important and yet in the thesis I will produce to earn my masters degree my past experience will consist of 5 pages or so while the review of scholarly information in my field will take up 20 at the least. This practice seems to speak louder than theory. So how will I truly act in the classroom to show that experience is of importance and not compare it to other ways of knowing???? I don't have a pretty answer but I know that the students will need to be involved in this process because I cannot make experience important on my own.

The use of hermeneutics as one way of interpreting: This is one way in which I support my claim to the importance of experience. Hermeneutics depends on experience and context. Both are present and vital in art history. I do believe that looking back on history and understanding experience will lead to a new understanding of the present and future. Here I uncover a political agenda, I want art history and appreciation to not only appeal to students but also give them a way to understand their contemporary world. Not to just enjoy or fall into categories created by technology and consumerism but to see an alternative to mainstream life. Will all of my students see this? No. Will they think about contemporary issues differently? Maybe. Will they have a new tool in their toolbox to understand the world in another way? That is the goal.

feminist theory: I believe that history is written by the victors, men. History can be understood outside of its patriarchal constructs. It can be in the romanticized words of O'Donahue, "[Art] History is an amazing presence. It is the place where vanished time gathers." Art history can exist outside the timeline and off the geopolitical map. Art history is cyclical as Arthur Efland claims. Thereforeore, it can be studied in cyclicalcal manner.

Use of contemporary and local art: I am furthering the belief that art must include not just what is in the history books but also what is around. Perhaps this a nod to visual culture studies. Education happens in community as does much art making. The community of learners needs to understand and recognize the art forms around it. At McHenry County College this includes the protrait collection in the library of some big art names as well as the red barn across the street and the 24 hour news streaming through its lounge TVs. I will not be comparinging to make value judgments of past and present art. Instead students will learn that there are artforms and artists left out of their textbook and that these art forms are significant but not outside of art historical understanding.

rhizome: One day I would like to have a website. Somethinging maybe like a Wiki that has multiple starting points. This is because I believe that any art has multiple ways of thinking about it. Again this points to the importance of experience brought in by the students and myself.

I talk in my educational statement of an art history critical pedagogy. I am trying to create one. I will not however, let the word critical go undefined. I will not let critical hide my political agenda or bias.

Works Cited

Efland, Arthur. (1990) A history of Art Education. New York. Teachers College Press

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. (Aug 1989) Why doesn't this feel empowerinWorkinging through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review. v 59 n3.

O'Donahue. Anam Cara

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Attempt

My father was a sailor and taught me at a young age that when sailing one never goes in a straight line when the winds are blowing. You have to go back and forth to make progress from one point to another. I like to think of my thesis process and specifically my attempt to write my educational philosophy as sailing. To keep moving through I have to go back and forth and never in a straight line.

With that in mind I try my philosophy again with a much different tone this time. I feel like my first attempt was to general and broad and my secong attmept to loaded with jargon and theory. This time around I have a new perspective. Not to beat the analogy I drew to death but it is like a new wind is blowing my sails and so I must move differently to make progress.

Today I got job, another one anyway, teaching two sections of art appreciation in the Spring semester at McHenry County College. This philosophy draft was written in direct response to this. What do I want the students to do? Or better, how do I want them to engage the course? How will I engage the course? What theory or methods will I employ and why? There is still more writing to do and I must in a concise way find a way to operationalize my terms but I still feel like this is the most clear attempt I have made yet.

Your feedaback is much appreciated.

As an educator I am committed to considering art history and education as they intersect with each other at the college level. Identifying the purpose of art history in education is where this art history pedagogy begins. It seems to me through my own art history courses and current research that art history taught in its traditional “art in the dark” methods does not reach student’s current educational needs or those of the institution. Instead, a pedagogy grounded in the use of student’s experiences and responsive to changing historical and interpretive methods is key to making art history meaningful and purposeful.
One aspect of this art history pedagogy is the role students adopt while studying art history. Students in this context are the producers of knowledge. Through the use of their own experiences and previous education, learners bring with them a context to understand historical events and lived experiences of artists. College students, whether continuing education or beginning freshman, have a voice within this art history pedagogy. They will look at past images and objects in conjunction with their experiences and project forward meanings and contexts that are applicable to their lives as students.
Tied directly to student roles in this art history pedagogy, is the role of the educator. Just as the learners, the educator must mine his or her past experiences to use them as a way to understand the complex subject of art history. This pedagogy requires that educators be aware of their personal bias as well as values that will influence interpretation. This is not to deny bias or values but to openly display them and see them as valid ways of knowing. Educators in this art history pedagogy are presented with the challenge of balancing art historical knowledge with personal experience to interpret works and experiences.
Methods and theories enacted in this art historical pedagogy are paramount as they enable educators and learners to take on the roles described above. Art history in the college classroom setting is seen as being in flux with multiple voices contributing to the works. Voices like that of the artist, scholar, audience, and culture combine to create a revisionist version of art history. It is an art history liberated from the constructs of a timeline and map. Images and objects are understood and studied together through a process of understanding the ideas they convey as well as issues they address. In this context art history pedagogy sees the progression of art not as a rational progression that follows the expanding human mind but cyclical in nature as history is. Ideas, issues, and contexts repeat. To remain relevant to students studying the field works are studied within these cycles where connections can be made to their current context.
This art history pedagogy through its understanding of the roles of learners and educators as well as methods of interpretation and study is meant to bring art history from a static subject studied and taught with the same methods into new and changing trends of critical pedagogy and historical inquiry.