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From Art Education to artEducation: making the education revolution into the visual arts teaching arena

María Acaso / 2014

“At one very unfortunate moment in history some philistine or group of philistines in a position of power decided to isolate art from education and relegate it from its position in the metadiscipline of knowledge to the discipline and craft where it is today.”1

Luis Camnitzer

The door of the bus opens and a group of twenty children and their teacher get off. They cross the big courtyard and approach Ship 16, which is located in the back to the left. The teacher knocks on the door and a short and very blonde woman wearing a blue, almost black, coat invites them in. The children feel the urge to run because of the magnitude of the clear space, merely splashed by the residents’ work cubicles, and, when they reach the end, they sit down forming a circle around the woman in the blue coat, because they have already recognized her: Essi Kaussalainen, the Finnish artist who had come to the school a week before and had asked them to work with her on Interior Landscape.
On the second day, to go back to our story about Hall 16, after explaining the rules of the game (do not touch the work of other residents with whom we shared space and do not harm one another), Essi asked the children to sign their artists’ contracts. After this, she disappears for a moment and comes back with a large container filled with flowers that she hands out to each participant. They each choose the flowers they like the most and connect them with themselves, transforming hereby the use of the plants as well as of their bodies and extending the latter in a vegetal form. By using the flowers, they shape part of their new corporal landscape. After this community collective action, Essi asks the children to sit down in a circle and to reflect on what had happened and what knowledge the community had created. Here, every participant explains the -elements that conform their Interior Landscape. After the activity, the children start running again, go through the door, cross the big courtyard and get on the bus empowered as cultural producers and with many questions with no answers.
The sequence that I just described: is it art or education? Is it Art Education or is it precisely the direction we have to go, an experience full of knowledge, process and creativity, an amazing and empowering step, a pleasant experience that connects us to reality, gives us knowledge and helps us critically reflect on what is happening in the world from the visual arts perspective?

Spending the imaginary: from Art Education to -artEducation
I have a very clear opinion on what has to come next in art education, and that is exactly what I am going to write about in this text. But I want to work from a point of possibilities, from the fact that in this moment there are professionals working towards change. I do not want to work only on the NOs, on what Art Education is NOT2, I want to work on the YES and empower teachers of visual arts to carry out the paradigm shift that visual arts education needs.
Outside our field of work, the paradigm shift, the -educational revolution or how I call it, the #rEDUvolution, is already a common place. As of now, there are many voices, led by Ken Robinson, claiming for the change and it is absolutely evident that the change in methods in the world we live in is urgent and necessary.3 But, what happens in our field, in the didactics of visual arts? Art is a process inherent to the human being; therefore, this can be said about its teaching too. Throughout the history of mankind, new generations have been taught the forms and theories of artistic creation, mainly in oral form, and in each time and space adapted to their own contexts. In the present time, Art Education is anchored within a paradigm in which it does not belong. It is deeply rooted in school and dissociated from the world where contemporary art is created, and for various reasons it is bound to an obsolete model whose backbone is the production of so-called crafts. Today is the day when we have to reclaim the necessity of change in our field’s theories and practices and move from Art Education (I will use this term in this text in order to describe the most traditional practices that I consider need to be changed) to artEducation, a discipline founded on a series of main concepts.
The first key notion of this discipline is the idea of -removing the boundaries between Art and Education, bringing Bauman’s concept of liquidity into our field of work. In the perception of the most traditional Art Education, there is a tacit separation between that which is Art and what is Education, a notion which is definitely abandoned in artEducation. The second key idea is that Art Education does not mean KIDS painting. Our discipline is not intended to be exclusively for children; it is an area of knowledge whose practices are meant for individuals of any age and that, just as the rest of educational practices, has to be oriented towards intergenerationality.
The next main idea is to link two very concrete physical contexts: the school and the artist’s atelier. artEducation proposes that the learning related to arts and visual culture takes place anytime and anywhere, resulting in what we may call expanded artEducation, a concept that comes from the ideas of Dewey4 (Art as Experience) and Kaprow5 (The Education of the Un-Artist).
Besides, Art Education is not a discipline based on producing beautiful objects and pretty things. If we analyze the visual complexity in which societies will have to develop in the future, we are going to have to reclaim the work related to visual elements as one of the basic competences of every citizen.

Emancipatory knowledge
The previous ideas can be summarized in one statement: artEducation works on the basis of emancipatory knowledge, developed through a complex process and whose main way of working will be the creative remix. Let us analyze this statement in a more detailed way.
First of all, one of the main differences between Art Education and artEducation is that the latter accepts that any visual product surrounding us is an intellectual exercise whose true importance resides in the meanings that it generates; meanings that the spectators produce based on the body of knowledge they possess, their ability to associate and the context. The knowledge created from visual products is not trivial, it is knowledge that profoundly affects us; it is political and inclusive. ArtEducation not only addresses the color combination, but it addresses the question if a color combination is necessary. It asks who decides to carry out the color combination.6 It has to do with the reaction provoked by how my motivation for buying something unnecessary is influenced by the colors. In artEducation, manual and technical skills are part of the possibilities and very important competences, but they are not the axis of a world saturated by images.
In order to consider this intellectual implication of the visual worlds that surround us, artEducation works with macro-narratives as well as with micro-narratives on the same level. It incorporates the macro-narratives as basic knowledge in art class and emphasizes the importance of the analysis, and not only the construction of images. In both cases (analysis and production) we have to incorporate two essential elements: visual culture and contemporary art, both understood as visual macro- and micro-narratives. Visual language is the system mostly used in western societies today, because of its outstanding communication capabilities. ArtEducation promotes the incorporation of that group of images which are not considered artistic; contemporary visual culture understood as the channel that delivers the macro-narratives to us. This notion is part of the art curricula described in the 1996 book Postmodern Art Education: An Approach to Curriculum and is one of the strongest tendencies in our field of study, especially within the United States of America, where professionals like Kerry Freedman7 or Paul Duncum8 have developed a line of work called Art Education for Visual Culture.
But, let us not forget the micro-narratives. In spite of everything (and this is a reality that I face in every country I visit), when teachers dare to introduce art in the classroom, the artists and pieces selected very rarely would qualify as contemporary. Rubens or Picasso are probably the most commonly used artists, despite the fact that there are extraordinary visual representations made in our present time that we decide not to incor-porate into our practices. This leads to a complete ignorance on contemporary art within our societies, to its lack of appreciation and often to the most absolute disdain. In artEducation, just as we are using publicity in real time (the campaign that is being shown all around the city and during every commercial break), we have to incorporate contemporary artists, whose languages and techniques, even though we resist to accept it, perfectly fit with the aesthetics and the world envisioned by our students. Students who are educated through videos and who have no problems in understanding video art, students who instantly comprehend the message of Dignatario, Nadín Ospina’s pre-Colombian style sculpture made with terracotta that depicts Bart Simpson. Contemporary artists live immersed in social reality, so their work deals with current subjects: from pedophilia to maternity, from the destruction of nature to any sort of terrorism, from quantum physics to football. Contemporary art can therefore be linked to any topic and we can use it as an ideal way of beginning any content discussion in class. In short, contemporary art needs to be established as content in our daily work as educators, without eliminating the teaching of art from other periods.
It is easy to create hegemonic models of visual re-presentation. Because they are highly available, it is much easier to reproduce macro-narratives (images that were created by those in power, for example advertising, commercial cinema, many informative images and certain types of art) than to search for micro-narratives (images created by those not in power, for example counter-advertising and contemporary art, as well as craftwork or the visual products created by the students themselves, etc.). I still remember with astonishment a case repeated in several books dedicated to visual education: in these books, as an example to explain how a cross composition works, almost all authors chose a mythical piece, Rubens’s The Rape of the Sabine Women. In this painting, a group of terrified women, about to be raped, try to escape the torture and abuse, but, despite this incredible topic, teachers are still using it -(either on the book or by projecting it on the wall) to -explain how a specific form of composition works. By using it as didactic material, we are not only showing the students what a cross composition is, but we are teaching them to witness a future rape, we are telling them something like “this image is so perfect and its author is so important that its topic, sexual abuse on a group of women, is secondary”. This is what happens to images when we do not think of them in pedagogy, this is how they work when we are not able to reach the depths and only stay on the surface: we turn into transmitters of other’s ideas, which very often go against our own.
In order to make Art Education more contemporary, we have to start using symmetric images, that is to say we have to think about what we choose and project the same amount of macro-narratives as of micro-narratives. As professionals representing artEducation, we have to rethink the images that we work with and reorganize our selection based on the criterion of critical symmetry. The goal is to incorporate globalized as well as local images into our activities, created by men as well as by women, from the West and from other cultures, images that belong to high culture (museums, -scientific journals, renowned documentaries and official maps, etc.) and images from low culture (music videos, celebrity magazines, video games, etc.). We have to choose images from the past and the present, the ones that we like or we think are interesting, but also the ones that the students like and are interested in.
Finally, I would like to mention a process that we as 21st century art educators have to refuse to participate in, and that is to decorate the institution where we work when our superiors want to look good in front of (mainly) the parents (when you have to organize “something pretty” to put on the wall, etc.). In dramatic contrast to the figure of the traditional art teacher, we have to create the figure of the artEducator, an intellectual who works on the interesting crossroads of art and education, where both fields meet and their borders dissolve. This is an expert who promotes art as a pedago-gical process and pedagogy as an artistic process, a professional with a hybrid profile who tears down the bipolarity of professional stereotypes that place artists and educators in opposite spheres, a professional whose work is genuinely intellectual, political and transfor-mative, along the same line as the Critical Pedagogy theorists who write about “teachers as transformative intellectuals”9 The next step is to visualize the intellectual value of the artEducator’s work and incorporate knowledge as the backbone of our practices.

Complex Process
The second important issue regards time, because traditional methods in art class inevitably teach the idea that artistic products are produced as if by magic: it is neither necessary to think about it nor to plan it and there are no different production stages. Everything is done spontaneously, in the moment, and this is why many people who visit museums think “I can do this too”, because no one has shown them the amount of effort, planning, time and energy that hide behind an apparently simple piece of art.
For this reason, the second key notion that we need in art education is the value of the process; the idea that any product requires planning and a lot of time from the moment it is designed to its exhibition. We urgently need the people involved in visual art related projects to understand the importance of transmitting exactly that, that all cultural producers work on projects and that a project is a temporal construct divided into different phases. In artEducation, just as it happens in the liquid world we live in, the true objective is to experience an object; an experience which is based on an intention and whose purpose is related to a socially relevant topic, committed to reality, developed with long term planning and produced in different phases. A work that is to be undertaken with passion and discipline and is created in a community, in a collaborative manner, the way todays artists work, in connection with other agents and combining the community’s different sources of knowledge in a rhizomic way, without privileging one knowledge over the other. This work comes into contact with the real professional world and therefore with its mechanisms of legitimization, which in the present day translates into the work’s exhibition in prestigious cultural institutions.
The process not only involves the production phase, but also analysis. While in traditional art education the emphasis is absolutely put on production, on the necessity to build an object that we can take home in order to temporally decorate our refrigerator, in art-Education, the analysis process is equally important. We support the notion that to analyze is an act of -cultural production, just as Spanish artist Joan Font-cuberta -proposes: “The most genuine and coherent -creative act of our time does not consist in producing new images, but in assigning meaning to the existing ones.”10 In -artEducation, we have to design at least 50% of activities related to analysis, because the processes of analyzing, deconstructing and reflecting are absolutely on the same level as producing. Moreover, it has to become a habit, it should become the recount that my daughters do when they watch a movie and estimate how many girls are shown and if they play secondary or leading roles.

Creative Remix
Emancipatory knowledge and process cannot move forward without creativity, but the latter understood in a contemporary way, as a remix. When creativity is mentioned within the context of art education, it always -refers to the students’ creativity. In artEducation, creativity will also be the teacher’s basic competence, a teacher who sees her or his role as a cultural producer. Nonetheless, in a hyper technical world where the figure of an expert has been entirely modified, to be a cultural producer is something very different to the notion we had in the past and it may be similar to how Nicolas Bourriaud defines a visual artist: “[For present artists] It is no longer a matter of elaborating a form on the basis of a raw material but working with objects that are already in circulation on the cultural market […]. Notions of originality (being at the origin of) and even of creation (making something from nothing) are slowly blurred in this new cultural landscape marked by the twin figures of the DJ and the programmer, both of whom have the task of selecting cultural objects and inserting them into new contexts.”11
Bourriaud is one of the most interesting theorists reflecting on the roles of today’s artist. Investigative and critical, his two books Relational Aesthetics12 and Postproduction13 can be interpreted as essays on contemporary art or essays intimately related to pedagogy. According to Bourriaud, in the 21st century the term author (regardless if we are musicians, chefs or teachers) acquires a new meaning: we create on the foundations of other people’s ideas. The notion of producing knowledge in a rhizomatic way, laid out by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,14 proposes that to copy is to (re)generate, such that a DJ generates a personal discourse when arranging other’s music in a specific way. In Postproduction, Bourriaud defends the theory of the artist as a DJ, a creator who works with what has been created, because “[a]ll these artistic practices […] have in common the recourse to already produced forms. They testify to a willingness to inscribe the work of art within a network of signs and significations, instead of considering it an autonomous or original form”.15
Bourriaud’s conviction is clear: it is unthinkable for us to create something out of nothing, a notion that is directly linked to the rhizome concept. When creating, we always start from a previous input, in a way that we make (new) connections and the genuine and completely original creation loses its meaning. For present artists, to reprogram may be a new verb, but if we analyze it thoroughly, it is something that we teachers have always done, because the content that we work with has hardly ever been entirely ours. For this reason, educational work in the 21st century has to be founded on the notion of the teacher as a DJ, specifying our work as producers of remixes and validating the idea that a remix is a creation, not a copy.

In the beginning of this text, I sustained that a paradigm shift within educational practices in visual arts is a basic necessity. This challenge is to be addressed on the basis of artEducation, a model which produces emancipatory knowledge developed through a complex process and whose main working method is the creative remix. What is yet to come is to make these ideas our own and to transform them in order to make them tangible in classrooms, museums and hospitals, out on the streets and in our homes. If visual art education is not transformed in an area of contemporary knowledge, its own obsolescence will eliminate it. This is what is yet to come.

Translation: Dana Ersig / 2014.

1.) Luis Camnitzer, Introducción. Educación para el arte. Arte para la educación. Porto Alegre 2009. (www.yumpu.com/es/document/view/14213328/arte-e-educacao-fundacao-bienal-do-mercosul/287;  also: http://mariaacaso.blogspot.de/2013/10/2013-el-museo-es-una-escuela-i-la-9.html)
2.) María Acaso, La educación artística no son manualidades. Nuevas prácticas en la enseñanza de las artes y la cultura visual. Madrid 2009.
3.) María Acaso, rEDUvolution. Hacer la revolución en la educación. Barcelona 2013.
4.) John Dewey, Experience and education. New York 1883.
5.) Allan Kaprow, “The Education of the Un-Artist”, in: Idem, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, Berkeley 2003.
6.) María Acaso, La educación artística no son manualidades. Nuevas prácticas en la enseñanza de las artes y la cultura visual. Madrid 2009.
7.) Kerry Freedman, Teaching Visual Culture: Curriculum, Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art. NY/Reston 2003.
8.) Paul Duncum, Visual culture in the art class: case studies. Reston 2006.
9.) Henry Giroux, Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning. Santa Barbara 1988.
10.) Original Spanish quote: “El acto de creación más genuino y coherente en nuestros días no consiste en producir nuevas imágenes, sino en asignar sentido a las existentes” (Joan Fontcuberta et al., Contranatura, Barcelona 2001.)
11.) Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World. New York 2002, p. 6. (http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bourriaud-Postproduction2.pdf)
12.) Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics. Dijon 2002.
13.) Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction, 2002.
14.) Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, L’Anti-Œdipe. Paris 1972.
15.) Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction, 2002.

[Dieser Text findet sich im Reader Nr. 2 auf S. 24.]

[Es sind keine weiteren Materialien zu diesem Beitrag hinterlegt.]

María Acaso

(*1970) is a professor of Art Education and director of the line of research on education in visual arts museums at the Fine Arts Faculty of the Complutense University of Madrid. Since the beginning of her training at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid she has been convinced that the current education system is outdated and in need of an urgent change of paradigm. She is a member of the group „Invisible Pedagogies“ and director of the „Escuela de Educación Disruptiva“ and author of a number of books such as: rEDUvolution: hacer la revolución en la educación (2013), Pedagogías invisibles: El espacio del aula como discurso (2012), La educación artística no son manualidades (2009), Esto no son las Torres Gemelas (2006). http://mariaacaso.es


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Bourriaud, Nicolas  ·  Deleuze, Gilles  ·  Dewey, John  ·  Duncum, Paul  ·  Freedman, Kerry  ·  Guattari, Félix  ·  Kaprow, Allan  ·  Ospina, Nadín  ·  Rubens, Peter Paul