Paper presented to the 14th AIAE National Conference,

Sydney, 3-9 July, 1994.

Karen Knight-Mudie.



A complex situation has arisen for art education in which it appears that opposing pressures are creating a chasm between the artist and society, the artwork and the appraiser, and the `discipline' of art in schools and actual content. While current practice appears to embrace the notion of making art accessible to all members of the community, the impact of secondary texts on how the artwork is appreciated, and simulation of context on how the artwork is presented, are seemingly removing the actual art object out of focus.   It appears that problems with written language, various interpretations of what constitutes the discipline of art, and efforts to combine scientific objectivity with humanistic approaches to artmaking in schools have separated the conceptual essence from the doing.

Scientific Objectivity and Erotic Connectivity:

The history of the separation of mind from body, and reason from emotions, could be said to date back to the time of Plato’s search for a world of objective reality that exists independently from individuals. The notion of objective reality as a separate "essence" has since challenged philosophers through debate involving the use of language via the written word. This is the very heart of the problem because the text, not the intent, came to be seen as an objective record of the physical world and the laws of matter. Harrison argues that:

For the academically trained language is what we write. We forget that access to the written words we interact with is premised on the prior and more fundamental experience of spoken language. (p.28)

In her study entitled Eros and Rationality (1991), Harrison investigates the connections between objectivist conceptions of language and rationality that employ methods of external classification. Reference to developments in cognitive science however, point to the significance of employing "erotic connectivity" rather than "mechanical processes" in understanding our conception of language for our conception of rationality. The former advocates approaching rationality from an empathic identification with others through recognition of them as passionate and communicating bodies. The latter investigates reason as a separate, universally independent 'truth' that is found only in "classical" categories external to the body. Items termed "classical" are determined by the possession of necessary, common properties that distinguish these items from those in other categories.

Harrison argues that Bacon transferred the idea of "objective reality" from the universal forms, or essences, of Plato to the physical world and the laws of matter, while Decartes separated the intellect from the emotions, thus leaving reason without any motivating force. (p.21)

The object of this isolation and dissection was to capture 'truth' through testing, comparison and establishment of categories and rules to control externalized nature. The basic rule underlying efforts to maximize the appearance of "scientific objectivity” consists of using principles and manipulating symbols that correspond to objective categories and objective properties conforming to "classical" identification.   In the process of this identification thought is seen as the correct and truthful product of reason. The nature of the being doing the thinking is not considered. Harrison sums up:

The appearance of objectivity is maintained by the author taking care not to intrude their perspective, experience, or motivation into what they write. Everything is reported to exist as an objective fact independently of the accident of there being an observer experiencing and interpreting that experience. (p.11)

Harrison is not alone in this observation. Steiner (1989) identifies a "radical spirit(s) in current thought that has defined the task of this somber age as 'learning anew to be human"' (p.4). His field of discontent lies with the "annexation of the living arts and literatures by the scholastics" in which he sees professionalization of the academic pursuit, and humanistic imitation of the scientific, as responsible for eroding the bridge between ourselves "and that which the heart knows".   By this he means the human ability to afford the text, music or visual image an indwelling clarity and life-force that only felt meaning can engender. He employs Ben Jonson's term "ingestion", in contrast to "consumption", to highlight the difference between the internalization of something as an agency of our consciousness, versus the increasingly mechanical and collective quality of an external encounter (pp 9-10). Memory is a vital component for internalization. It is the process through which the essence of an idea or object is re-called, re-visited, re-cognised, re-imaged and re-made. Memory lives in the imagination. However the perceived lack of control exhibited through the spoken word, and the arbitrary nature assigned to memory, excluded these living forms of knowing from the domain of scientific investigation in which meaning was sought in the objectified thing, the written word.

A Chasm Created by Problematic Texts:

Perhaps more than anything else the control of the written word influences current practices in learning. Constantly the meaning of a word is questioned as though meaning is the 'property' of the word rather than residing within the intention of the author. Steiner (1989) considers that much of the analytic and structural study of language is the erasure and severing of empirical experience and untutored intuition from language-acts (p.107).

He stresses that:

No formalization is of an order adequate to the semantic mass and motion of a culture, to the wealth of denotation, connotation, implicit reference, elision and tonal register which envelop saying what one means, meaning what one says or neither. (p.83)

A recent paper by Enid Zimmerman (1994) investigates the many suggestions for improving teacher education programs in art that now focus on the "need for critical inquiry and reflective teaching practices" (p.80). Awareness of this focus is gaining strength in Australia where "appraising" artworks has become an integral component of art syllabi. However this shift in focus involves the problem outlined above - that of the written word.

"Appraising" a work of art involves "researching, developing individualized responses through describing, analyzing, interpreting and evaluating information". (Qld. BSSSS. Draft Senior Syllabus in Art. 1994.) This act is heavily dependent on using words. The task ahead for teachers and students will lie in differentiating between how words are used. Given the dominance of positivist objectivity in western society and the allure and status of 'scientific' investigation heightened by analysis of texts, it seems probable that "appraising" artworks will become a means to its own end, separate from the "accident" of there being an artwork to internalize into our consciousness.

A telling example of how language has become manufactured "impenetrable verbiage" is Susan Loppert's article "Pet Noires" in the journal Modern Painters (1992,44-47). The discussion centres on what Loppert sees as the deplorable "language of obfuscation" used in particular by contemporary feminists, and the failure to communicate by artists and writers alike.   The article takes to task those who secret themselves in "a thicket of philosophical jargon" where theories and buzz words result in the "crucifixion of language". Loppert selects various samples of written critiques from catalogues and papers, of which the following may give some indication of difficulties for understanding:

On the planar surface of postmodernism the image of the body is perpetually intrusive, refusing to be accommodated into theories of representation, disrupting our linguistic and diagnostic frameworks, powerfully raising the intersubjective question of communication. Through the dutiful explanations of fantasmatically displaced bodies, the maternal body that is the unexamined rationale for this piece of elucidation silently maintains its call for attention. ... Paintings were compendia of motifs or structures which could readily be extrapolated and identified with agricultural depression, patriarchal oppression, cultural imperialism or other all-embracing and all too often unquestioned constructs. Or they were de-historicised puzzles of denotative and connotative signs waiting for the skilled deconstructionist to open them up. (p.46)

Loppert's "whew!" seems to sum up understanding. The question remains that if an art historian, writing and broadcasting about visual arts and the art market in London, has this reaction, what chance is there for students (or teachers) to have a glimmer of a chance of understanding texts such as this?

Michael (1991) suggests that "we have failed if the student doesn't know something about art, our field, and is unable to talk intelligently about art" (p.23). However buzz words and phrases are fashionable. One of the buzz phrases in art education terminology at the moment is "literacy in the visual arts" (Stewart, 1993). This, it is suggested, can be achieved in the lower grades of schooling through "a depth curriculum grounded on an exploration of the cultural practices informing our society" (p.173).     However, the cultural practices that inform our society appear to "have resulted in (a) fragmented and contradictory sense of reality which impacts strongly on the lives and experiences of the students in our classrooms" (p.172).

In calling for a "depth" approach Stewart borrows a term from Speck. However, Speck's (1989) investigation of current approaches to art curriculum in the primary school looks at both the content and the amount of teacher assistance that she considers needs re-thinking. Speck's focus is on sequencing work in a limited media through regular practice to develop art skills "so that children may gain visual competency of expression, and so that art may be perceived to have a defensible knowledge base" (p.18).

The leap in interpretation to Stewart's notion of adding "to our curriculum the processes, products and artifacts of the world of popular culture" (p.172), as well as recognizing the role of the broader community, seems far removed from Speck's concentration on teaching children art skills "to ensure survival" (p.18). In fact Stewart recommends that art education "seeped in production" can no longer be afforded, and "a way to creatively recontextualise artistic learning in a cultural context within our schools" is needed (p.173).

Again problems of interpreting the intent of the author seem apparent, and this confusion may be compounded when efforts are made to interpret the symbolic language of artworks that does not have a codified 'written' text.

Artworks Separate from Lived Environments:

Grenfell (1993) considers that the catalyst for interpreting "the symbolic visual language of art relies on shared or identified cultural understandings and ways of interpreting the lived environments" (p.42). She cites several examples of how meaning can be totally idiosyncratic to the viewer even if the contextual site is authentic but the viewer comes to the encounter laden with personal bias and values. Western perspectives applied to Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in Yokohama Bay in 1853 were then as inappropriate as many current perspectives maintained in our society.   Perhaps one of the reasons for this maintenance has been the enshrinement of artworks in museums and galleries.

Grenfell (1993) points out that:

Art in its original context served as meaningful expression of life in a society, while art elevated to museum status and  viewed in isolation could be perceived  to be in danger of being deprived of its cultural significance. (p.46)

Similarly Bernice Murphy (1994), in talking of Aboriginal art within and beyond the museum, sees past practice as presenting works in a condition of "factitious, deformed and disconnected meaning" (p.22).   However a new type of museum contract for indigenous collections is now evolving at MCA. Agreement has been reached concerning ownership of not only the objects, but also their meanings and interpretation of "the full complex of activities surrounding and contexturalising indigenous people's cultural material, not only the possession of objects" (p.24).

This is a brave move towards understanding that possession of objects implies something much deeper than somehow 'enshrining' the object. A parallel that can be drawn from this 'enshrinement' is the way in which words, enshrined in writing, can also be deprived of their actual intended meaning.

Another look at crafts and the museum by Julie Ewington (1991) is aptly titled "cuckoos in the nest". Several exhibitions are discussed in which the various museum curators have attempted to display the objects in a "natural" habitat. Ewington offers her discussion as a "tribute to the passion and scholarship of these substantive experiments in the construction of meaning", and while some had technical problems and others problems of over crowding, the shift to developing an educational and entertainment role for museums appears timely. Overall Ewington considers:

This process of exploration, uneven, inconsistent and often unplanned, is nevertheless highly productive, building new "nests" for objects from a wider range of histories and life experiences than previously. (p.8).

While efforts to simulate context are heading in a more liberal direction, we cannot deceive ourselves that "these substantive experiments in the construction of meaning" (emphasis added), that may have an educational and entertainment role, are the real thing. But they may be as 'real' for many people as is possible, just as the notion of milk coming from a carton is 'real' to many children, and much 'research' from secondary texts is 'real' to many graduate students. This is the chasm we must bridge.

Fragmented Reality and Motivation:

One cannot doubt the influences at work in a contemporary, multi-cultural, multi-choice, multi-dimensional, multi-lingual, post-modern, sociocultural, technological society where the cash culture dictates both aesthetic and material ends. One cannot ignore the information brokers who invest preferential status shares in advertisements for self through secondary texts where the word is seen to encapsulate the 'truth'. As Hamblen (1990) suggests, "capital resides in what one knows", and this is supported by the academic rationalist approach that assumes that there exists a preferred body of knowledge that has been identified, examined and refined (p.218). But one can doubt the type of motivation driving those behind influences and manufacturing the information.

Extensive debate has been devoted to the notion of power and the manipulation of value systems. Reference to the plethora of tomes on the subject is impossible in this restricted discussion, but a central point concerns the motivating forces that instigate action on behalf of an individual. Put simply these are either external or internal. Previous discussion on this topic (Knight-Mudie, 1990) investigated the way in which extrinsic and intrinsic reward systems affect the degree of autonomy experienced by a person. lt was argued that "autonomy connotes an inner endorsement of one's actions", and this stems from the inherent heuristic possibilities of the task (p.42).

The pressure on art teachers is, in the main, external. The demands of fulfilling syllabus requirements ranging across making, appraising and affective areas, as outlined in the Queensland BSSSS Draft Senior Syllabus in Art (1994), may well challenge concepts of self-esteem and personal agency in both teachers and students. One of the deciding factors in achievement is the perceived degree of possible success, but a vision of this possibility may be eclipsed by the overwhelming weight of "researching", "developing" and "resolving" outlined in the above document, and the variety of areas of study ranging from Ceramics to Industry Studies. The final paragraph in the "Rationale" outlines the full gamut:

They (presumably artworkers from previous paragraph) resolve aesthetic, sociological, cultural, ideological, historical, technological, environmental and economic problems related to art. In artwork, students process spiritual, intuitive, emotional and intellectual responses. The artworker resolves visual problems in imaginative, analytical and reflective ways.

Given the presumption of what artworkers "resolve", the weight of obligation to the discipline(s) may indeed widen the chasm between mind and matter. It could be that standards of consistency and comparability offer an enticing source of success!

The task of attempting to be all things to all people is an impossible task. Steiner suggests that "An average college or university library will need to stock some three to four thousand periodicals in the humanities", and that Russian and Western universities register some 30,000 doctoral theses per annum (p.125).     Given the seemingly unending commentary in the humanities alone, the job of teacher familiarization (let alone understanding) of the written stuff defies the realms of probability.    The task of also providing demonstrations across all art techniques is too demanding for the majority of art teachers given their limited experience in many areas, limited space, limited equipment and often large class sizes.   Eisner (1984) makes the point that "It is very difficult to teach to others what one doesn't know oneself" (p.262).

As elsewhere suggested, "Maybe we are all 'mosaicists' at heart", and this is a noble aspiration. To attempt to contribute to students' understanding of the environment and investigate the "human social condition" should be the basis for all learning. But this does not mean we embrace everything.   (Knight-Mudie, 1992). In fact the very opposite should apply.

If art educators are honest, and look at the nature of the being doing the thinking, in this case the teacher, they may recognise some limitations.     lt may then seem sensible to begin with the known, albeit limited, those internalized experiences that one owns and that motivate on-going learning from the familiar to the not so familiar. In this way success and joy in the adventure of sequentially compiling a repertoire of ideas and techniques is grounded in confidence to perform successfully. On the other hand if the ability to perform is dependent on what should be done, the external imposition may undermine desire, ability and confidence. lt is the desire that is the crucial catalyst.

Cognitive & Sensorimotor Processes:

We need to provoke critical thinking in students. We need to reconnect reason with motivating force ignited by passion. We need to select concepts that fuel activity so that learning becomes a natural consequence of excitement and curiosity about ideas. Although philosophic debate may appear to be a wholly mental activity, it is the battleground of the imagination nourished through sensory perception. Patricia Churchland (1988:451) draws attention to developments in understanding cognitive processes that link these very closely to sensorimotor processes.

Experiments show that physical structures govern the nervous system mechanisms in selecting and processing information, and these neurons are selected depending on use and success. In other words frequency of use ensures development.   Harrison (1991) draws a conclusion from these studies that:

This principle would explain the fact that people raised in industrial societies have a much greater discrimination sensitivity to shifts from the horizontal and vertical than they do for shifts from the oblique, whereas non-industrial peoples - who are not raised in an environment consisting overwhelmingly of horizontal and vertical orientations - have a greater discrimination sensitivity to oblique angles. (p.130)

Further investigation into patterns of information input appears to demonstrate that "reasoning is also significantly a matter of interactions in cognitive representations of sensori input and motor input" (p.132).

The implications of this study are certainly not new for artists. Steiner's phrase seems to capture the reciprocity of interaction between the soul and body: "The profit of insight (the intensity of encounter) is major" (P.157).

It therefore seems sensible to propose learning situations that initially spark curiosity in students and involve investigation of concepts through activities. Langer (1957) suggests that the prime office of signs lies in their "power of formulating experience" (p.133), and that understanding of the object comes through the use of imagination and language that "grow up together   in reciprocal tutelage" (p.71). If artworks are considered symbolic signs "formulating experience", and the meanings dependent on context, it may be wise to turn attention to the 'language' of that formulation before attempting to understand the context.

In music it is the sounds that form the final composition, in poetry the words, and in a visual work the colour, texture, value, line, shape and size. But much teaching of art involves setting students an activity - a drawing, a painting, a piece of sculpture, a folio of work in which it is hoped some cursory awareness of the elements may be sufficient to make the 'doing' meaningful. Lip service is paid to problem-solving where the objective is set as making/doing.

Problems with Art Syllabus Documents:

The Queensland Board of Senior Secondary School Studies Draft Senior Syllabus in Art (1994) is an example of a syllabus document that lists products and categories such as drawing, electronic imaging, fibre art, performance art, video and film as areas of study that reinforce the objectivist approach. Although an emphasis is placed on students resolving their ideas through considering the intrinsic qualities of the media peculiar to the area of study, the outcomes to art and design problems in each area are listed as the products, for example, body wearable art, stage design plans, illustrations, electronic mail, murals, and video programs.

While this appears to be acceptable, two major problems can be identified. Firstly, students are encouraged to research, develop and resolve their ideas, and secondly, the areas of study fall into categories.   What appears to be missing is a vital "ingestion" of concepts, an immersion in colour, line, shape, size, texture and value. It is as though these are presumed to reside inherently in the student, as though a manifestation of individual ideas will evolve through exposure to techniques, media and the artworks of others.

To create meaningful signs that have the "power of formulating experience" requires a deep personal encounter, even a confrontation, with the experience that can only be brought into being through ingestion of the means and methods of imagery. Exposure to techniques, media and the artworks of others is vital enrichment, but of itself can be out of context if the student has not had a chance to cultivate an inner empathy and informed awareness, and understanding and appreciation of the language of artmaking that may then be applied to those external influences.

A common complaint expressed by members of employment bodies, tertiary institutions and parents concerns problems of literacy in reading, writing and maths. It could be the result of trends that regard immersion through memory as no longer necessary. But to become intimate with something, to reach its essence, to make that something part of us, requires an almost obsessive act of re-cognition through re-calling. Steiner stresses the importance of memory in deepening our grasp of the work. He considers that:

An informed alertness to the phonetic, lexical, grammatical instrumentalities of a text both disciplines and enriches the quality of interpretative and critical response.   Roman Jakobson's dictum is cardinal: to know the grammar of poetry, which is the sinew of its music of meaning, one must know and be responsive to the poetry of grammar. (p.84)

Similar complaints as those regarding reading, writing and maths have also been made about the work of many senior art students where the work appears too teacher directed, copied or fragmentary. Could it not be that the requirements of syllabus documents unwittingly demand that students be     autonomous, sophisticated, fully-fledged artists but deny them the "sinew" of means? Efforts to elevate the status of art appear to fall into the trap of demanding too much too soon. Expectations placed on both teachers and students to pursue in-depth curriculum in a multitude of areas is   unrealistic and implies a 'jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none' approach that is doomed on two counts.

Firstly the task might be beyond the capabilities of many teachers and students who may be confused and intimidated by such weighty and externally devised multichoice programs.

Secondly, the efforts of government to employ standards of consistency and comparability imply a use of   "classical” identification advocated by the "scientific objectivity" approach that may appear at odds with the proclaimed intent of the art program.

Conflict in Operation:

A very complex situation has arisen in art education that is essentially paradoxical in nature. lt is argued that students research, develop and resolve their ideas in a context of information bombardment from which they are expected to sift through contextually isolated secondary stuff. This direction appears to aim at professionalization of the academic pursuit. However an emphasis on investigation of the intrinsic qualities of the media peculiar to the area of study appears as an all encompassing wish that students will discover these qualities for themselves. This direction appears to grasp at a token humanistic approach.

The reason why this appears token is because the intention of many art teachers voiced in spoken language is quite different from what is written in the curriculum documents.   Teachers profess to foster lateral thinking (integral to purposive behaviour), and art researchers in general advocate this type of approach, but what happens in the classroom is a different matter. Perusal of both syllabus documents and a sample of school work programs in Queensland, show objectives written in purposeful terminology, and as a consequence the work that is produced generally follows an object orientated behaviourist approach. The focus, as pointed out earlier, is on producing an art object, and while an emphasis is now placed on "process" objectives   it appears that such terms as "develop visual perception" encourage students to devise and pursue their own ideas, but do not offer assistance and guidance about how to do this. The major problem appears to be lack of understanding of the difference between purposive behaviour and purposeful behaviour.

Purposive and Purposeful Behaviour:

Purposive behaviour results from a form of thinking in which consideration of means and ends are united while developing the type of artistic expression. The art work takes shape as a consequence   of progressive reconsideration of the emerging structure that, through this dialectic mode of inquiry, is redefined as appropriate to investigating a concept. On the other hand linear thinking, in which means and ends are separate, is termed purposeful behaviour, that Boughton (1983), considers typical of scientific, analytical thought pertaining to "discursive disciplines".

The two modes of thinking may be summarized as follows:

PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOUR                                                     PURPOSEFUL BEHAVIOUR

Probes Cognition                                                                    Emphasizes Behaviour

Problem solving                                                                      Skill Development

Ignites curiosity (What if? Why? How?)                                 Conformity/conditioning

Stems from Intuition                                                               Stems from Logic

Feelings                                                                                 Facts

Divergent lateral thinking                                                       Linear thinking

Continuing reassessment of conclusions                              Conclusion


Ideal learning uses both ways of thinking in coming to know something. However it is necessary to recognise the different thrust of each type of behaviour and stimulate thinking that probes understanding, and fosters internalization, of the conceptual essence rather than accumulation of data about something.

Internalization Replaced by Simulation:

Until something is internalized it remains apart from the person. External agencies can simulate an environment in an attempt to entice someone into thinking that environment is familiar, is in fact part of them and their lifestyle. Both television and the cinema are good examples of powerful simulation effects in which the elements of visual and audio 'language' are so skillfully used that one is almost oblivious to the refinement, effort and control in the use of colour, texture, shape, size, value, line, pitch, rhythm and all the nuances of composition that go into 'make-believe'. Art museums are also becoming aware of the power of simulation.

But in the art classroom, where learning should be taking place about the vocabulary that allows simulation, expression and communication of something extra-ordinary because it is uniquely owned by the individual, another form of simulation appears to be taking place. This is simulated cultural studies where students are situated in a manufactured environment of secondary stuff, which, like   television, takes them into another world of multi-cultures, multi-artforms, multi-choice and perhaps multi-confusion.

Efforts to bring art to the public through creating contextual "nests" in public exhibition spaces, and efforts to convert art into 'cultural studies' in schools may appear to be the life boats of salvation in a sea of multiculturalism. It appears that a great amount of effort is being put into trying to bridge the gap between artists and society. However, it also appears that a lot of secondary stuff, the manufactured "nests" in exhibition spaces and the multi-texts in schools, may actually widen the chasm.     Perhaps this is indicative of an inability to recognise the essence of art as behaviour that has instead become a study of the behaviour.

What appears to be happening in schools is a type of conversion to 'window-shopping' that reflects the consumerism of contemporary society where artmaking is tried 'on approval', the cultural labels noted, and the item studied then discarded when out of fashion or no longer comfortable.   This type of behaviour indicates a move towards temporary possession of the disposable, but not true ownership that entails commitment and identification with the object as a symbolic sign of a very intense and personal encounter in formulating experience.

This experience may involve either making or appraising the work of others, because the essence of ownership entails re-cognising and re-uniting, not possession. This type of ownership denotes an inner endorsement of actions emanating from what the poet Peter Porter refers to as the "inner cave of making". Ownership of this sort is a way of feeling, thinking and doing that directs behaviour. Artistic behaviour involves the birth process of an idea into meaningful form, nourished by the imagination, delivered with dedication and discipline, and fueled by passion.

Passion is stirred by the emotions, but the heart beat of art may become muffled through a supermarket approach towards making and appraising artworks in schools that introduces students to many samples of media and cultures. The mosaic of multiculturalism, the trappings associated with 'block buster' shows, the stage settings and the enormous financial engine that fuels such "entertainments" enhance the notion of art as spectacle. This spectacle, and associated information about the artists and cultures, is usually presented in such a way that no 'zone of comfort' is disrupted, and no in-depth critical analysis required on behalf of viewers. Grenfell (1993) notes somewhat ironically, that these "entertainments" are appropriately listed in the newspaper as amusements.     This, she considers, reflects the popular opinion of the arts that lacks understanding or appreciation of the training and discipline "which enters into and permeates their craft" (p.45)

It appears however that this "training and discipline" is being banished from the artroom. The future for students of art in schools seems to be that they will be set adrift on the sea of multiculturalism without any elements to even make a lifeboat. Kuhn (1984) argues that the arts are a multiplicity of things. This may indeed by true, and if, as Dissanayake (1992) suggests, art is a type of behaviour, then it will have different meanings, status and functions for each individual exhibiting the behaviour. But the conceptual ingredients are the essence, and injestion of these into one's own syntax and visual composition will allow better understanding and appreciation of differing syntax and compositions. Understanding of concepts and mastery of skills in one's own language allows deeper appreciation of another language.

Implications for the Future:

In western cultures it appears that artists were set adrift from sections of society when reason was separated from the senses. Calls for a holistic approach to learning are not going to re-unite mind and matter overnight. Instead, categories or disciplines may be integrated as proposed by the National Curriculum Statements, but while behaviour patterns, seeped in objectivist tradition, continue to permeate our society no authentic holistic learning can fully occur.

The heart of the problem is exactly that - the heart. All approaches, methodologies, techniques can be debated in an endless cycle of trying to find answers. But answers are useless if the problem is ignored or simply not recognized. The problem relates to ownership and this is internal, not external. An old expression, "put your heart into it" appears to be forgotten.

Recent and telling examples of this loss are noted in Chong Weng-Ho's (1994) look at artworks in Kuala Lumpur where the "ghost" of alien cultures, "northern" colours, different physiognomies, physiques and beliefs haunt the work of young artists who incorporate neo-Pop, conceptual installations and lots of collage into artworks. Chong Weng-Ho points out:

The modern artist in Malaysia seems helpless to fight the ghost which floats over his or her shoulder alongside the muse. The problem is basic and profound (p.14).

It is this alienation and external shadow that seems to be setting artists apart from their own sense of being.   This discussion has drawn attention to the dominance of objectivist conceptions of language and rationality that permeate western society and exert external pressure on many contemporary artists. As a consequence it appears that the pursuit of academic and professional status relies heavily on investigation of codified language enshrined in texts. Increasingly the texts investigate other texts as the cycle of secondary reproduction continually widens the gap between original concept and various interpretations. This trend has also enveloped the language of artworks where the art museum enshrines art objects that are increasingly interpreted and recontextualised through various methods of simulation and written documentation.

In looking at examples of recent exhibition practice and a draft syllabus document for senior art, it appears that there is a move towards appraising works in a contextual situation. The former attempts to simulate the original context by surrounding artworks with appropriate props and settings supplemented by written documentary. The latter suggests exposing students to all that artworkers "resolve" using a multicultural approach in which secondary texts play a major part.

In both cases the written word has become increasingly important, and, as argued at the beginning of this discussion, a danger lies in the possibility of the words about artworks assuming a representation of 'truth' separated from the artwork itself. The notion of investigating various interpretations and opinions about artworks is a way of enriching what one knows, and methods used to do this often simulate scientific investigation.

It appears however, that learning about other cultures and artsworkers may fail to cultivate respect for the values and forms of inquiry that go beyond mere possession of facts to ownership emanating from mastery of, and empathy with, the content.   Too often what the client does or does not know is overlooked. In public galleries this is an unknown quantity, but in the school environment it should be a vital consideration. To expect to embrace too much too soon is unrealistic. Compounding this approach, as noted in the sample syllabus document, is presentation of a rationale that embraces the scientific investigation mode of inquiry, objectives that appear written in behaviourist terms, making that espouses humanistic application, and assessment that attempts to marry all together.


The focus of learning should be on fostering ownership of understanding and the ability to apply that understanding to familiar and thence new situations. This means becoming at home with the conceptual ingredients integral to artmaking; the vocabulary that allows representation, expression and simulation.

Student confidence and skill can be developed if ownership of knowledge is fostered through an ingestion of the means and methods of imagery. This means setting objectives that investigate concepts through doing, rather than objectives that simply require the student to make something.

Before dealing with multicultural issues it is necessary to recognise and understand one's own values, biases and beliefs so that interpretation of artworks from other cultures may be posed in relationship to what one already knows. In this the learner moves from the familiar to the not so familiar and can make links in appreciation between relationships and differences.

Memory enriches the imagination but it needs constant exercising. This can only be done by re-visiting, re-calling and re-examining ideas and ways of expressing them. True learning involves internalization that can only come from a desire to understand and be part of the knowledge.

Igniting a desire to know in students must be the responsibility of all educators. It is suggested that an appreciation and awareness of "erotic connectivity" is needed so that the differentiation between purposive and purposeful behaviour can be understood and each type of behaviour encouraged at the appropriate time and place. This means approaching rationality from an empathic identification with others as passionate and communicating bodies.   lt means recognizing that 'truth' is relevant to the source, and that "classical categories" of "objective reality" separated from the source need to be appreciated in this light.

Curriculum documents should be easily understood by students and the wider community. This means that objectives and assessment criteria should be written in language that is clear and relevant to the student.


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Ewington, J. (1991) "cuckoos in the nest: crafts and the museum". Eyeline. No 16. pp. 8-11.

Grenfell, J. (1993) "A womb with a view: visual dialogue in a cultural context".   In Arts Education. Ed. E. P. Errington. Geelong: Deakin University Press. pp. 41-56.

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