COMPETENT SURVIVAL OF THE ARTS: A PROFILE FOR LOOSENING FUTURE TENSION.
Paper presented at AIAE Conference, Melbourne, 1993
Karen Knight-Mudie. Expressive Arts, Faculty of Education
University of Southern Queensland. 1993
The very stuff of art, the ambiguity, the invention, the challenge to meaning and the biological need to make something "special", is a constant topic for debate. Methods of evaluating artworks are equally debatable, and these may change as the `stuff of art' is redefined depending on the cultural climate at the time.
The implicit intention of political policies within Australia at the moment is to make society more productive Outcomes must be able to be categorised, contained and calculated, and workers be assessed as competent. In applying this concept to evaluating the worth of student artworks, the notion of establishing `profiles' and 'performance standards' is an issue currently under discussion.
Implicitly tied to this notion is one's concept of art. The following discussion attempts to expose various viewpoints concerning art so that the nature of art, and what it means to different people, may become clearer. Only then can 'profiles' and 'performance standards' have relevance and application according to the viewpoint held.
The outcome, or art object, pre-Enlightenment, was basically controlled by communal concern or need. Post-Enlightenment artworks were given the freedom to be `art for art's sake'. During the last century however, the "art" object has become the impetus for a behaviour concerned with analyzing the art object in an effort to attach meaning or significance to the object. What was, in the past, an outcome of a special type of behaviour that was essentially communal, has become the impetus for another type of behaviour, aesthetic contemplation that is essentially individualistic.
It can be argued that both views of artistic behaviour have merit, and that neither totally eclipses the other. What does happen is that the emphasis changes, and this reflects the political and socio-economic climate of the time. Our current political climate in Australia is driven by accountability and productivity, and so the type of behaviour advocated is that in which individuals should display competency in line with national standards.
It now appears that the product of one's labour, be it art object or other, has again come into focus and must assume a functional service to communal concerns and needs. If art educators can understand and accept these concerns and needs it may be that they can also temper the thrust of individuality emphasized by modernism, towards an awareness of each individual as a necessary component of community rather than an end in itself.
It is important to consider arguments put forward by various researchers that concern this change in emphasis because the progression from functionalism to individualism and back to functionalism involves shifts in attitude dictated by both money and Academe. It is idealistic to think that money and Academe are separate. The former is controlled by government bodies that in turn fund and control the latter. Thus money fuels academic endeavour. The number of successful research applications that target governmental priorities is testimony to this as noted in the National Professional Development Program: Strategic Initiatives Element, 1994 Grants.
As a consequence of this behaviour patterns are changing, and it is this change that will affect the way in which art products are evaluated. With the introduction of National Curriculum Statements, and a move towards standardization of outcomes, it appears that much of the autonomy and freedom of artists will be curtailed. Repercussions will filter through to the classroom and National Profiles may, in many cases, serve as models to be replicated.
The problem facing art educators will essentially involve personal behaviour patterns and attitudes that may have to be modified. If the aim of making something is directed towards national productivity rather than individual expression, the method of evaluating outcomes must reflect that aim which must then be understood by teachers. This will be a matter of survival and so it is important that three key points are considered. These are, artistic behavioural changes through time, the way in which effects of artistic behaviour and art products have affected attitudes, and recent developments in appreciating the variety of cognitive functions that may influence artistic behaviour in different ways.
A recent study by Dissanayake (1992) looks at art from an ethological perspective that could provide an acceptable philosophical base from which to approach recent educational concerns regarding student performance. The study investigates the making of art as a behavioural trait inherent in all humans.
Concerns expressed by Steiner (1989), Hughes (1990), Macdonnell (1993) and Delaruelle (1993) highlight issues that deal with artists, art production and art commentary that is often perceived by members of the wider community as a separate and somewhat esoteric sub-culture apart from the norm. The future career possibilities for artists, the quality of current art practice, and general confusion about multiculturalism are issues that have bearing on decisions made in proposing art curricula and assessment procedure for evaluating artworks.
With particular regard to multiculturalism, appreciation of the different backgrounds, attitudes, and forms of intelligence valued by various ethnic communities, need to be considered. In this latter case the work of Howard Gardner could be valuable in offering suggestions for an approach to appreciating and understanding competencies in different cognitive spheres.
Art as Behaviour:
The ambiguity of art, and the focus on the individual, can be considered a recent phenomenon. The images depicted in early Paleolithic cave drawings, the embellished tombs of Egypt, the Greek and Roman friezes, vases, busts, statues and murals, the Viking adornment and Medieval murals, mosaics and illuminated manuscripts were mainly done for a purpose. While the purpose and complexity varied depending on the cultural context of the time, the artworks usually sought to convey something about the divinity of the gods, the might of rulers, the force of nature. Artworks were generally made to respond to a communal concern or need, and it was not until the Renaissance that the actual status of the artist as an individual came into focus. This notion of artist as individual was further expanded in the Romantic period when poets of the time embraced the 'anti-hero' standpoint that elevated the ordinary individual to deified status.
Once the doors opened for elevation of the individual, the function of art adapted to the cultural context of "I think, therefore I am". From this time ambiguity was conceived and the gestation period of some one hundred years was finally brought to an end with the delivery of modern artistic practice that defied, challenged and confronted the norms of society.
Since the eighteenth century "the pursuit of happiness for individuals rather than acquiescence to a humanly unknowable divine plan" lead to "instrumental relationships based on the exchange of money; an emphasis on reason as the most efficacious tool for understanding and controlling the matters of life;" (Dissanayake, 1992, p.196). With the shift in "controlling the matters of life" from the divine to the human came ambiguity.
Dissanayake suggests that human values and attitudes took on greater individualistic focus as people began to challenge the dogma and beliefs handed down by the Church. The search for some rational explanation for human existence gathered momentum as secularization and scientific investigation increased.
The new complexity, confusion and conflict associated with seeking out the meaning of life, that has a different meaning for each individual, has been debated and documented by people from all walks of life. Embodied in this search for meaning is also a search for the something special, the something that maximizes survival, interest and enjoyment in life. Dissanayake (1992) argues that since the Romantic period the Western cultural emphasis on individualism and originality has made the essence of art "undefinable, and irreducible", and as a consequence the search for a common denominator that characterizes all instances of art, that makes something "art", has become outmoded and a lost cause. She discusses the "plural and radical nature of the arts in our time", and the ramifications of economic and critical influences that determine the nature of art. She concludes that art, if it exists at all, is only a socially and historically conditioned label (p.41).
Effects of Artistic Behaviour:
A telling example of this labelling process can be seen in the way in which Duchamp's act of placing a urinal in another context (1917) transformed it from a utilitarian object to a statement of art. Duchamp's intention at the time is debatable. However, Lucie-Smith (1977) writes that "By asserting that any object could be turned into a work of art merely by labelling it as such, Duchamp gave free rein to a vein of distinctive irony" (p.40). Reproduction in texts, analysis and criticism of the object, The Fountain, has ensured that the label, 'a work of art', be applied to this object and many other such readymades.
This transformation process is integrally linked with what is said and written about the work. To appreciate a work of art requires interpretation, which in turn requires an atmosphere of artistic theory and knowledge about art history. The interpretation in turn can perhaps become more important than the object, and so values and beliefs about what constitutes art are constantly changing. One of the major reasons for this was the beginning of an idea some hundred years after the Enlightenment, that there was a special frame of mind required for appreciating works of art, a "disinterested" attitude, a kind of detached aesthetic experience that was considered to be one of the highest forms of mental activity (Dissanayake, 1992 pp.196-197).
It was inevitable that knowledge about art assumed proportions of superiority that separated the object itself from its original context and transported in into a realm that mystified the public. In an effort to demystify the public, art education to-day attempts to interpret the "socially and historically conditioned label” of art while much art criticism at the same time obscures understanding.
This is a contentious issue in which no definite boundaries can be drawn because the functions of art education and art criticism are closely linked. These functions concern the investigation of artworks. Nevertheless, it has been noted by researchers such as Kuhn (1984), Hamblen (1990), and Burton (1991), that the term 'art' cannot be satisfactorily defined, and so what is either said or written about 'art' may have a variety of meanings. The meanings themselves can never be analyzed in isolation because individual understanding and interpretation depends on the reader.
The written text itself has now become a paper parade of "secondary talk" that Steiner (1989) refers to in his work entitled Real Presences: Is there anything in what we say? His concern is about the hybrid academic journalistic 'coverage' that he considers adds nothing to our understanding of the artwork:
Literate humanity is solicitated daily by millions of words, printed, broadcast, screened, about books which it will never open, music it will not hear, works of art is will never set eyes on. A perpetual hum of aesthetic commentary, of on the minute judgements, of pre-packaged pontifications crowds the air. (p.24)
The aesthetic commentary in the main has no reference to any actual encounter with the work, but offers instead an object for dissection in seminars, lectures, dissertations and post-doctoral research. Hughes (1990) offers another reason in saying that "to resurrect something, to study and endow it with a pedigree, is to make it salable" (p.399). The aesthetic commentary is also a type of professional `artmanna' for the armies of intellectual employees who constantly need to proclaim their credence.
Even the label of art has been further torn apart by post-modern deconstruction and commentary that Dissanayake suggests embraces the "emphemerality, fragmentation, discontinuity, and chaos of modern life without attempting to counteract or transcend it or trying to define any eternal elements within it" (p.201). What then is left?
For artists the future seems very tense owing to peripheral status conferred on the arts by government, increasing numbers of graduate art students, and a type of professionalization in the Academic milieu that promises security amidst colleagues in lieu of individualism. The once accepted notion of the artist as a creative 'genius' who could stand apart from accepted conventions, who was stimulated by modernism to actually defy and challenge conventions, who was supported and encouraged by government grants to pursue the unusual, and whose example enticed a large following of young artistic aspirants, is now being questioned. This is because the nature of intangible artistic outcomes is seen to sit at odds with current political and socio-economic moves towards outcomes that can be gauged, calculated and standardized.
The issue of outcomes and support for the Arts is criticized by Justin Macdonnell (1993), who considers that:
The Australia Council needs to achieve strategic partnerships with educational institutions, business and trade unions and the media in order to foster an understanding of how the arts can be central to the achievement of their goals rather than, as now, peripheral. (p.9)
With emphasis on his own field of performing arts, Macdonnell sees lack of support for innovative work as a major drawback. He considers that too many young artists are forced into producing premature work simply to justify a grant or earn a fee (p.10).
This pressure on young artists may result from the increasing numbers of students studying art. Hughes, (1990) talks of the overpopulation of the art world with some 35,000 painters, sculptors, potters, art historians and others graduating from art schools in America each year. He sees this phenomenon as "cultural feeding become gross" where the "manufacture of art-related glamour, the poverty of art training" and so many `artists' "vying for attention, so many collectors, so many inflated claims and so little sense of measure" ensures a slump in cultural history (p.6).
lt is this sort of opinion that must be considered seriously. If it appears that what remains for art schools is to produce "fulfilled" personalities at which no one can fail, the discipline of art is in grave trouble. If, as Hughes considers, it is easier on teachers to simply allow students to "do their own thing" (p.11) resulting in problems for the market to "figure out ways of selling mediocre-to-bad art at prices that are high enough to stifle aesthetic dissent" (p.401), then art educators must figure out ways of countering this.
Both Macdonnell and Hughes have drawn attention to the problem of meaningless overproduction that appears to lack dedication to both mastery of concepts and mastery of skills. It seems that the artist of to-day has reverted to the status of kept entertainer. Gone are the Romantic aspirations of 'otherness', of escaping the bounds of convention and striving towards the heights or depths of the sublime that demand commitment to beliefs and passion in execution.
Delaruelle (1993) picks up on this relocation now facing artists when he investigates "The Artist as Exile". He sees the frequency of reference to the "extraterritoriality" of the art and literature of our century as actually dulling the notion of `exile' into an acceptance of indifferent cliché. This he sees as the result of trivialization of the condition of 'exile' under the guise of its celebration in Academe, where, in a society actually lacking dissidents, "the State and its cultural agencies seek to monopolize the function of criticism" and, in assuming an understanding or experience of "otherness" do nothing more than mimic the activity. In Delaruelle's words "all that we have is a kitsch version of otherness" (p.4).
It seems that the memory of Rimbaud's "supreme Scientists", those who aspired to attain the unknown, is only a flicker that fuels artistically inclined people who now seek acceptance by Academe and the professional international milieu of contemporary art. Indeed, the term of 'collaborator', as used by Delaruelle, seems appropriate to describe the process of "putting oneself voluntarily at the service of a vile power" whereby one extols the virtues of the State, the mass media and the associated ambiguity of multiculturalism.
The implications to be drawn from current art practice can only be confronted through recognizing and finding the means to cope with a "new foreignness, a situation of absence and aphasia, a social void to which corresponds a new sort of exile" discussed by Delaruelle. But this sort of exile is not that of émigrés, refugees or those who have the courage to swim against the mainstream. To-day's "exiles" are those who are lost in a world of multiculturalism and "semiotic confusion", where tolerance has become so all-encompassing that the notion of 'exile' has become the reality viewed from the "cosmopolitan reality of the artist as civil servant, as pillar of artistically bankrupt institutions" (Delaruelle, 1993 p.4).
From the observations of Dissanayake, Steiner, Hughes, Macdonnell and Delaruelle it seems that a tense future lies ahead for artists that involves an alliance with Academe and money to give artists the means of survival reminiscent of the Renaissance. As long as government bodies fund universities, government policies will permeate the institutions and influence the thinking and behaviour of its employees. With the amalgamation of Art Schools into universities they too rely on the dollar for survival, and so the gaps between artist and Academe, and Academe and money no longer exist.
The alliance of government and Academe will not tolerate the 'do your own thing' attitude of Modernism as a method of survival. Rather this alliance may dictate survival through fulfilling a role, be it that of commentator or that of paid performer/producer.
This raises the question of whether or not "art" is acknowledged as an object or a form of behaviour in the current cultural climate because whatever it is, outcomes will need to be identified. The answer is very complex and dependent on context. From a post-Romantic western perspective art has generally been regarded as object, a painting, a sculpture and so on - objects made by individuals or a select group of artists. But in pre-Romantic and many Eastern and indigenous cultures, more emphasis has rested on the behavioural aspects that motivate the making of special items. It now appears that the two views are becoming less clear as multicultural influences modify our focus.
The implications of this will have a bearing on decisions made regarding what it is that teachers of art will attempt to teach, and consequently attempt to evaluate. Given that western commodity-oriented perspectives dominate much Australian thinking it is suggested that the recent work of Dissanayake (1992), that looks at art from a behavioural point of view, may be worth investigating so that an alternative way of thinking may be considered. She argues that while "Thinking of art as a behaviour may seem strange, difficult, or awkward because the word 'art' most commonly refers to visual art and sometimes to the intangible qualities of these artefacts", the notion of art as a behaviour does not refer to a specific artistic activity, but to a general behavioural complex (p.33).
The duality of body and soul, Dissanayake suggests, is "an erroneous legacy of Western philosophy" that has separated cognition and emotion, and consequently been "the cause of considerable muddle" which was not evident before the late eighteenth century where the word 'art' equated with craft or skill (p.29). Art, as recognized to-day, is closely entwined with the ideas of commodity, commerce, ownership, progress, specialization and individuality. However, from an ethological view of art it may be possible to recognise the biological core of art as the behavioural tendency to make something special through the ability to choose and select the unusual, the extra-ordinary for purposes of adornment, ritual, sensory and emotional gratification, cognitive challenge and all other aspects that contribute to one's feeling of fulfillment. The position Dissanayake offers is "a species-centered view of art that is not art (with all its burden of accreted connotations from the past two centuries), but making special that has been evolutionarily or socially and culturally important". (p.56)
From this viewpoint many of the questions about the nature of art that face current art education may be resolved. To recognise art as a general behavioural complex of "making special" allows the variety and contradiction of artistic activities; it dissolves the concern for identifying an object as "art" while still admitting that people and societies provide "the means and parameters" within which something is done, or not done, and within which the results can be evaluated; it denies the "loose declaration" that art is everything and everything is art; it emphasises the idea that the arts have been "physically, sensuously and emotionally satisfying and pleasurable to humans"; it recognises the biological need and desire to differentiate and set apart some things from others, and the theory finally suggests that artistic behaviour was, until modern times, "primarily in the service of abiding human concerns" (Dissanayake, 1992 p.61).
In considering the past from this ethological view, it may be possible to recognise a more holistic state of being in which the arts were an integral part of behaviour. This viewpoint emphasizes the communal and integrated function of artmaking as part of a universal desire to differentiate between ordinary and special things.
On the other hand, post-Romantic Western concerns expressed by those involved with the product, the artwork of to-day, reflect commodification of artmaking for individual benefit. Integration of this approach to artmaking into our current political and educational systems point to the possible future role for the contemporary artist as that of "collaborator".
The two extremes outlined above, that have appeared to run parallel, separate in philosophy, approach and outcomes, now appear to be converging. On the one hand, it is suggested that pre-Romantic artworks were made primarily to respond to a communal concern or need. On the other hand, post-Romantic works were primarily created to satisfy individual concerns or needs.
The pluralistic nature of contemporary society, and the current political climate in Australia, now appear to highlight, and also demand, that the productive outcomes of both community and individual effort are accountable to national needs, while increasing awareness of human rights and ethnic values stresses individual importance.
Communal concern and need, and individual rights appear to be priority issues in contemporary society. It is the opposition of these that poses problematic concerns for art educators. The behavioural patterns of people in Australia now appear to be more closely guided and monitored by organizational systems, and the possibility of some conflict regarding the type of desirable outcomes from educational programs seems imminent.
In an effort to unite all persons living in Australia into a national identity, educational reform has been targeted as a vital mechanism for facilitating this. System-wide agreements about standards for schooling throughout Australia have been called for in an effort to effect a common guide for teaching and learning in a given curriculum area, a common method of assessing performance, and a means of informing the community about the quality of student performance in school programs.
The notion of curricula sameness in content, assessment procedures and reporting may cause concern amongst many art educators if concern is focused on the curriculum structure from a norm-based perspective. If, on the other hand, teachers apply critical thinking to devising ways of investigating the curriculum structure from a criterion based perspective the notion of sameness does not apply, because interpretation of performance is referenced to specified cognitive domains or behaviour. By turning attention to understanding concepts through doing, the focus of learning is shifted to cognitive functions that direct behaviour rather than comparing outcomes in isolation. The work of Howard Gardner is valuable in guiding this possible change in approach and attitudes.
Cognitive Functions and Artistic Behaviour:
Gardner has identified four major findings from studies of the 1970's that have bearing on the way in which processes of thinking, behaviour, and production of artworks develop in children.
Firstly, in most areas of development, children simply improve with age. However the high artistic competence of young children appears to fall into decline during the years of middle childhood. Secondly, the acquisition of much knowledge and competence in the arts by pre-school children can occur without explicit tutelage on the part of parents and teachers. Thirdly, unlike most other areas of learning, comprehension in the arts is more complex and appears to lag behind performance or production capacities, and finally, contrary to classical developmental theory, children's competence in one cognitive sphere does not always predict the child's level of competence in other spheres as well.
Gardner (1989), emphasizes the point that the work "has established that artistic development is complex", and further work has led him to claim that there are at least seven different forms of knowing, or "information-processing", that humans may possess in different ratio capacity. These are a "result of genetic and environmental factors", and "whether an intelligence is mobilized for aesthetic or non-aesthetic ends turns out to be an individual or a cultural decision" (P.74). In other words the behaviour determines the ends.
Two major ways of training intelligence are highlighted through, firstly, traditional apprenticeships and, secondly, formal scholastic settings. The former features observation, demonstration and coaching-in-context, while the latter involves the lecture-textbook method of delivering information to be memorised and understood by students for practical application at some future date.
The latter method takes priority in Western educational systems where, in the main, they have emphasized the separation of mind from body and declared the dual dimensions of cognition and emotion. For the arts however, the division was more difficult owing to the very practical nature of production, and the very sensory essence of each art form. Nevertheless, certain other bodies of knowledge that include art history, art criticism and art appreciation, appear to have been vigorously and carefully cultivated since the 1960's. Gardner refers to these bodies of knowledge as "peri-artistic".
Gardner's findings appear to substantiate earlier discussion of arguments posed by Dissanayake, Steiner, and Hughes regarding the ways in which Western approaches to negotiating artworks have separated, modified and changed the context for both making and appreciating the creative effort. The addition of "peri-artistic" bodies of knowledge has also increased the content area of art, and while this has allowed teachers a great deal of freedom in selecting from a variety of content, techniques, media and delivery methods when proposing and implementing art programs, it has also created a problem in that standards of achievement are now generally seen as too diverse and lacking in comparability.
Industry-based Training and Implications for Art Teaching:
With the proposed introduction of competencies and industry-based training that insists on profiles, products, and collaboration between manufacturers and tertiary institutions, it appears that some confusion exists amongst art teachers regarding the direction the production of artworks should now take. This confusion is compounded by recognition of multiculturalism and increasing family mobility as normal elements of the Australian make-up and way of life that make stable definitions of what constitutes a cultural artefact no longer possible or desirable.
The question of imposing uniform content and standards for art may appear to contradict the very nature of the discipline. In Queensland, performance standards "will become integral elements of Department of Education syllabuses for students in Years 1-10. As well they will be linked to national curriculum documents, including the national profiles of student achievement which are being developed". (Performance Standards. Department of Education, Qld. 1992).
The Performance Standards document discusses the way in which "considerable overlap ... acknowledges the extent of individual differences in development among students during these years", and emphasizes that the standards "will take particular account of our syllabus documents and of the diversity of our educational settings and students". Individual student profiles developed within the school "should be used to build, over time, a rich profile of the student's performance across numerous tasks" using performance standards to provide the common elements for students’ profiles.
The proposed final document, The Arts: National Profile for the Arts, (1993) is intended to be used in conjunction with the National Statement for the Arts, and together the two documents will outline learning experiences and possible achievements for each level that "make broad comments on artistic learning at that level" (p.4).
Boughton (1993), has expressed grave concerns about the "reductionist nature of the curriculum statement", and has identified five possible problems that may arise from "the imposition of uniform content and standards" (p.64). His concerns are valid, but they relate to any imposition of system guidelines that attempt to monitor and control human behaviour and are not new.
He firstly considers that the characteristic complexities of the arts cannot be captured in a few sentences; secondly that profiles will separate means and ends in education and deny multiple paths necessary for artistic production; thirdly that the translation of aesthetic qualities inherent in artistic practice to written statements will not capture the qualities sought in arriving at standards in the arts; fourthly that written statements "will be locked in time" within the school thus disallowing recognition of, and response to, the dynamic changes and developments of the professional arts arena outside schools, and fifthly that no adequate database exists to support the development of either prescriptive or descriptive profile statements appropriate to the arts.
In responding to these concerns the following arguments are offered for consideration.
Firstly, the characteristic complexities of the arts are not new. Just as the various forms of intelligence identified by Gardner are not new in themselves, but their identification is, so too the identification of artistic complexity is new. Given the fact that "peri-artistic" bodies of knowledge have been attached to the discipline of art education, the complexity has increased. At no time has any statement in any discipline stated all there is to be learned in that area during the years of schooling.
Secondly, the concept of separation of means and ends dates back to the Renaissance period when the nature of humans was divided into cognitive and emotional functions in Academe. The continued progress in parting theory from practice is well documented. As Gardner says "the scholastic approach has come to dominate our thinking about learning and to exercise a near-stranglehold over activities featured in school" (p.75).
Thirdly, again the notion of writing about artworks is not a new idea. Indeed the very efforts of artists and art critics to articulate in written form have led to the inclusion and debate of aesthetics in this century. Students are required to keep "process diaries" as they embark on projects and these form an integral part of the overall work to be assessed. Teachers should be capable of commenting in like manner.
Fourthly, all written statements are "locked in time" - the poetry of Milton, the sonnets of Shakespeare, the notoriety of 'Watergate', the first letter of a child. Each century, year, day, hour and minute can be recorded, but this does not imply an inability to add, revise and re-visit.
Fifthly, if no adequate database exists for the development of profiles it is perhaps time to establish the beginnings.
Throughout time people have constantly sought to establish the norms of society, codes of behaviour, and the values and beliefs that have served to sustain some sort of meaning for living. However, it seems that the "new foreignness", the situation of absence and aphasia discussed by Delaruelle has created a void that people everywhere are desperately trying to fill. Macdonnell's urging for "strategic partnerships with educational institutions, business and trade unions and the media" may also be seen as recognition of the dislocation of aspirations and goals that permeates our society.
It may be time to seriously consider Dissanayake's theory of art as behaviour, the sort of behaviour in the sense of "dromena", the need to act ritually (derived from the Greek "dromenon" meaning a thing done), and "liminal" from the Latin word for threshold (p.69). While Dissanayake's work deals with the many ways people from different cultures have sought to make something special, the notions of "dromena" and "liminal" seem most apt in attempting to describe some facets of current artistic practice.
The effect of ritual actions and performances has served to deliver people from anxiety, or allow a response to some heightened emotional state through doing something. The ritualized transformation from one state to a more special one through the "liminal" phase carries a large amount of emotional significance, and efforts to deal with or control the uncertainties of the world "tend also to be inherently and frequently, if not exclusively, what are called 'aesthetic' or `arts"' (Dissanayake p.79).
In looking at the works of performance artists such as Mike Parr, these may be seen as ritual actions that attempt to convert reality into something more significant. However, the "liminal" phase, a sort of limbo that bridges the movement from a prior natural state to a heightened state and thence to a new state, is the uneasy and undefined stage. Could it not be that much that is happening in to-day's current artistic practice both in professional and amateur areas fall into this "liminal" phase?
The accelerated rate of change denies the evolutionary stages that once allowed a gradual movement from one form of accepted cultural behaviour to another. Instead, the art world seems to be in a constant state of 'betwixt and between' as reforms become outdated almost before they are formulated.
For art educators who deal with implementation of these reforms it may be time to consider the nature of commodity cultures that dominate much of society, and to identify those special things that determine certain types of behaviour. The problem is to identify what it is that society in general, and art educators in particular want to understand and evaluate - the type of art object, or the type of behaviour? What are the norms, ideals and possibilities that now surround art educators? Is it possible to retain a sense of autonomy when others plot the norms and standards of achievement?
Maybe art can be recognized as a behaviour that has the possibility of serving communal needs, of directing a sense of meaning into the 'void' so that the doing and the outcome are a continuum of meaningful behaviour. If it is possible to achieve this balance between the process and product as related behaviour and outcome, then a sense of autonomy may replace the conflict that has arisen from the separation of mind and body, of thinking and doing, and of the individual from the community.
Hughes refers to "so little sense of measure" in the artworld where the impact of mass media, and especially television, "drains the world of meaning; ... it tends to abort the imagination by leaving kids nothing to imagine" (p.14). Of particular concern for art education is his suggestion that "if one opens 'art' to include more and more of the dominant media that have no relation to art,
the alien goo takes over and the result is, at best, a hybrid form of short-impact conceptualism trying to be spectacle" (p.16). Maybe it is time to concede that a "sense of measure" is better than too much freedom.
The problem confronting art education is not the introduction of subject profiles, uniform content and standards. To see these as confining, reducing artistic possibilities and determining precise subject matter denies the vision of learning as a life long activity. Given much of the 'wet Friday afternoon' cut and paste stuff presently done in many primary schools, and a perceived lack of challenge and relevance in some secondary school work, it may be that the introduction of art profiles could stimulate and enrich the imagination rather than stifle creativity. This will largely depend on teacher knowledge, attitudes and delivery strategies. This is the area of concern. In-servicing programs for teachers are needed so that teachers may enrich their own knowledge base and adapt teaching methodology to investigating concepts that are the basis for behaviour.
An investigation of young people's roles as consumers within commodity cultures may show that there is a need for recognized means of artistic expression for a specific purpose in a definite context. The challenge for art educators lies in recognizing both the purpose and context, the special meaning-producing activities that encompass the whole way of life, and devise some sense of measure for these.
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