Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Discussion of Visual Culture Theory.

Jonathan Sanchez
Date Jan 23 2013
A Discussion of Visual Culture Theory.                                                                                                                                              All three writers agree that the basic premise of visual culture theory is that there is a need to create a multi-disciplinary approach to education at large and art history in specific. Tavin makes the case that art history can benefit greatly from cultural studies (Tavin, 199) and (eventually by page 209) has listed some thirty disciplines that he argues should be incorporated into the sphere of visual culture. In contrast Julie C. Van Camp in her critical look at the visual culture movement, seems to warn of the rise of a potential new dogma (Van Camp, 34). "Still further, the term "interdisciplinary" can simply suggest ways of expanding our methodologies in a variety of disciplines without staking a claim that only particular notions of interdisciplinary are acceptable" (Van Camp, 34). She seems to warn of throwing out the baby with the bath water, suggests that we should be slow to throw all of our ideas out in favor of the new Zeitgeist. Van Camps endorsement of visual culture theory comes in the form of a question, "Can our understanding of visual culture be used to enhance our understanding of what we traditionally termed or deemed as art?" (Van Camp, 34).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Tavin seems to burn with the fire of a zealot lighting a torch to the whole art academy and Eisner rests somewhere between Van Camp and Tavin, when he simply states, "Justification improves overall performance," (Eisner, 7). Pluralism pushes in one direction and standardized testing in another a pendulum swing that leaves art educators grasping.           
Perhaps the strongest points that all agree on are the following; art history is no island, visual experiences are profound and far reaching, the everyday in the classroom breaks down the barrier of high art.                                                                                                                                              Art history and therefore art education is no island. In short trans-disciplinary approaches inspired by visual culture theory, can only help to bring context and a sociological component into the art classroom.                                                                                                                                   
Visual experiences are profound and far reaching even if they happen in a football stadium. As it was once said the "medium is the message,"  to see someones name in lights is thrilling weather we know why or not. It is that visual experiences reach us on a primal level like moths drawn to a flame. By saying that some experiences are high art and others not worth mentioning we close off a vast current of inspiration, and limit are realm of intellectual meandering. As Tavin states, "By inculcating students to existing cultural hierarchies, the canon of high art is maintained as unproblematic," (Tavin, 197).                                                                                                                                                  
Finally, bringing the current and the everyday into the classroom will not only help students relate it will address issues of whose culture are we making? Are we to simply repeat what has been done as a kind of art mantra or are we as May said active change agents (May, 146).                                                                                                                                                                 
Problems with a visual culture approach                                                                                                                                     1. Visual culture does not seem to have an overarching or concrete quintessence all of the authors seem to allude to this as a point of confusion. 2. It is perhaps too far reaching it would be as if arguing, why do we need geology and biology why not talk about them as the same thing? They are of course related and interact with each other but is it possible to talk about everything at once? We break things into categories in order to make sense of them. 3. How do we talk about art or visual culture if all terms are deemed antiquated and culturally loaded? "Visual culture seems to have rejected not only formalism but also almost any other way of appreciating and understanding art objects themselves." (Van Camp, 35)                                                                                                                                                                                                              Terms                                                                                                                                                                                   Interdisciplinary is addressed in all three papers though to what extent art teachers should become social studies teachers is up for debate (Eisener, 8). It is a tenet of visual culture and can be defined as a paradigm shift that allows for other studies to be incorporated into art studies.                                                                                            
Context or contextualization the process of placing art into a historic or social sphere. 
Critcal Response/Application/Personal Reflection/ Assignment Souvenirs          
Rose Bean Simpson is a multi-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo. I was immediately drawn to her work because of her diverse styles, including comic art, sculpture, music, and spray paint. After watching Artisode 1.3- KNME (Rose Bean Simpson) I knew right away that I wanted to interview her for this project. I felt very encouraged by her voice, and that she was someone I could identify with. I have a great respect for any woman who is creating art that challenges mass media and objectifications. Rather than numbing one’s soul, Rose Bean Simpson is trying to enliven, strengthen, and build the soul.  She is not afraid to be who she is, in her natural, beautiful state, and this not only shows through her voice, but through her artwork as well. I am honored that I was able to interview someone who is actively transforming the negative effects of our media, and someone who is honestly connected to the purity of life. Through my own journey as an artist, I have experienced moments of complete frustration, and even oppression, due to the domination of our media society, so not only was discovering Rose a breath of fresh air, but I was truly inspired.
Rose Bean Simpson: In the sculpture “To Fill That Hole”, I had placed within the bars, multi-colored small faces. Much of my work is about looking inward, and trying to see or expose what is on the “inside”. (Emotionally, psychologically). I put small viewing spaces in my work for a while because they were all about revealing an inner truth.
Rose Bean Simpson from Santa Clara Pueblo uses found objects, traditional and non-traditional media to create often haunting and introspective works. Her creations exist somewhere between the ancient world of Santa Clara Pueblo (first inhabited around 1300) and the modern world of near by Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

In contrast to Rose Roxanne Swentzell also from Santa Clara uses traditional images and themes. Her works do not at first glance appear to be contemporary pieces but often vary little from museum artifacts of her ancestors. Under closer examination it is revealed that in fact she has used the traditional art forms to express everyday modern ideas.
Open a discussion with students about how important a sense of place, your personal history and that of your ancestors, and what are art materials? Using these three themes, three different ideas present in Visual Culture theory are presented. First, your home, your environment personally shapes your experience be it a seven hundred year old Pueblo or a modern suburban home. This theme addresses ideas of what visual experiences surround us daily, mesas, chilis and katsina, or shopping malls, SUVs and Ipads.  Second, your personal history and that of your ancestors, Pueblo folks often live with their ancestors in items, in the walls of their sacred spaces and symbolically. How important are our ancestors in mainstream America? Do we have a sense of history? If not how do we relate to our present surrounding friends and family?                                                  
Both artists are from the same unique culture, trained in western eurocentric schools, but choose to express their identities very differently. Rose leans toward contemporary art but still uses Pueblo themes and Roxanne bends and pushes traditional themes and icons to make them lifelike and fill them with a sense of the everyday and universal.                                                                
Start out with images that originate within the culture and everyday experience of students rather than imposing too quickly academic constraints on what counts as legitimate art. (Tavin 206)              
Like the artist Cornell, Rose Bean Simpson uses items that she has had contact with a connection to sorts of souvenirs of her daily life. Students would be given the assignment to bring in three tiny items from their daily life symbolizing past, present and the ideal or future. They are then charged with combining them into an original work.
Tower Gallery Website Tower Gallery 78 Cities of Gold Road Santa Fe NM
Wendy Red Star Adjunct Professor Department of Art Portland State University                                            

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