29 SES 12, Contemporary Stories of Arts Education
In a recent European Polylogue, the terms cultural education, art education and arts in and for education were sometimes used as if they more or less synonymous, while at other times various members of the group argued vehemently that very different concepts and processes were involved, and that conflation of these concepts hindered effective dialogue about education. Embedded in some renditions of these dialogues was the notion that there is a common European culture and that it is expressed in some refined forms of art that are not only worthy of study but that also have the means to empower those who learn them to be more civically-minded and cultural citizens of Europe. These discussions prompt a critical examination of what culture is, how it gives rise to and values art, and of what art is and how it draws on and reconstructs culture.
A second cluster of dialogue is one that was re-iterated in various ways in media and over family dinner tables throughout Europe at the time of the last ECER conference when Syrian migrants were making their way en masse through Hungary and Austria to Germany and countries in Europe were deliberating closure of their borders. “It’s the end of European culture,” was one line in the repeatedly enacted script. “Many of our parents and grandparents were themselves refugees,” was another. A third voiced concern about how to meet the coming educational challenges. These discussions prompt inquiry into the relationship of place with culture and into the ways in which education through the arts might allow us to explore, play with, and conceptualise ideas of place and culture and so make personal and sometimes collective meaning of who we are in relation to where we are and the cultures around us.
Drawing on a range of specific practical cross-cultural cases this paper first examines the notion that culture is the context within which art is made and viewed. It then examines the ways in which art may define, re-define and even re-construct culture. Further, it examines ways in which art for education may be purposefully used as a means of teasing out or playing with understandings of culture, in both community and school contexts. The importance of place and its shifting relationship to culture is also explored, as are the ways that art can be used to play with and within that relationship.
Illustrative practical examples are taken from work within New Zealand. The cases examined variously involve Maori, Pakeha, new immigrant, cross-cultural and globalising approaches to art- making and art for education. Examples are taken from both performing and visual arts.
A working model is developed in which culture is theorised as something powerful, pervasive, fluid and often intangible, while art is theorised as a deliberative process of both breaking and making meaning. Within that model, education may enact a range of roles and might constrain or facilitate play with understandings of place and culture and with strategies of making and using art.
While the examples are taken from New Zealand practice, it is expected they will have clear resonances with practice in other parts of the world.
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