Negotiating Disruption in Visual Arts Education

Negotiating Disruption in Visual Arts Education

Jennifer Elsden-Clifton (RMIT University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-495-6.ch010
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The visual arts has a long tradition of providing a space for artists to take up disruptive practices such a, challenging what is known, questioning and exploiting cultural codes, and providing alternative social practices. This chapter is interested in how visual arts students take up these disruptive possibilities within the complexity of secondary schools; a space historically characterised by hierarchal power, surveillance, and institutionalized structure. This chapter draws upon interviews with art teachers to examine the discourses surrounding their observations of ‘disruptive’ art created in their classrooms. In particular, the author focuses on the stories of two students who through their artwork explored and transgressed normalised notions of sexualities and bodies, which was signalled to be problematic within the school context by the teachers. This discussion explores how teachers, students, and the general school community respond and negotiate the tension and discomfort that can arise from ‘disruptive’ art.
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The Disruptive Possibilities Of Arts Education

Eisner’s (1972) work is productive to frame disruption within arts education. He notes that the visual arts:

call to our attention the seemingly trivial aspects of our experience, thus enabling us to find new value in them. The artist’s eye finds delight and significance in the suggestive subtlety of the reminiscences and places of our existence. The work of art displays these insights, makes them vivid, and reawakens our awareness to what we have learned not to see. Thus, art is the archenemy of the humdrum, the mundane. (Eisner 1972, p. 16)

Thus, drawing upon Eisner (1972) I see disruption within the arts in terms of challenging what is known, seeing things in new ways and questioning the mundane. Indeed, throughout art history, there are many examples of artists and art movements that have sought to use the visual arts as a means of protest and activism, to question and exploit cultural codes, and to mobilize and promote alternative social practices. For instance, the political artist Alfredo Jaar epitomises this tradition when he states ‘[s]ometimes art is less a thing to look at than a way to see (2003, n.p.). As he explains:

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