Critical Arts Pedagogy: Nurturing Critical Consciousness & Self-Actualization through Art Education (Pt.1)
Originally Published in Art Education Journal 2021, VOL. 74, NO. 5, 19-24 https://doi.org/10.1080/00043125.2021.1928468
Creativity and Conscientization
“What is art? What is the relationship between art and the real world? How does art reflect, as well as shape, our world? How does art reflect, as well as shape, us?”
These are the first lines of the syllabus for my high school Art 1 course—these essential questions anchor my class, weave through everything we do, and give each learning experience greater purpose beyond the confines of the content or the classroom. It is important to me that my students leave my classroom with an understanding of the cyclical relationship between art and visual culture, and the society that creates it. I aim for students to recognize these cycles throughout art history and become involved as active participants in these cycles today.
Paulo Freire understood that schools could either be a force for maintaining the status quo or for liberation. Freire (1970/2000) recommended that teachers support students in developing a critical consciousness, the ability to name and analyze systems of inequity and oppression in society, and plan for actions against those systems. Ultimately, I want my students to develop their critical consciousness through artmaking.
Artmaking, to me, is an ideal medium for conscientization—the development of a critical awareness about our world and our role as active participants in transforming it (Freire, 1970, p. 452). Artists typically learn to observe, reflect, envision, judge, and revise their artwork. Similarly, critically conscious members of society aim to observe our world closely, reflect on what we see, envision alternate ways of being, and engage in a continuous cycle of judging and revising our world toward these goals. Art education is an ideal space for a young person to develop their creative capacities, and this should include their ability to create the world and the history in which they wish to live.
In my classroom, students use the creative process not only to create and improve their physical artworks but to “freedom dream,” to reflect on our world, envision alternatives, and take steps toward creating a world free of oppression (Love, 2019, p. 1). I believe that conscientization begins with a nuanced understanding of the self. I am a light-skinned, Middle Eastern, able-bodied, straight-sized, neurodiverse, queer, cis woman who is actively engaged in my personal antiracist healing and liberation work. My students are primarily children of color whose families consist of recent immigrants, with a broad range of identities, abilities, and interests, living in a historically marginalized and high-poverty community in downtown Los Angeles. I have recognized the power that comes with a critical awareness about my own social identities, and one of my goals in the classroom is to engage students in a critical analysis of their world through the lens of self.
Scaffolding Toward Critical Consciousness
As antiracist and antibias education becomes more popular, many educators are now teaching more “diverse” artists in their curriculum. However, educators who strive for conscientization and social justice through their pedagogy must go beyond merely diversifying the artists we teach (Acuff, 2018). We must put our lesson planning, classroom culture, and teaching style all in service of one core goal: to transform our classrooms into liberatory spaces where students are supported in recognizing, processing, and challenging systems of oppression (racism, colorism, heterosexism, abusive capitalism, settler colonialism, and cultural hegemony).
Therefore, I cannot rely on one or two token “activism” units to impart an enduring critical lens (Miner, 2014). Instead, I curriculum map and scaffold toward critical consciousness over the entire year. Every unit I teach has two objectives: an artistic technique or concept, and an essential question related to equity, liberation, and justice (Figure 1). These essential questions build on each other and develop in complexity over the school year (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).
For example, when we study color theory, we also discuss subjectivity and problematize Eurocentric understandings of objective color symbolism. When we practice portraiture, students interview community members and create immigration counter-narrative portraits. When we study graphic design, we also study critical media literacy and deconstruct how media reinforces stereotypes and social values.
Each lesson provides opportunities for young people to reflect critically on their lives and their world. Over time, students sharpen their critical lens and create more and more complex, conceptual artwork. This culminates in a final project in which students have a great deal of freedom regarding their technique, materials, or media—constrained only by the thematic focus: identity.
Read the Full Article @ https://doi.org/10.1080/00043125.2021.1928468