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Globalising Art, Architecture and Design History?Debating Approaches to Curriculum Change in the UK

Friday 19 September 2003

London House, Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1



Grasping the World: Conceptualizing Ethics and Aesthetics(pdf version) or (html version)

Donald Preziosi, UCLA

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes. If art history has any general office in the world it is to keep re-teaching this fugitive truth.

SESSION A: Different Art Histories

Panel 1

Teaching Histories of 'African Art'

Thomas A. Dowson, University of Manchester

Nearly twenty years ago Jan Vansina remarked it was then impossible to write an art history of Africa, "as too many scholars in the field of 'African art' have been allergic to historical pursuits." In this ahistorical state 'the art of a continent' has been used to bolster colonial, post-colonial and eurocentric agendas. Despite developments in Art History during the last two decades, the concept of African art remains as entrenched now in the wider disciplinary culture of Art History as it ever was. Disrupting that concept does not simply involve more sensitive research, for this has now been done in some areas, but also confronting histories of European engagements with the continent and its material cultures (cf. Annie Coombes, Reinventing Africa). Similarly, any attempt to incorporate art from Africa into an undergraduate art history curriculum in the West should foreground social, political and historical aspects of the West's encounters with those objects and images; not only issues of iconography and symbolism - which so easily act to define the Other. In this presentation I discuss how this might be achieved using two very different traditions of image making, also with two very different historical trajectories in the West. The first, the art of Benin, that art that came to define 'African art'; and second San (Bushman) rock art, that art always excluded from 'African art'.

Inserting Elements into Existing Modules

Paul Shakeshaft, Anglia Polytechnic University

How might a smallish School of Art begin to globalise, without a radical revision of recently validated courses? One pragmatic answer is to follow the example of Evelyn Welch (University of Sussex), who has inserted a week's teaching on Benin bronzes into an Italian Renaissance module. We have nominated six modules for this treatment, three of which have now been modified. To Objects in Space, a first-level module on the western figure, topics on Egyptian and West African figures have been added. Next year we shall insert the Mayan figure. To the compulsory second-level module, Visual Theories, an obligatory essay question has been set on the applicability of Western analytical methods to non-Western artefacts. The contextual range of the third-level module, King's College Chapel, has been extended to embrace the Islamic madrasa. This piecemeal approach to curriculum modification enables a team to innovate quickly, extend the curriculum easily and set up striking juxtapositions. With modest resources, students can be redirected, challenged and enthused. However, the method is open to two complaints: that it formalises the disparity of weighting between western and non-western topics and that it sets in high relief the otherness of the inserted culture.

Panel 2

Modernism in Latin America

Richard Williams, University of Edinburgh

This project was built on the Edinburgh department's existing strengths in non-western art, but instead of adding a new specialisation, it aimed at changing perceptions of existing material by offering new perspectives. Specifically, it aimed to reinvigorate the teaching of Modernism in the arts by removing it from the exclusive orbit of Europe and the United States. The experience of architecture and public art in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Mexico since the 1930s seemed to offer alternatives. What the project hoped to achieve specifically were understandings of modernisms that (1) challenged the puritanical ideologies often seen in Europe and the US; (2) were often anti-European; (3) made an appeal to the pre-colonial past; (4) were local rather than international in appeal. The session explores these questions, and potential problems and issues that they may raise in teaching. The project's material output, in the form of slides and a CD-Rom, will be explored for their pedagogic value.

SESSION B: Strategic Collaborations

Panel 3

Accessing 'World Cultures' in Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Stephanie Pratt, Plymouth

The project was envisaged from the outset as a way of capitalising on the high quality resources available in Devon relevant to the GLAADH initiative. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, established in the 1860s, possesses an internationally significant collection of artefacts from the Pacific, Africa and North America. Exhibited as 'World Cultures', this resource gave the Royal Albert Memorial Museum designated status. Although the art history provision at the University of Plymouth already contained material in its curriculum relevant to the GLAADH initiative, it was not until we were in receipt of GLAADH funding that it was possible to promote this area of activity comprehensively in collaboration with the Museum. Working in tandem with the museum's curators, a number of initiatives have been devised to give our students direct access to the 'World Cultures' collection and its origins, providing a local focus for explorations of the interaction between Western culture and the rest of the world. Student responses to these initiatives as gauged from the deployment of the pilot module, 'Myths of Primitivism', are extremely positive. Over the three years, students will be offered the chance to analyse and critique some prevalent Western assumptions about so-called 'non-Western' art, to understand the closures in academic discourse and museology that structure this territory and to move on to a consideration of art practices beyond Western norms.

The Computer and the Adze: Using Multimedia Software Applications in the Delivery of a Course Examining Global Art Objects and Issues for First Year Undergraduates

Jonathan Day, UCE

In my first year course, I currently exploit slides, video (via a VHS player and projector), OHPs and objects in my teaching. I was keen to introduce some of the dynamic possibilities of computers into my delivery - animated diagrams, images with staged information reveal, and the like, alongside the incorporation of the materials currently exploited through more traditional means. Students are ever more demanding in terms of delivery, thanks to the incredible pace of development in visual media. I am committed to remaining somewhere near to the leading edge of this wave in my presentation of World art, because I believe it is important in countering possible perceptions of the materials considered as 'old-fashioned', 'quaint', or any other cipher for 'irrelevant'. I am by no means a technophile; I see the computer as no more nor less creatively important than the Irian Jaian carving adze on my studio wall and it has yet to prove itself as having anywhere near the significance of the book. The content of a lecture is the key to value, and this is not the victim of technology. Facilitating most fully the experience of the content for students from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of pre-conceptions is the challenge which delivery can meet. GLAADH has facilitated an attempt to introduce multimedia into my teaching, in a budget manner. This session will examine the successes and failures I have experienced during this attempt. (A second part of this project was developed by Mike Harrison, Deputy Head, School of Theoretical and Historical Studies, UCE.)

Panel 4

Other Europes

Jeremy Howard, University of St. Andrews and Brian Aitken, University of Glasgow

Jeremy Howard and Brian Aitken (the Humanities Advance Technology Information Institute), will talk about the creation of the 'Other Europes' web teaching resource by staff members from the Universities of St Andrews (Jeremy Howard), Glasgow (Paul Stirton and Juliet Kinchin) and Aberdeen (Shona Kallestrup). This is an image and text database that allows students to see material unavailable elsewhere and that their tutor alone would not have been able to provide. It also allows them to write essays around the material and deliver these electronically. The material is from the members' own collections and relates to visual cultures under-represented in the critical mass of British art history. At present it mainly covers architecture and design in, or connected to, central and eastern Europe from around 1840 to 1940.


Diversity and Difficulty

Kobena Mercer, Middlesex University

What is the state of play surrounding 'diversity' in the arts and education today? Offering reflections on the cultural context of curricula change in the UK, and gathering observations from brief comparisons to the US and Western Europe, this paper attempts to pinpoint some of the problems and possibilities associated with questions of cultural difference in the field of art historical enquiry.

SESSION C: Shifting Paradigms

Panel 5

Making Changes and Shifting Paradigms

Fran Lloyd, Kingston University

This paper will critically reflect upon the key strategies employed at Kingston to integrate issues of cultural diversity and difference across the undergraduate curriculum. Adopting a team approach, the staff team has put in place key questions and issues, and developed supporting case studies within a relatively short time span. Particular emphasise will be placed on the major questions raised and the diverse approaches used to offer ways of both critiquing and opening up debates by extending the material in accordance with individual staff interests. This will include consideration of the creative use of existing local resources such as Kingston Museum and the Local History Research Centre, Dorich House and the Stanley Picker Gallery for the Arts alongside the rich resources of nearby London.

South Asian Art, Architecture and Design

Crispin Branfoot, De Montfort University

Members of staff from the Department of History of Art and Material Culture (HAMC) and PRASADA, the centre for South Asian arts, within the Faculty of Art and Design at De Montfort University have, with the support of the GLAADH project, undertaken to introduce a global dimension to the curricula of history of art, and fine art and design students. This has involved two elements: the introduction of case studies on South Asian arts and crafts into two existing undergraduate modules, Cultural Identity and Contemporary Crafts, and the development of a website to support students taking these modules. The website will initially have a major section devoted to Gujarati textiles and dress from the collections of Leicester Museum. The undergraduate curriculum for History of Art and Material Culture is being thoroughly revised for autumn 2004. Whilst maintaining its existing focus on the period from 1700 to the present in western Europe and north America, this change is providing an opportunity to integrate the study of world arts throughout the new curriculum. Two year 1 modules, 'Theories and Practices', and 'Introduction to Architecture and Design', will introduce sections on Islamic and South Asian art and material culture. Further modules in years 2 and 3 will similarly introduce a 'global' dimension to all undergraduate teaching. The project was developed by Dr. Richard Fynes.

Panel 6

Transculturation and the Visual Arts

Rose Cooper, Sheffield University

The approach of the Sheffield group was to draw upon subject group strengths in the institutional framework for art and design, taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and begin to address issues of 'non western' visual culture through institutional representation and cultural policy. The module title is intended to foreground the transient and dynamic nature of visual culture, to avoid suggestions of essentialism, and to problematise notions of cultural identity that posit this through difference. Key texts from a range of disciplines are used as the basis of lectures and seminar discussions whilst the case studies provide a focus for analysis. The initial case study of the Inuit collection provided an example of the role of agency, this we have now developed to include subsequent government intervention in Inuit visual culture and other indigenous, fourth world cultures. In the next academic year the number of regions for the case studies will be increased. Although the regional focus has clear strengths we are also aware of the dangers of this approach. The extended number of case studies should provide evidence of a variety of examples of transculturation, and attendant issues of acculturation, complicity etc., but we will also make more extended reference to post colonial discourses as a means of drawing out beyond the regional.

Perspectives in World Cinema

Lucia Nagib, Birkbeck College, University of London

In response to a perceived lack of coverage of non-Western cinemas on the MA History of Film and Visual Media at Birkbeck, an option on Perspectives in World Cinema was launched in 2002, with the aim of engaging the rich diversity of these other filmmaking traditions. Taught by Professors Laura Mulvey and Lucia Nagib, and designed to run alongside a related programme of talks by invited speakers, the module has demonstrably broadened the scope of subject areas to embrace Brazilian, Iranian, and Far Eastern cinemas. Importantly, the framework affords flexibility, and the continual possibility of shifts in content. The formerly small film collection of non-Western films within a larger collection, overwhelmingly Western in bias, has now been substantially enlarged.

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