UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aesthetic/ activism : the liminal area between aesthetic formalism and socio-political activism in art education Burnett, Matthew Christian


This thesis inquires into how an elementary art education curriculum can embody the space in/between aesthetic formalism and socio/political activism. I call this curricular approach aesthetic/activism. Visual texts will be the catalyst for research subjects to engage with aesthetic/activism through art-making, writing and dialogue. I am also interested in the learning and meaning-making that happens as a result of an aesthetic/activist curriculum. This research is situated in an after-school elementary art program in a multicultural, urban area. Much research has been written about engaging secondary students with socially activist curriculum (see Alter-Muri, 2004; Brown, 2007; Chalmers, 2005; Darts, 2004; Desai , 2006; Gude, 2007; Lanier, 1969; McFee, 1974). There is little research concerned with how younger students would respond to such curriculum. Two questions guided this research inquiry. The first question is: How can a curriculum be enacted that uses visual texts to inquire into the liminal area between aesthetic formalism and socio/political activism? The second question is: What learning results from such a curriculum? The research methodology of a/r/tography was used to inquire into these questions, which requires art, research and teaching to be integral parts of academic inquiry. The process of inquiring into the two research questions stated above led to new learning and knowledge that was co-created by the researcher and the research subjects. While most subjects conformed to the dominant discourse in the classroom as constructed by the teacher, a minority of subjects had the initiative to express their personal, subjective values when analysing and producing artworks. Most subjects demonstrated an appreciation for the therapeutic qualities of natural environments unaffected by the corrupting influence of human activity. A number of students did use art-making as a vehicle to engage with socio/political problems. Finally, some subjects demonstrated an understanding of aesthetic activism and the inter-relationships between visual and textual data. These results are fully explained in the Findings and Discussion chapter. This thesis is organized into five chapters. The introduction is the first chapter, which will explain the purpose, rationale and objectives of my research, as well as my research questions. The second chapter includes a literature review that will survey the history of aesthetic formalism and socio/political activism in art education research, as well as criticisms of each of these paradigms. An inquiry into art, art curriculum and art education theory that embodies both aesthetics and activism will provide a context for my research. The third chapter explains my research methodologies: what they are and how I will use them, as well as a description of the actual research process which involves teaching and art-making activities. The fourth chapter, the Findings and Discussion will analyse my research data. The last chapter is the conclusion of my research and my recommendations for further inquiry.

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