Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons

reviewed by James D. Kirylo - July 19, 2013

coverTitle: Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons
Author(s): Therese Quinn, John Ploof, & Lisa Hochtritt (eds.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415879078, Pages: 248, Year: 2011
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Written in graphic novel form, The Foreword by Bill Ayers and Maxine Greene (as told by Ryan Alexander-Tanner) is a provocative, creative, and appropriate way to introduce Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons, a timely edited book by Therese Quinn, John Ploof, and Lisa Hochtritt.  The illustrated Forward begins with Ayers and Greene sitting in a relaxed manner having a beverage, discussing the relationship between the arts and social justice.  

Greene reiterates how her conception of “social imagination” is intricately linked to the ethical and the political, ultimately making clear that “Justice has to do with regard for the other person.  Relation involves responsibility.  I can’t claim to be your friend if I remain your other” (p. xiv).  In other words, as Ayers responds to Greene, “Injustice is not recognizing the other human.  And justice involves recognition of the full humanity of the other” (p. xv).  Green and Ayers finish their thoughtful exchange affirming the notion that the arts play a vital role in awakening our consciousness, which is naturally integral in moving toward solidarity with those who are living in the shadows.

Beginning with that imaginative introduction, the book then finely transitions into what is titled Editors’ Introduction: It’s a Movement, So Start Moving: Art Education for Social Justice.  Quinn, Ploof, and Hochtritt rightly argue that—because of our obsession with testing—the arts are being riddled away from the curriculum, ultimately warning us of the negative impact this will have on our communities.  Responding to that reality, Dipti Desai, a Chapter Ten contributor, puts it this way in the aptly titled chapter, Educational Crises: An Artistic Intervention: “One of the significant challenges of our times is the current move to construct education as an enterprise that calls for standardization, accountability, and corporatization of pedagogy” (p. 35).  Desai then goes on to mention how multiple artists have insightfully used artworks as a vehicle to critically examine how the production of knowledge is advanced in schools and how “unlearning” can take place in order to rethink “…education as a cultural-aesthetic practice that is engaged in the redefinition of knowledge” (p. 35).  

Hence, among other reasons, the timeliness of this book offers hope where a growing number of art educators “are fighting for the rights of young people to be both creative and engaged citizens” (Quinn, Ploof, & Hochtritt, p. xviii).  In short, the editors compellingly argue that the book is premised on the fact that art can be a critical conduit in fostering a more just and right world.

To assist in providing the organizational structure for the book, the editors take their cue from the work of Marion Young and Nancy Fraser who both declare a necessity for social justice efforts, which logically focus on paying contextual attention to the economic and cultural milieu.  In that light, Quinn, Ploof, and Hochtritt organize the text in four distinct parts:  Part I—The Commons: Redistribution of Resources and Power; Part II—Our Cultures: Recognition and Representation; Part III—Toward Futures: Social and Personal Transformation; and, Part IV—Voices of Teachers.   

The editors go on to argue how the text contributes to the field of art education and in particular moves beyond the dominant discipline-based art education (DBAE) and expressive and visual culture templates.  That is, this book offers “examples of art education that are engaged with context (the teacher and students’ surroundings), contemporary art (current forms and perspectives) and critical issues (the ‘going’ world and abiding justice-related concerns)” (Quinn, Ploof, & Hochtritt, p. xx).  In other words, the text underscores that the provoking of social change can occur when our efforts in education support the cultivation of creativity.

Indeed, this book offers multiple art-related examples that clearly highlight the impact of creativity, authenticity, and movement toward awareness in promoting social change.  The assembled chapter contributors are impressive, coming from a diverse range of disciplines, backgrounds, experiences, and geographic areas.  For example, university professors, school teachers, musicians, writers, art educators, artists, storytellers, and non-profit workers, and others all comprise the cross-section of individuals who richly contributed to the text.  Each distinct part of the book begins with a short introductory chapter by one of the editors, save the last section in which the introduction is written by a chapter contributor.  

The chapter contributors creatively compose their respective chapters as the imagination dictated, making the thoughtful link between art and a social justice theme.  The strength of each chapter appears to take note of the axiom, “less is more.”  That is, the length of each chapter seems to be on average three pages, with most including photos, drawings, art work, or illustrations of some sort.  The naturalness of this approach works nicely.  

In Part I—The Commons: Redistribution of Resources and Power, chapter contributors focus on the theme that features the commonalities that connect humanity, which, as one of the editors Therese Quinn asserts, lays the groundwork that art education “invites all people into the category of artist” (p. 5).  Among other chapter themes, contributors concentrate on subjects related to distributed art practices, visual and aural, cultural gleanings, transborder commentaries on labor and identity, and collaborative galaxies of self.  

In Part II—Our Cultures: Recognition and Representation, chapter contributors explore a wide variety of eclectic themes, beginning with the idea of examining our identities, which are continuously under construction.  Part II concludes with other justice themes related to the area of calligraphy, writing, language, and reading as undertakings that are social and communal.  In addition, the concept of considering the link between theory and practice in light of art and craft education is illuminated in this section.

Part III—Toward Futures: Social and Personal Transformation is a compelling section where the chapter contributors particularly focus on how participation, collaboration, and communication can be sustained beyond the traditional school walls whereby “the arts, collective practices and public pedagogies hold great promise in thinking toward our futures and re-envisioning how participation in education can happen in more democratic and transformational ways” (Hochtritt, p. 100).    

The book concludes with Part IV—Voices of Teachers, emphasizing that “art matters,” and that fostering it in our homes, communities, and schools is extremely important.  That knowledge, cultural recognition and personal and social transformation are the guiding principles that steer this book implies that art teachers consider how knowledge, relationships, and actions impact classroom happenings, ultimately realizing that art is a creative energy that illuminates “new pedagogical possibilities” (Sullivan, p.147).

While most of the chapters were appropriately suited for each respective part or section, there appeared, however, that some didn’t necessarily quite fit relative to the chapter theme.  Nevertheless, in the final analysis, Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons is a thoughtful book that should be read by every educator who cares to examine more closely the intimate link between art and the fostering of a more humanizing world.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 19, 2013 ID Number: 17185, Date Accessed: 8/9/2020 8:13:10 PM

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