Independent Project: ARE 6049

Beckie Harwood

February 9, 2018



     Art educators have shaped the lives of many people since the 19th century, and their responsibilities extend over and above lesson plans, teaching technical skills and classroom management. Art teachers must look beyond the obvious to help their students unlock their creative potential focusing on self-expression, learning how to create with others and building connections to the world at large. Stankiewicz (2001) also described art educators as art therapists, vocational counselors, exhibit designers, art advocates, art historians, art critics, philosophers, anthropologists, graphic designers and artists themselves. Indeed, the obligations of an art educator and the benefits of art education reach far beyond the classroom walls. Proving this occupation requires a great deal of devotion. The teaching practices that take place in the postmodern classroom owe a tribute to the art education methods, ideas, and theories from practitioners and scholars of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The study of art education history reveals a shift in education teaching trends over the decades, with the focus changing from technical skill to self-expression to the study of aesthetics. Ultimately, these movements influence the modern day classroom. Stankiewicz advised the study of art history education provides an opportunity for critical reflection on contemporary teaching trends and habits; which stimulates thought concerning what the art educator's role is today. Many art education pioneers paved the way for postmodern educators. However, the contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane stand above the rest.   Both women felt everyone had artistic potential and sought to unlock it by freeing the unconscious. They preserved their teaching methods and shared them with the world. Both women published books concerning their practices. Their books are more like teaching manuals, providing clear instructions to engage students successfully. Shaw and Cane were both educators, and their experience also carried over into art therapy. The purpose of this paper is to provide a comparative analysis of lives Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane by taking a close look at how their methods significantly impacted art education, art therapy and how their contributions led to the success of artists who proceeded them.


Personal History and Professional Development

     Shaw was born into a family of talent and education. Her father was a pastor, and the president of a Christian prep school in North Carolina and her mother was a teacher and a gifted musician. Shaw graduated from the James Sprunt Institute, a school for girls, in 1906 (Marable, 2006). She received no formal training in art. However, she possessed artistic talent and pursued it as a hobby (Stankiewicz, 1984).   Shaw was well traveled, she lived overseas numerous times throughout her life. In 1922, Shaw opened a school in Rome for the English speaking population.   Marable stated, "Shaw's enriched curriculum was aimed at teaching the principles of life and included reading and composition through the classics, literature, history, mathematics, mythology, and art" (p. 3). Likewise, Cane's family also possessed strengths in education and creativity. Cane's husband, Melvin Cane, was a poet and her sister; Margaret Naumberg was the founder of Walden School, a private school known for its Progressive methods. Cane was also described as a suffragette and advocated for women's rights. Cane was concerned about teaching methods at her sister's school. She believed the student's art did not reflect originality and creativity. She convinced her sister to hire her as the art instructor (Cane, 1951). Her teaching experience led to another opportunity at the Dalton School as the Art Chairperson; this is where Shaw and Cane's paths crossed. Shaw was also working at the Dalton school as a part-time art teacher at the time.

The Progressive Movement

     According to Stankiewicz (2001), the art teachers that belonged to the Progressive Movement agreed that all subject matter should be rooted in creative expression as a result of the student's imagination or experiences.   Also, Progressive teachers stood united by the belief that artistic growth requires knowledge of the psyche. Both Shaw and Cane fall under the umbrella of the Progressive movement, but their means of unlocking their students potential slightly differed. Shaw believed students learn best from playful sensory experiences to include role-play, games and field trips. Stankiewicz (2001) noted Shaw felt the teachers should guide and listen to their students. Shaw wanted her students to be independent, discovering the world by experience. Shaw insisted that learning should be fun and students were encouraged to use their imagination, which led to her student's success in verbal expression (Mayer, 2005). Shaw wanted to round out her students' experience and sought ways to unlock their unconscious visual expression, which ultimately led to her development of finger-painting. Unlike Shaw, Cane (1951) asserted herself as the teacher, the authority on the process of creation. She advised teachers must have artistic ability and they need to be effective communicators: providing simple instructions. Cane recognized the importance of her pupil's psychological development and offered specific direction for each age group. On the other hand, Cane and Shaw both encouraged students to work from their imagination and their memory (Stankiewicz, 2001).

Successful Teaching Methods

     Shaw and Cane possessed the ability to help their students discover their imagination, which unlocked their creative potential. Shaw and Cane's skill required a delicate balance of teacher instruction and student freedom. Their methods of teaching reveal a systematic approach that offered both guidance and growth (Stankiewicz, 2001). Shaw wanted her students to explore creativity in the visual arts but thought traditional art materials were too cumbersome or unsafe for little hands. Meyer (2005) noted Shaw insisted that her students use simple materials and her ability to look beyond the obvious unlocked the creative potential of her students and led to her invention of finger paints. The idea came to her as a result of a watching one of her students smearing iodine on a door with his finger. This random encounter launched into five years of research to produce a slow drying non-toxic paint that allowed tiny fingers to glide across the paper. This discovery was Shaw's solution to help her students achieve creative expression. But, this was only the beginning. Shaw (1943) explained although finger-painting must come from the imagination and personal experience, one must learn how to use of the medium; therefore, the principles of color, design, and perspective are essential. Shaw suggested students complete movement exercise activities to warm up their muscles allowing them to feel the paint. She explained the hands are an extension of the imagination, encouraging students to use rhythmical sweeping motions until a pattern or form appears. Shaw advised finger-painting is suggestive; students should not labor over fine details. Shaw warned, "Finger-painting is a pleasure, not a chore" (p. 13). Her approach awakened the body, urging her students to use multiple parts of their body to create. Thus, uniting the conscious and unconscious.

   Likewise, Cane's systematic approach to teaching also provided the right amount of instruction compared to student expression. Similar to Shaw, Cane focused on materials, art principles and the connection between the mind and body.   Cane (1951) believed art materials matter and advised selection of the medium should match the child's abilities. For example, younger students should use soft crayons or pastels because they encourage freedom with minimal effort. Cane also advised care of tools and supplies is a critical component in student training. She stated, "If the child learns early that tools serve him well only if he takes care of them, he will have laid an important foundation of stone" (p. 31). Like Shaw, Cane believed when teaching young children all learning must be rooted in play. She also felt movement creates pleasure. Therefore, Cane developed many playful exercises to encourage movement and rhythm; which according to Cane, both are part of the creative process to awaken the spirit.   Cane asserted art has the power to heal and aid in reaching one's full potential; which is accomplished when the human functions of movement, feeling and thought are matched with their art principle counterparts of rhythm, harmony, and balance. Cane (1951) stated, "Every man is born with the power to create" (p. 9).   Similar to Shaw, Cane promoted the need to join the conscious and unconscious. To assist her students' ability to tap into their unconscious, Cane developed the Scribble technique. Whereby, students simply scribbled lines on paper. Then her pupils were asked to relax and think about their scribbles. Soon their imagination found forms and shapes within their scribbles. Finally, she would encourage them to develop their drawings.

Beyond the Classroom

Shaw and Cane achieved great success in their teaching careers. Their effectiveness in the classroom led to additional opportunities in the medical field as art therapists.   By the 1940's Shaw's methods were considered a beneficial form of therapy for patients with psychiatric disorders. Shaw spent several years on staff at both the Menninger Clinic and at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Shaw also gave several educational finger-painting demonstrations to doctors who treat children for mental illness, disabled veterans and prisoners (Marable, 2006). Likewise, Cane shared her techniques openly, to assist setting the human body and soul free. Elinor Ulman, an art therapist, wrote a summary concerning Cane's ability as an art therapist. She stated Cane's approach to art therapy employs the same methods that she uses while teaching an ordinary student, however, there is more time spent on fantasy rather than skill building (Cane, 1951). The human functions and their art principle counterparts were a part of Cane's patient's evaluations. Cane participated in a study concerning gifted children. During her study, she matched the body with movement, psyche with dynamics, mind with organization and spirit with emanation.   Nonetheless, she warned it's important to treat gifted children the same as the ungifted.   Instead, she urged specialists, teachers, and parents to allow extra time to develop the gift (Cane, 1936).


Influence and Legacy

It comes as no surprise that both Shaw and Cane were influenced by artists of the past. Marable (2006) linked the healing sand painting of Southwest-Indians to that of Shaw's finger-painting techniques. Marable also indicated Leonardo da Vinci also employed a finger-painting method.   Cane (1951) advised her imagination stimulation scribble activity is similar to that of Leonardo da Vinci, who often looked for forms and images on stained walls.   The Progressive Movement and teaching methods of Shaw and Cane may have influenced more than just their students. Marable (2006) linked Shaw's style to that of Jackson Pollack's action painting. He noted many similarities between Shaw and Pollack to include the abandonment of traditional supplies, using the body as a tool to create. Both also focused on expression by tapping into the unconscious. Also, Shaw and Pollack proclaimed they never started painting with an end in mind; they allowed the art to unfold naturally. More recently, artist Chuck Close is also known for applying paint to the canvas with his fingers as well. Another contemporary artist, Parks Reece, of Shaw's former students, has a fruitful career as a freelance artist as well. Cane's teaching on the connection of mind, body, and soul tapped into her student unconsciousness, which is a significant component of the Surrealist and Dada art movements.   Also, there is no denying the profound impact Cane had on her twin daughters lives. Both credit their mother for their talents. Katherine Cane Detre was a dance teacher and yoga instructor. Mary Cane Robinson was a successful freelance artist. Shaw and Cane made a substantial impact in the field of art education and art therapy: developing creative expression in both their students and patients (Martin, p 6B).


Since the nineteenth-century, art educators have shaped the lives of many students, and they have made an impact on our world. The roles of art educators expand far beyond the school walls, acting as therapists, historians, and advocates just to name a few. The study of art education history reveals much of what is taught and practiced in the postmodern classroom rest in rich traditions of the past. Understanding the past promotes clarity of today and provides a roadmap for the future. The contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane helped shaped art education as we know it today. They generously shared their teaching methods with the world, and now over fifty years later, their methods are still effective. Their teaching styles and sample exercises encouraged me to change some of my teaching approaches. And, to my surprise, I achieved great success with my PK3 and PK4 students. They thoroughly enjoyed Cane's warm-up exercises, their imaginations were fully engaged, and they shared very interesting stories about their work. As a result, I want to write new lessons to incorporate more of their methods. Both lives and work of Shaw and Cane significantly impacted art education, art therapy, and their contributions led to the success of artists who preceded them, including my students and me.


Cane, F. (1936). The gifted child in art. The Journal of Educational Sociology,10(2), 67- 


Cane, F. (1983). The artist in each of us. Craftsbury Common, VT: Art Therapy 


Jackson Pollack Biography. (n.d.) Retrieved from


Marable, D. (2006). Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of finger painting. World and I


Martin, C. (2003, July 14). Artist was fanciful, yet practical. The Denver Post, p. 6B.

Mayer, V. (2005). Rediscovering Ruth Faison Shaw and her finger-painting method. Art   

     Education,58(5), 6-11.

 Shaw, R. F. (1947). Finger-painting and how I do it. Chapel Hill, NC: Triangle Press.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (1984). Self-expression or teacher influence: The Shaw System of Finger Painting. Art Education, 23(2), 20-24.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.

Surrealism Synopsis. (n.d.). Retrieved from



Great Moments Beckie Harwood

ARE 6049

January 17, 2018

Finger painting proves to be more than just messy fun for tiny fingers; this teaching method allows artists of all ages to explore creativity. This technique made its debut in America during the 1930's, and this style of art exploration is still thriving today. Just look at the work of contemporary artist, Iris Scott, who specializes in finger painting. It is difficult to imagine what art education would look like without the contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw, the inventor of finger paints and the finger painting method.

Stankiewicz’s (1984) research revealed Shaw was born in North Carolina; her father was a minister and a school principal. She also pursued a career in education. "Shaw demonstrated an interest in art and was regarded artistic by her friends and family" although she received no formal training in the arts (p. 20). Stankiewicz (2001) noted, Shaw followed the Progressive method of instruction, which placed value on educating the whole child, putting the child’s needs first. Shaw insisted learning must be fun. Therefore, her teaching techniques included "games, field trips and dramatic play"; which led to her student's success in verbal expression. However, Shaw wanted to round out her student's experience and sought ways to unlock their visual expression. Shaw felt pencils and paintbrushes were too cumbersome for little hands. However, her ability to look beyond the obvious unlocked the potential of each young artist and led to her invention of finger paints. The idea came to her as a result of a child "painting" with a finger covered in iodine. As a result, she developed a slow drying non-toxic paint that allowed tiny fingers to glide across the paper; which was Shaw's solution to introduce painting to young students (p. 34-35). But, finger painting is not all child's play. Shaw developed a system that mandated order, supply discussions, demonstration, storytelling, painting, and cleanup (p. 22).

Shaw's finger painting received attention beyond the classroom. Reviewers of her book "discussed the flowing lines and dreamlike forms which gave finger-painting abstract qualities similar to those found in Art Deco designs" (p. 21). In 1984, Stankiewicz voiced concerns about Shaw's contributions, suggesting students lacked a full appreciation of the arts and that Shaw’s technique may have provided too much influence. However, I disagree. I promote Shaw was an effective teacher although she lacked formal training, her impact on her students was evident through her connection with her students.


Stankiewicz, M. A. (1984). Self-expression or teacher influence: The Shaw System of Finger Painting. Art Education, 23(2), 20-24.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications


Running head:  Unity in diversity:  The thread that holds us together                                            1                     














Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together


Beckie Harwood


University of Florida



























Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together                                                                       2

Beckie Harwood

ARE6641: Critical Action Plan

March 23, 2018


The focus group

     I teach at a Catholic School in Macon, GA; located in the urban neighborhood of Pleasant Hill.  This community was established in 1870 and at one time was a thriving community; home to many prominent African American business owners, educators, doctors, and dentists  (Macon's Historic Districts, 2018).  Sadly, this is no longer the case.  Most of these historic homes are dilapidated.  My school is unlike most Catholic schools.  It is a mission-based school, not tuition based.  We believe economics should not prevent educating the students who live in the surrounding area and to those who cannot afford private school tuition.  The demographics of my school is approximately 68% African American, 23% Hispanic, 8% White and 1% Asian.

United we stand, divided we fall

     We live in the United States of America, but are we united? Our country struggles with many social divisions centering on politics, race, economics, gender, religion, ethnicity and ideological beliefs. Gershon (2017) noted, "recent polls have confirmed Americans are feeling bitterly split" (p. 2).  Divisions in our country are not new; our country was fractured during the Civil War and experienced great divides over the Vietnam War, and these problems continue to resurface. Such strife trickles downward and impacts our local communities and schools.




Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together                                                                       3


This is creating social barriers among our youth. I have witnessed the effects of these social barriers at my school.  Students seek to group themselves based on race, religion and social class, many times often resulting in verbal conflicts and alienation among members of the student body. 

     Gershon stated many historians are concerned about our country's divisions and she urges some of the blame rests on the increased use of social media for public debate and lack of objective journalism. Achenbach & Clement (2016) echoed Gershon's views.  They stated the mainstream news media continues to add fuel to the fire in America's divisiveness.  Achenbach & Clement noted, "historically Americans have come together, at least briefly in time of crisis" (p. 2).  However, they reported there is minimal evidence of our country's current ability to rally together to overcome adversity.  Instead, we have seen an increase in social tensions, therefore creating an unstable environment for our children.

Seeking common ground

President Obama commented on our country's divisions and encouraged resolution by finding common ground (Achenbach & Clement, 2016). Friederdorf (2016) echoed the same and suggested unity in the American identity, which is rooted in rights to life, liberty, and happiness.  I believe this to be true at the local level; we need to rediscover what we have in common. Overcoming our divisions requires social action.  We need to form new relationships with each other: seeking meaningful ways to connect and understand one another.  Friederdorf (2016) noted many people believe the country would be at peace if only we better educated our


Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together                                                                       4


children" (p. 4). Robinson (2013) spoke about education reform.  He advised real transformation requires a ground-up method.  Meaning change must start at the local level.  I feel this is also true for uniting my student body; this too must happen at the local level.  Robinson spoke of the importance of humanities studies, particularly the need to understand one's culture and the culture of others.  I agree with the value he places on the humanities. I feel it's important to not only study parts of humanity but also study the function of the whole.   Davenport (2005) wrote, "Folks decided to divide up the world to try to figure out the bigger picture.  But in the process, they became so focused on the small parts the lost sight of the larger goal" (p. 3).  We must help our students find common ground, allowing them to improve their interpersonal relationships and resolve misunderstandings.  We need to provide our students a safe space to explore their interest, express their feelings and connect with others.  That space is the art room.

Using art to find the common denominator

US citizens are divided; we are splintering on issues related to race, economics, religion, politics and ideological beliefs. The effects of this national division funnel down into our communities and schools.   However, this is not a domestic issue; it's a global problem.  Maaruf, Siraj, Hashim, & Zulkifli (2013) also noted similar discord in the schools of Malaysia.  Whereby students grouped and socialized others from the same ethnicity and when they intermingled with diverse groups, conflicts increased. Ethnic degradation existed despite the school's attempt at teaching cultural studies. Therefore, the Malaysian schools utilized art education as a tool to aid in unifying their student body. Wesley (2007) affirmed our world is significantly divided, and she believed tensions were on the rise.  She desired change and

Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together                                                                       5


turned to the arts for a solution.  Wesley also found that "art participation gives [people] experiences, contexts, and tools through which to learn about difference. Art participation broadens people's worldviews, forms bridges that cross-racial and ethnic lines, [creating] a special and almost sacred learning space (p. 13).  Wesley conducted a study with participants from diverse backgrounds, much like the demographics at my school in Macon.  Her results revealed despite all of her participant's differences they found connections with one another once they identified common ground and established an understanding of differences.  

Come Together

Wesley (2007) noted art is a powerful instrument of change. It has the ability to transform lives, turning strangers into lifelong friends. Art can release the strains of economic, religious, political, racial and ethnic differences.  Robinson (2013) proclaimed in the end education is all about people and developing people to function in this world. I believe we need one another and it's time for us to come together and stand united as the human race.  My primary goal with this critical intervention is to student solidarity by helping them identify areas of common ground to reduce misunderstandings and alienation.   In this process, students will explore their identities and the identities of their peers to improve social connections. 

Action Plan

Unit Title: Unity in diversity: The thread that holds us together

Grade Level:5thGrade

Subject:  Visual Arts
Estimated Completion Time: 6-7 Sessions (meeting once a week for 50 minutes)


Image  located on:


Art has the ability transform lives, turning strangers into lifelong friends. Art can release the strains of economic, religious, political, racial, gender, and ethnic differences. I believe we need one another and it's time for us to come together and stand united as the human race.  My primary goal with this critical intervention is to improve student solidarity by helping them identify areas of common ground to reduce misunderstandings and alienation.   In this process, students will explore their identities and the identities of their peers to improve social connections.  The rationale behind this unit is to foster deeper connections among the student body by having them analyze their own identities, research their family ancestry, share their story with others, and find areas of common ground to promote unity.

This unit will be introduced via PowerPoint presentation to discuss the many issues that are dividing American's. We will also watch a short summary analysis of the book A Country's Quilt written by Anna Quindlen. The three lessons in this unit with discuss both personal and cultural identity. The products produced in each lesson will result in one final project in lesson three.

Big Ideas

  • Art participation increases cultural awareness and can strengthen our own identity
  • Art participation can provide a big picture view; which crosses over racial, economic, political, and religious differences.
  • Art participation can provide new ways to engage in meaningful conversation


Essential Questions:

  • How can the visual art be used as tool in education to unite people and develop an understanding for diversity


Brief description of each lesson in this unit:


Lesson One:  Class Plaid  (Two 50 minute sessions)

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Day1- Students will be introduced to the unit plan.  Students have the opportunity to voice their concerns the growing tension in America.  Next, students will turn their attention the history of plaid or tartan fabric. This fabric is used in many Catholic school uniforms.  Students will then collaborate on designing a single plaid painting to represent everyone in the room.  Day 2- Student will discuss color choices and will be encouraged to attach meaning to their color choice.  Students will also determine the thickness or their lines and the orientation. This plaid art will be used later in lesson three.  Student will be given a homework assignment to discuss details about their ancestry and family's cultural identity. 


Lesson Two:  Family quilt block  (Two 50 minute sessions)

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Day 1 - Students will have the opportunity to share the various details that they discovered about their family ancestry, cultural heritage and traditions.  Students will view images of quilts and quilt block designs via PowerPoint. Next they will turn their attention designing a foam printing plate. A large box of self-adhesive foam shapes will be placed on each table.  Each student will be given a large foam plate in which they are to adhere a quilt block pattern too.  This design will represent aspects their culture.  Day 2- Students will be given a large burlap square and they may pick the colors of their choice to apply to their foam print. Then students will begin the print making process. After the print is complete, students will be given a small piece of paper in which they will draw a self-portrait.  They can use markers or colored pencils to color their portrait.


Lesson Three:  A quilt of our class (Two 50 minute sessions)

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Day 1- Students will complete their self-portraits.  Then they will glue their portraits on top of their family burlap panel.  Then we will allow time for them to dry.  Next the students will begin to cross-stitch several unprinted burlap panels. Once this is complete, they will glue our "class" plaid on top.  This will be the center of our quilt.  Day 2- Students will begin to arrange their completed quilt square around the center image. They will use unprinted burlap squares to fill in any gaps.  Next, the students will use yarn and plastic needles to secure all the panels together to complete our class quilt.


Diocesan Learning Standards:

AR 5.1 creates artwork that demonstrates an awareness of the range and purpose of drawing tools such as pens, charcoals, markers, pencils, colored pencils, oil pastels, pastels, conte crayon, etc.

AR 5.45 selects subject matter, ideas and symbols for works of art to communicate meaning; which can include the specifics of the Catholic faith and traditions

AR 5.46 uses imagination and immediate environment including family, home, church, personal experiences, and surroundings as sources for ideas both abstract and realistic

AR 5.51 examines works of art that communicate significant cultural beliefs or set of values and understands how cultural influences add to the meaning of works of art

AR 5.1 uses a variety of drawing media, for example crayon, colored pencil, chalk, oil pastels, pen, conte crayon, charcoal, etc. to achieve desired visual effects

AR 5.2 uses a variety of drawing techniques, for example, shading, gesture, contour, and perspective to achieve desired visual effects


ARE6641 Critical Intervention Action Plan: Beckie Harwood

AR 5.10 uses a variety of printmaking media, for example rubbings, monoprints, block print, reliefs, etc. to achieve desired visual effects

AR 5.11 demonstrates a working knowledge of printmaking vocabulary

AR 5.12 demonstrates the ability to use printmaking tools in a safe and responsible manner.

AR 5.17 uses a variety of craft media, for example yarn, cloth, beads, etc. to achieve desired visual effects

AR 5.18 demonstrates a working knowledge of craft vocabulary

AR 5.19 demonstrates the ability to use craft tools in a safe and responsible manner


Achenbach, J., & Clement, S. (2016, July 16). America really is more divided than  

     ever. The Washington Post. Retrieved from  


Davenport, M. (2005).  Reflecting on interdisciplinarity: A story of bits. In M.

     StockrockiInterdisciplinary art education: Building bridges to connect disciplines and

     cultures (pp. 3-5). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.

Gray, K. (n.d.). A quilt of a country summary analysis. Retrieved from

Friedersdorf, C. (2013). Making up is hard to do. The Atlantic. Retrieved from   


Livia, G. (2017, November 18). Just how divided are Americans since Trump's election?    

     Retrieved from


Maaruf, S. Z., Saedah, S., Hashim, K. S., & Zulkikli, V. (2013). The tolerant classroom:

     Challenges in fostering multi-ethnic tolerance in visual art education. Procedia: Social

     and Behavioral Sciences,90, 795-802.

Pleasant Hill. (n.d.). Retrieved from  


The history of plaid. (n.d.). Retrieved from


The RSA: Sir Ken Robinson. (2013)—Changing education from the ground up [Video

     file]. Retrieved from

Wesley, S. (2007). Multicultural diversity: Learning through the art. Wiley

     InterScience,116(Winter), 13-24.


Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity


Beckie Harwood


University of Florida



Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining the Feminine                                                 2

That was then: This is now

Students in the twenty-first century are experiencing a social revolution much like the students of the 1960's.  Unlike yesterday's youth, today's adolescents are exposed to many contemporary issues without guidance, mainly due to information that is readily available within a keystroke; therefore expanding our encounters with pop culture. Back in the 1960's pop culture was limited by time restraints and media choice; which included film, magazines, television shows, billboards, and commercials; although this sounds similar to today; it's not! Our youth today is bombarded with all of the above plus information is funneling down through their tablets, cell phones, and laptops via the web and various social media platforms. All of which are available twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week; which secures pop culture's dominance in the lives of our youth.  And, this transcends to many areas of human life to include education, socialization, and entertainment; all of which help shape one's identity and understanding one's place in society.  

Under the Influence

Overwhelming access to pop culture can have adverse effects: especially if such images lack truth and understanding.  Amburgy (2011) noted, "visual representations are constructions, not mirrors of reality" (p. 6).   Also, many of the concepts represented in visual culture are created and controlled by dominant parties within society, which results in less than accurate perceptions of minorities. Rosenblum (1981) mentioned these dominant parties force their elitist views on


Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity                                                       3

minorities. Feldman (1976) noted such images become the standard by which our youth measure their worth.  However, he stated these visuals are not realistic; therefore the aim of art education should be to help students examine images that the students create and those found in the world around them, leading student knowledge and the ability to reject stereotypes that are forced upon them by the mass media and dominant parties. Hence, the images of pop culture must be decoded to seek truth and understanding; which is the primary mission of Visual Culture Art Education (VCAE). This paper will explain VCAE, look at why it is an essential part of the curriculum for contemporary art education and its significance will be highlighted by studying, deconstructing and redefining feminine beauty in visual culture.

What is VCAE?

Visual Culture Art Education (VCAE) is a teaching model that was established in the 1960's.  VCAE is the study of popular culture whereby art teachers and students analyze visual representations from popular culture and seek to understand their meaning, purpose, and influence in shaping personal identity and connections to others in society.  Popular culture studies look at images found in film, television, magazines, billboards, video games and tangible commercial products.  This teaching revolution was a reaction to the significant social changes that were occurring during the 1960's and challenged teachers to address issues such as sex, violence, war, race, drugs, and poverty in the classroom (Lanier, 1969).  Lanier proclaimed art education must provide a platform for students to explore social relationships in a meaningful way that is relevant to the entire student body, not just the privileged few.  Lanier acknowledged most visuals in pop culture undermined minorities, which included the depictions of women.  Jacobs and Edwards (2014), studied the ads in print during the 1960's and shared they were

Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity                                                       4

constructed with a sexist view. Chalmers (2005) credited Vincent Lanier, June King McFee, and Sister Corita Kent as primary leaders in the formation of VCAE.  Although they provided compelling evidence of VCAE relevancy; their efforts were stalled because conservative views dominated educational value systems.  Despite its slow start, VCAE is growing in popularity, although it has yet to be fully embraced.  Some resistance rests in the misunderstanding that implementation of VCAE will result in a critique-based curriculum that removes the importance of creation.  However, this is not true.  Art production is a significant part of VCAE. Duncum (2002) clarified VCAE places equal emphasis on critique and making, both supporting each other.  However, he asserted critical understanding and empowerment are the primary goals of VCAE and he feels the most effective means to achieve these goals is through a program that encourages student making and student understanding. Hence, creation is still a vital component, and the student's creations help them explore the relationship between visual representations and how they affect identity and social practices that they experience daily.

Unpacking Self-Image and Identity through VCAE

Pop culture profoundly influences self-image which ultimately shapes one's identity.   Feldman (1976) advised artists and art educators define image means something that can be viewed.  He also noted psychologists adopted the term self-image which is something that cannot be seen but instead is a person's opinion of self.  Feldman explained there are differences between self-image and our optical "real" self.  These discrepancies are a result of the differences between seeing and thinking, the ability to distort or rearrange visual perceptions of self and the power of dominant



Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity                                                       5


visual representations found in pop culture which establish social norms, in which everyone attempts to achieve. Amburgy (2011) asserted the study of visual culture creates critical thinkers, who are knowledgeable and become agents for social change.  She advised students must have the opportunity to explore diversity-related issues and to do so, students must first learn what diversity is. Amburgy defined diversity as "all aspects of peoples identities that help define who they are.  Aspects of identity include ethnicity, social class, race, gender, sexual identity, age and ability, among others" (p. 6). Danker (2014) also promoted visual artist study to turn students into well-informed consumers, who are capable of seeing through marketing tactics.  She also proclaimed "by learning strategies and tactics of marketing, students will engage in the complicated conversation of our constant choice making as consumers, and how those choices connect to identity" (p. 41).  The study of visual culture imagery is beneficial because it recognizes diversity, addresses inequality, promotes critical thinking and seeks to create social change.

Female Identity Crisis

Ultimately, the visuals in mass media shape a person's opinion of self; which is problematic for females, of all ages. Freedman (2003) stressed "Individuals appropriate characteristics of visual representations, adopting these representations as a description of [herself]. From, this perspective, [women] can be manipulated through images that are often antithetical to their individual nature (p. 2).  According to Lai (2009) "woman are bombarded with images aimed at selling [male] dominant ideologies and normalizing [women] with identity markers" (p. 14).  Lai noted visuals of women in popular culture are subordinate to men and typically portrayed as

Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity                                                        6


objects of sexual desire.  She also indicated all visual constructions are never purely objective; such views are usually reflective of the creator or time in which they were created.  Lai advised this is true for all visual representations to include: paintings, film, magazine, advertisements, television, and toys.

Dolls and Fairytales: Harmless Entertainment?

Dolls are an essential part of girlhood; they are a source of entertainment and offer opportunities for socialization.  They can also be a source of conflict. Barbie, unlike most "baby" dolls, represents females in the adult world. Clement (2016) indicated, "critics have complained that Barbie conveys harmful messages about body image to impressionable girls" (p. 1).  Blair (2006) noted Mattel's Barbie reinforces female stereotypes for girls; suggesting to be beautiful they must be thin, large breasted, white and blonde. Blair and Shalmon (2005) explored the cultural construction of beauty, and they suggested, "Myths and beliefs about beauty are deeply embedded in our culture and are transmitted from early childhood onward" (p. 15).  They feel the standards of beauty are largely culturally determined. Blair and Shalmon also noted Mattel's Barbie doll sets the standard for female beauty, a standard that is unrealistic to achieve without cosmetic surgery. To prove their point further Blair and Shalmon analyzed the female heroine in fairy tales and determined they too are pictured as beautiful and young.  Meanwhile, most female villains are ugly, old and brunette. Unrealistic perspectives of female identity and beauty are imposed on girls when they are most vulnerable. The influence of these images become more potent as girls enter adolescence and carry over into adulthood; this leads to the love/hate relationship that some women have with their bodies. Many contemporary female artists recognize issues such as inequality, gender stereotypes, and the devastating effects both have on the female identity; as a result, they are creating art for awareness to bring about social change to redefine contemporary womanhood.

Visual Culture: Deconstructing and Redefining Femininity                                                       7

Social Change through VCAE

It's understandable how such views concerning the female image and identity were constructed during the nineteenth century. Understandable because women held restrictive roles in society and men possessed power and control over visual representations; which resulted in stereotype packaged female personas. Feldman (1976) noted access to the truth was limited, and information was presented through the lens of Anglo-Saxon male views.  However, this is no longer the case. Darts (2006) pointed out we are "living in a rapidly transforming and globalizing world" (p. 7).  So how do art educators best serve their students, society and act as agents of change?  The best remedy is to include visual culture art studies into the art curriculum.  By doing so, students will have the opportunity to understand diversity better, analyze and decode commercial images, develop thoughtful creations that genuinely reflect their identity and become active participants in society to promote change. 


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