[...] Don't you just want to shut out the study of other cultures?

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[...] Don't you just want to shut out the study of other cultures?

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Q: You sound like you would like to change the educational system into some narrow-minded dogmatic affair rather than an open-minded pursuit of the truth, is that true? Don't you just want to shut out the study of other cultures?

What I have a problem with is art history which omits the entire Western artistic tradition or limits it to modernism and a selective reading of pre-modern work doctored to justify the dominance of modernism. I think that a proper history of art ought to focus on the progression of techniques from early Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Academic, and Modern eras, and address what was going on elsewhere and at other times in special subjects like primitive art, oriental art, and so on. The Western tradition has a great deal to offer those who study it, far more than any other, and it ought to serve as the core of the art curriculum.

I don't think that the complaints from people demanding that their own particular ancestors should be featured should have any bearing on what is chosen as a subject for study in our schools. We should study Greek art for example, not because there are a lot of descendants of ancient Greece applying political pressure to the curriculum committee, or because lots of people have Greek ancestors, but because historically and aesthetically, what the Greeks did was very important.

Many students at my daughter's school for example spend years studying dead Indian cultures, ones which no longer exist, left no written record, and had no significant influence on anything since their dissolution, and have never heard a word about George Washington, have never heard of Thomas Jefferson, have no idea what the Civil War was about, can't tell a Greek from a Roman, know nothing about the history of the Catholic church, or the Byzantine Empire, or Russia, or the Reformation. The point is that they don't want to teach the children anything about the culture of the West. If you don't understand a culture you can't defend or participate in it can you? For them, their "culture" becomes nothing more than boy bands, McDonald's, and thong underwear. The reason that the schools pick the Indians (or some other distant group) as a core focus is not because their accomplishments were artistically good, or pedagogically enlightening, or historically interesting, but because it was unrelated to western culture which is still being erased from the history books and the minds of students. I think that a good education in the arts should expose kids to a very broad variety of art, giving special attention to the progression from cave paintings and pre-Greek developments to Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek art, how that developed in the medieval era, the renaissance, later academic, and modernist periods. It would also be useful to look (probably later on in the curriculum) at independent traditions such as those of China, Japan, and even some primitive tribes. I would not completely ignore these less advanced and less historically significant cultures and styles at all, I just wouldn't make them the centerpiece of the study, and I wouldn't completely leave out the greatest aesthetic tradition in all of history (19th century Academic painting and sculpture and Romantic music) as if it didn't matter or was something people need to be shielded from.

If students were studying the history of aviation, I would have them spend their time primarily on events in the United States and Europe, but because that just happens to be where most of the important historical events happened, not because I have something against people who lived elsewhere.

As for being open to the truth and refraining from dogmatism, I think that children should indeed be encouraged to have open minds, however being taught to unthinkingly reject (or remain ignorant of) western culture is not open-minded, and that is what most children are being taught today, and that's what I oppose.

Co-Founder of ARC, ARC Webmaster for several years, Host of the Art Renewal Audio podcast, Founder of the GoodArt discussion group that brought the original ARC founders and board of advisors together. Brian is a tireless advocate for skill, quality, technique, meaning, and innovation in art and has been writing and speaking on the subject for many years. He is the moderator of the Pasadena Socrates Café, a live philosophy discussion group and the Ideas that Shaped History live discussion group both of which meet in his home town of Pasadena, California (for more information on these search for them on Meetup.com).

He studied Computer Science and Mathematics at Central Michigan University, and is currently the Chief Software Architect at Moffatt and Nichol. He has previously held senior technical positions at Peter Norton Computing/Symantec, US Networx, EarthLink, uWink, OpenSoft, Scalable Network Technologies, CyberDefender, and Brian Yoder Consulting, where he has worked on virus and malware detection, networking, gaming, animation, printing, simulation, mathematical, and military security projects.