Home > Education > Blog Action Day 2009: The challenge for art education

Blog Action Day 2009: The challenge for art education

This is my contribution to Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change.

In the lexicon of many undergraduate students, humanities courses like art appreciation belong to the category of “floating subjects”. While the origins of the phrase are beyond my ability to trace, I find the choice of participle interesting, connoting as it does a state of unsupported suspension, of gliding or hovering that is, in the main, random, aimless, devoid of will or purpose. “Floating” subjects can be enrolled in during any academic term and usually do not figure in any degree program, save as factors in the computation of a student’s grade point average or as prerequisites for “major” courses—which is to say that students are predisposed to see these subjects, if the appellation is any indication, as valuable not in and of themselves, or because they are connected in some significant way to a foreseeable future, but only because they are required. “[Hindi] ko kasi [iyan] major kaya wala na akong pakialam kung may matututunan ako [diyan] o wala. I have more important things to attend to,” says one member of the online forum PinoyExchange. Elsewhere in the same thread, another member expresses the hope that teachers of “floating” humanities courses would “understand that their subjects are not at all relevant to our lives kung hindi naman ako […] art major. I believe they should be more considerate when it comes to grading”.

Although I gladly stress that the aforementioned posts do not in any way encompass the entire range of responses regarding the study of art, it is not unreasonable to suppose that several others would make similar statements. The casually trivializing or downright dismissive attitude among students toward art in general should not be the least bit surprising, of course. Flaudette May V. Datuin, in her Home Body Memory: Filipina Artists in the Visual Arts, 19th Century to the Present, remarks that the inability of students, who ideally ought to “represent a cross section of the best of their generation”, to engage with art is the result of art having practically no place in elementary and secondary schools, except when dance is incorporated in special school productions or physical education curricula, or when the visual arts are either “subsumed under the common sense framework of masters and their masterpieces, or assimilated into ‘practical arts’ and ‘homeroom’ subjects, as ‘craft’, mechanically produced and inadequately contextualized, let alone, theorized”.

The problem of inadequate contextualization is, in turn, indicative of the shortcomings of our current educational system as a whole, as it is largely predicated upon the accomplishment of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals in order to produce globally competitive, export-ready graduates. In the name of the norm and the rubric, learning experiences tend to be standardized, even mechanized, to such an extent that the difficult and complex realities of the world vanish—or are banished—from view. Hence, it is ultimately the student who floats, oblivious to the peculiarities of the community in which he or she participates, unmoored from issues of moral responsibility, and deprived of the will—and therefore the opportunity—to intervene, to act as an agent of progressive change. This situation is hardly desirable, for it is the very same one that has contributed to the sowing of the planetary perils that we are now reaping. “In modern times,” says Suzi Gablik in The Reechantment of Art, “the basic metaphor of human presence on the earth is the bulldozer”, and the devastating effects of all our “bulldozing”—the pollution of our seas and skies, the endangerment or extinction of diverse species, the depletion of resources, and climate change, the recent effects of which, in the forms of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng (also known as Ketsana and Parma, respectively), have thoroughly battered the Philippines—are truths no longer convenient to ignore or do nothing about. Mark A. Graham declares that, “Education that ignores issues of ecology and community becomes complicit in their erosion“.

What is required, then, is an art education that is deeply integrated with—and thus able to respond meaningfully to—environmental concerns, an art education that configures a space from which students become aware of and respond to the challenge of sustainability—that is, the challenge of “sustaining not economic growth, development, market share, or competitive advantage, but the entire web of life on which our long-term survival depends“—a space in which students become ecologically literate, which, according to Fritjof Capra, means “understanding the basic principles of ecology and being able to embody them in the daily life of human communities“.

Even though fostering eco-literacy may be thought to be the province of science, Capra notes that art education can enhance the ability of the student to recognize and express patterns, and, as a result, learn how to systemic thinking, which allows the student to better appreciate the interdependence and interactivity of ecosystems—eminently useful here is Gablik’s concept of a “connective, participatory aesthetics”, which moves away from “Eurocentric, patriarchal thinking and the ‘dominator’ model of culture toward an aesthetics of interconnectedness, social responsibility, and ecological attunement”. In addition, Hilary Inwood remarks that science educators “freely admit that there has been more success in inducing learners’ attitudinal shifts than in making behavioural ones“, and goes on to cite David Orr’s argument that eco-literacy needs to be integrated into a wide variety of subject areas in order for it to be instilled in students.

There are doubtless many possible pedagogical approaches to eco-art education, though Inwood’s survey of related literature did reveal a number of common characteristics: “community-based, interdisciplinary, experiential, interactive, dialogic, ideologically aware, and built on the values of empathy, sustainability, and respect for the environment“.  What is central to—and in fact, generative of—this blog entry is my belief that art education, being generally concerned with affective learning and imaginative thinking, is a dynamic and powerful means through which changes may be brought about in students, both in attitude and behavior toward vital ecological issues.

Let me underscore that the root word of “ecology” is the Greek oikos, which means “house”, and is therefore evocative of a network of significant relationships to which one is intimately and intricately connected, and within which no one’s role is insignificant. The acquisition of ecological literacy may then be seen as the activation of an abiding sense of place, by which I refer not only to one’s spatio-temporal location, but also to one’s responsibilities within that spatio-temporal location. If the relative sterility of the contemporary classroom has all but deadened the I to the world, it is the task of what Inwood calls “eco-art education” to reawaken it, to re-seed the eye/I with new possibilities for ecologically literate agency. Such an art education in these times is needed in the most fundamental, urgent sense, for nothing less than our continued survival hangs in the balance.

  1. Ally Lim
    26 October 2009 at 3:17 PM

    Dear Blogger,

    Ateneo’s Collegiate Society of Advertising (COSA) will be having its first-ever Fun Run on January 24, 2010 (Sunday) at the Ateneo campus grounds called, “RUN AGAINST THE ELEMENTS: Ateneo COSA Fun Run 2010” with our slogan: Stand Up to Climate Change. We have partnered with social entrepreneur, Illac Diaz, who started “Design Against the Elements.” This is an international design competition that responds to the call for social and climate adaptation by building sustainable homes. This was launched to international architects last June 16, 2009 at the Institute of International Education (IIE) at the United Nations Plaza in New York with the support of the IIE, the Philippine Consulate, Gov. Lray Villafuerte, Gawad Kalinga, United Architects of the Philippines and My Shelter Foundation.

    We are going beyond the spirit of volunteerism. By choosing Design Against the Elements as the cause for our fun run, we will also be promoting its anthem, “Stand Up”, a collaboration of 50 of the Philippines’ finest artists like Kjwan, Cookie Chua, Karl Roy, Jett Pangan, Noel Cabangon, Barbie Almalbis, Migs Escueta, etc. We are asking for your help in the simultaneous online release of the video we (Ateneo COSA) are creating for the song. This unreleased single will be launched online via a video which will be sent to you on TUESDAY for posting on your blogs. TUESDAY (OCT 27) is the targeted date, so if you would like to help us promote this global campaign and fun run event, please do post this video on your blogs. Below is a forwarded message from Illac Diaz if you would like to know more details about the campaign.

    We hope you help us in promoting ACTION against and not just mere AWARENESS regarding climate change. Climate change is here and now—we want to be able to properly handle another calamity like Ondoy next time. Don’t we?

    We look forward to hearing from you.

    Ally Lim
    Project Head

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Illac Diaz
    Date: Sun, Oct 25, 2009 at 2:13 AM
    Subject: Philippine Bloggers Appeal Letter (Tuesday Video Launch)

    Dear Blogger

    These last month has been an incredible trial for the Philippines and its people. As the floodwater begins to receed, a new challenge will need to be met, which is rebuilding many areas that have been affected by the storm. This crisis may have an opportunity by allowing us to work with you and help you rebuild better. Specially since, the incident is not a singular occurence, but is going to be a pattern of challenges for the coming decades due to the changes in climate and a longer view must be implimanted.

    We would like to ask you to help us with a mega-band campaign song to raise awareness on the need to move awareness to climate adaptability in the Philippines over mere carbon reduction as the country is not a significant emitter, but one of the world’s communities most vulnerable; and least able to adapt.
    We have united almost 50 of the top icons of music to sing the campaign song to arouse attention not only of the Philippines, but a global audience that we must move to greater awareness and policies for raising awareness to climate adaptability in the Philippines over mere carbon reduction as the country is not a significant emitter, but that we are also one of the world’s communities most vulnerable; and least able to adapt.

    Like the Blog Action Day we shall be releasing a video simultaneously over the web that we are editing now. Here is a rough sample http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ol2x22rFtBg

    We ask you if you could help us with the simltaneous release.


    The projected impact of climate change in Philippines is extreme typhoons (top four in the world according to the Global Climate Index). This is due mainly to the high vulnerability of rural areas and very little capacity for adaptation (poverty and lack of awareness of the rising dangers) of the people at risk. These upcoming humanitarian disasters, and climate refugee mass migration, and will lead to a high state of conflict and insecurity for the poor below the poverty line.

    This project, Design Against the Elements will focus on the climate displaced communities in Metro Manila, Philippines. Combined with research recently completed by the Manila Observatory on the future challenges of climate in the Naga region ( which is a sample of similar challenges in other areas of the Philippines), it contribute to design and build a redesigned low income community which will be the new blueprint of how people in the vulnerable coastal areas can successfully cope with impacts of climate variability. The knowledge generated from this study will facilitate the development of policies that address these humanitarian challenges.

    The main objective of this competition is to contribute to rural adaptability to climate change impacts, in the form of architectural resiliency to strong typhoon winds and heavy rains. Capacity building in the present social networks such as community, non-government, and government organizations involved with these areas will allow a shift into post disaster mitigation to preparing ahead of the storm. The main hypothesis of this project is having a safer structures “ahead of time” will lead to less injury, number of climate refugees, and loss of life and property.
    The main partner and benificiary will be Gawad Kalinga who will recieve the winning designs of which the winner of the competition will have 100 houses built with the new design.

    This competition will begin in November 2009. We are setting the land and the global partners.

    The competition brief ( which is how the architects design the village based on the key points of climate change challenges, data on the site and province, ect) is still being done by the United Architects of the Philippines.Last 2008, it was for building safer schools for shelter (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2008/05.08/31-designs.html)

    It will be from the top marketing using the United Architects of the Philippines writing to all architect associations in the world linked to them BUT the exciting one is the grassroots marketing of the global Gawad Kalinga members asking architects they can reach (inspire) to be involved. We expect 4000 entries.

    The song is composed by Joey Ayala and Boogie Romero and is about to be finished by 50 of the top Filipino bands and personalities who are now finishing the “Stand Up” theme song for the campaign.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Illac Angelo Diaz
    Executive Director
    Global Designer Village Challenge

  1. 15 October 2009 at 10:04 PM

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