Should Art Be For Art's Sake
The teacher presents five traditional European-American theories of art (formalism, instrumentalism, imitationalism, expressionism, and institutionalism). Students review Chicana/o and earlier protest art from an instrumental point of view. They then select one Chicana/o artwork to consider using each of the five theories. As students argue that one theory better accounts for the artwork than another, they reflect on, reassess, modify, or reaffirm their own beliefs about art.
Explain to students that in some European-American cultures there is not a distinct word or definition for art. What European-Americans might call art others might see as an integral, not separate, part of the culture, for example traditional Hopi katsina dolls, Navajo sand paintings, or Australian Aborigine ground paintings. Explain further that philosophers in European-American cultures have been trying to define art for over two thousand years and have developed several theories about the nature and value of art, including the following:
Formalists believe that the best art affects its viewers because of the relationship among the visual elements in the artwork (lines, shapes, colors, values [lights and darks], textures, volume, and space). They believe that art is valuable in itself, that is, art for art's sake.
With younger students or students for whom English is a second language, you might want to make an overhead transparency ot make and post large placards with simple phrases to help identify the five theories:
FORMALISM: Art is for its own sake. It's interesting to look at.
Review key artworks that exemplify the theme of Protest and Persuasion: Diego Rivera, José Guadalupe Posada, Alfredo Zalce, Luis Guerra, Judith Baca, Yolanda López, and Carlos Cortez. Ask students which of the five traditional European-American theories about art they think best explains these artworks. Share the following quotations by Chicano/o and Mexican artists.
Luis Guerra spoke to a writer for the Austin-American Statesman (September 6, 1995)
Judith Baca wrote:
Diego Rivera revealed some of his beliefs about the value of art when he wrote:
Carlos Cortez literally quoted Ricardo Flores Magón's beliefs about art in his print:
David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the great Mexican muralists, issued a manifesto in which he wrote:
Note that even though these beliefs might all, in some way, seem to be Instrumental, that they are all still quite different from each other.
Next explain that there can be value in considering alternative beliefs to one's own. Doing so offers opportunities to: fully understand the beliefs of others; discover weakness in the arguments of others; reflect critically on their own, perhaps unquestioned, beliefs; reaffirm and strengthen their own beliefs; and modify, clarify, or extend their own beliefs. Review all 20 artworks on Chicana and Chicano Space. Ask students to vote on one they would like to consider from several points of view. Divide the class into five groups assigning one of the five European-American beliefs about art to each group. Each group should:
As each group makes its argument before the class, explain that the task of the listeners is to:
Conclude the lesson by asking students to set aside their assigned beliefs and discuss whether their own beliefs have been altered by the discussion, and if so how. Note whether or not the class has reached a general consensus. If not, remind students that reasonable people have talked about and disagreed about the nature and value of art for centuries.
You may choose to ask students to each write a short essay in which they present their own beliefs about the nature and value of art. You might ask them to illustrate their points, when possible, with examples of artworks from Chicana and Chicano Space.
During group presentations, note whether students are able to focus on the assigned theory of art, and to support their arguments with both visual and contextual evidence. During discussions (and in optional essays), note whether students seriously consider the views of others and perhaps modify or clarify their own beliefs as a result.
Items for a Protest and Persuasion Portfolio might include:
Optional handout or overhead transparencies which presents the five traditional European-American theories art and the quotations from Chicana/o and Mexican artists or large placards with definitions.
E. L. Katz, E. L. Lankford, & J. D. Plank, (1995). "Appendix
A--Theories of Art," in Themes and Foundations of Art. Minneapolis:
West Publications, pp. A1-A4.
© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.