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Promoting intercultural exchange: artwork, videos and ideas.

In order to promote international understanding, art educators in different countries exchange student artworks for exhibition through organizations like INSEA, The International Society of Education through Art. However, students often do not get the opportunity to fully understand another country's way of life and its heritage. Furthermore, lessons exploring the art forms or art history of another country may be limited and artificial.

Perhaps an intercultural education approach can be taken. Intercultural education is a strategy used to encourage students of different cultural backgrounds to share their life styles and roots. To understand a culture is to comprehend the beliefs, conceptions, aesthetic values, standards and practices of others through the eyes of that culture. Because this is a developing strategy and new to art education, it may be worthwhile for art teachers to make use of some of the tools of an ethnographer or participant observer. The following is a synopsis of my participant observation study in the Netherlands and my efforts to promote an exchange of school life and artworks between the cosmopolitan cities of Rotterdam, Holland and Cleveland, Ohio.


Multicultural secondary students in a vocational high school for business and commerce near Rotterdam were asked by their art teacher, Harry Berk, to portray and interpret their roots through collage. Most of the students originated from former colonies of the Netherlands, such as Indonesia, Surinam and the Dutch Antilles. A six week research project on the Netherlands provided the students with plenty of information and many photographs. The students described their collages in writing, describing what they pictured, what the collage meant through a title, how they arranged it, and if they felt their collages were successful. Students were usually pleased with their results.

Upon returning to America, I arranged to show the artwork and a videotape of the Dutch students to high school art classes: one at the Cleveland Magnet School of the Arts under the direction of Carole Phillips and the other at John Adams High School in Cleveland under the direction of Dale Lintala. Students were attentive and asked many questions about multicultural schooling in Holland, such as how long the classes were, what art courses students took, and why all the students rode bicycles to school. They also noticed that Dutch classes were run in a similar manner to those in America--the teacher did a lot of talking.

Cleveland students were asked to guess from what country the Dutch student originated by looking at the clues in the artwork. Students reacted to the painted buses of Holland in eluded in one Indonesian student's collage. They noticed that Rotterdam is a port city full of bridges, heavy industry and sports, quite similar to Cleveland. They particularly liked one of the collages made by a Surinamese girl, portraying a symmetrical skyscraper with attractive blue coloring. I also asked the Cleveland students to discuss the arrangements and color harmony in the Dutch students' works.

Next, Cleveland students chose to make their own collages based on the theme "Where am I from?" The artworks were photocopied in color and sent to the same school in the Netherlands so that Dutch students could learn about and appreciate the Cleveland-American world view. Cleveland students also explained their collages by describing, analyzing, interpreting and judging their collages. One class did so in writing; the other preferred to be videotaped.

An international exchange involving video and written evaluations communicates much more than mere artwork. It shares a physical and symbolic representation of not only what a country, school and students actually look like, but also how those students feel about their country and school.

Some of the Cleveland students' collages included sports and pictures of downtown Cleveland with its skyscrapers. One collage featured working people, another concentrated on the Cleveland Zoo. Two students at the Cleveland School of the Arts used a critical stance in explaining American life. One fiery-red collage was focused on acid rain, the other on the criminal aspects of society.

The Cleveland art teachers thought the art exchange was worthwhile. Mr. Lintala further motivated his students with an art criticism discussion on paintings by Romare Bearden, Hughie Smith, Jacob Lawrence and Marc Chagall. Mr. Lintala explained, "The students liked talking about the paintings; however, they were reluctant to spend time on their collages. Looking for the right color or picture demanded patience. The writing was the hardest part." Mr. Lintala felt that the reflection aspect of the exercise was most important and that students needed to develop their writing skills through art.

A final activity of this exchange was to encourage students to examine their images once more for distorted myths and messages hidden in them. Many of their collages resembled magazine advertisements, which are part of their everyday world. Students of all cultures need to understand how mass-media ideas manipulate their thinking, especially the entertainment and commercial world's distortions of the good life. Students need to look at the buildings and billboards in their city to see if they really do represent progress and luxury. Common to intercultural understanding is the role that architecture plays in shaping the images and lives of the human race. Students need to examine what images are ideal, romantic, real, commercial, and satirical. Criticism of the new intercultural forces that influence students' lives and ideas is much more important than the surface reality of the collages they exchange.

Two Student Descriptions

One Dutch Surinamese student explained her collage, "In my collage called The Primitive and Modern World, I have pictured new (high-rise Dutch) and old (museum and Oriental arch) buildings with overlapping palm trees in the front (representing her former country, of Surinam). The buildings are slanted to make them look taller. I hope to progress--to go higher (as her picture suggests).

One Cleveland high school student evaluated her collage: "I am portraying the United States in general. Three cops are arresting this guy. Also, some animals are being herded into a factory for slaughter while a sheep is painfully being shorn on a machine. One person is holding her ears and pretends not to hear. One man is reading poetry to the cops. Here is a bomb exploding. I am showing the negative aspects of our society--it's not a melting pot. This all suggests the torturing of animals and man. The cops and animals are opposites and the bomb is the possible future. I call this The Criminal Aspects of Society, a critical and realistic look at where I am from. I used black and white because it is more stark. Two women are more central--it is a circular arrangement."

Mary Stokrocki is Associate Professor, Department of Art, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.
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Title Annotation:using participant observer technique to promote an exchange of art
Author:Stokrocki, Mary
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:Student art/world art.
Next Article:Art from the dreamtime.

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