Publications

International Journal of Art & Design Education

The Empirical Spectator and Gallery Education

Volume 23.1   2004

FULKOVA, MARIE ; STRAKER, ALISON & JAROS, MILAN

 

This paper examines the onto-epistemic status and understanding of contemporary material culture and of visual art, particularly in the context of gallery education. It does so through a case study of the response of 15 year-old school students in the Czech Republic and in England to a recent photographic exhibition, I.N.R.I., created by artists Bettina Rheims and Serge Bramly. It supports and develops further the proposition that the tradition grounded in the concept of a single ‘objective’ interpretation of a work of art has been significantly undermined by the paradigmatic change that has taken place in the last decades. In the course of this process the vocabulary of signification (e.g. doves, the royal blue, temptations of Christ, class struggle) inherited from the age of ideologies and grand narratives has been significantly weakened. In its place there emerged the vocabulary of signs born out of the language of high tech media. It takes the form of dynamically constituted units identifiable via daily exposure to techno processes, e.g. familiar from advertising and networking, at best mere fragments of traditional narratives. The recognition of reality is couched in terms of consumer units originating in objects (e.g. gadgetry) and object-based practices filling (indeed constituting) the living place of today. This shift is particularly apparent among English young people, brought up in a more consumer-oriented society, and to a lesser degree among Czechs. This is well in keeping with the concept of the post-modern ‘empirical spectator’ developed in recent literature on art and material culture education.