a colourful choise

handbook for international teaching materials

Auteurs: Ineke Mok & Peter Reinsch
©Parel, Utrecht 1999

Chapter 3

Artistic Development

By Suzanne van Norden

Those who want to complement educational developments in arts and crafts with an intercultural perspective cannot expect to rely on the support of an extensive bibliography or reports of experience already gleaned elsewhere. The following is compiled from notes and descriptions of practices, and is intended as a source of inspiration for those teachers who consider arts and crafts subjects as well as intercultural education important for their pupils development.

In this chapter, Suzanne van Norden reviews the artistic disciplines: drama, dance, music, the pictural arts, audivisual subjects and literature. Very little exists by way of written material for those disciplines. Alongside suggestions for the assessment of existing material, suitable ways to  work with artistic disciplines are being treated. The author warns against folklorism and stereotypes and against the tendency to see children explicitly as an exponent of their non-western background. Alternateviley, it is dangerous to endow those fields in which self-espression is of papamount importnace with a cultural neutrality, while in reality they are not easily put into practice by every group within the population of The Netherlands.

3.1 Artistic Development in Education

Productive, receptive and reflective

In all creative disciplines a distinction is made between a productive, receptive and reflective involvement with the arts. Productive involvement means actually making something. Receptivity entails looking and listening. Reflection implies thought or communication. These three activities are sometimes strictly separated from each other; sometimes they are brought together to form an organic unity. The choice of options depends on the teacher, the objectives and the practical opportunities available.

The objectives of artistic development, as they are generally defined, are remarkably sweeping in their scope. Artistic development is considered important for pupils not only in respect of their orientation to the world, but also for their personal growth and social development. In other words, it is more than merely painting or writing a poem. It concerns 'the development of creativity in thought, speech, gesture and behaviour' (1) as well as what happens to you when you are painting or looking at a painting, writing or reading a poem. It concerns the way in which you and your experience of the world is influenced and changed.

Therefore, the objectives of artistic development can be general and broad in scope, and they can also be limited and geared to a specific subject. Artistic disciplines can be applied as a means to achieve general developmental goals, but they can also be goals in themselves. The discussion about which goal should be foremost is one that has surfaced recurrently in the history of artistic development.

Among projects that can be construed as a part of 'intercultural artistic development' one finds very few subject-specific definitions of objectives. More often the primary aim would be something general such as 'achieving respect for different lifestyles', and artistic activities are seen as a convenient means to reach that end. It is hardly necessary to explain why artistic development, alongside other school subjects, should be intercultural in essence. It is necessary to attune this field to multi-ethnic classes and the social proximity of different ethnic groups that occurs outside school. Should one take the class to the Museum of the Tropics as well as to the Rijksmuseum? Should Turkish and Surinamese songs be included in a repertoire? Should one employ artistic disciplines in projects about racism and discrimination? The advantages and disadvantages of the divergent approaches will be discussed here. First, however, I would like to give an impression of the place accorded to artistic development in education at the present time.

For the average teacher in primary education, artistic development in practice consists of incidental drawing, singing and a short play. Few primary schools have teachers specialised in drawing, handicrafts or music; the class teachers usually have to decide for themselves the way in which they can introduce 'creativity' into their programme. In multilingual groups they will certainly give priority to language and arithmetic, leaving scant time over for a systematic application of the 'softer' disciplines with a predetermined outcome in view. In secondary education, a certain proportion of the basic developmental project is set aside for artistic development and the lessons are taught by trained teachers.

Artistic development consists of more than drawing, handicrafts and music. The term 'artistic development' is a collective term for six subject areas or disciplines that are derived from the arts, namely: pictorial development, dramatic development, dance development, literary development, musical development and audio-visual development. With the exception of audio-visual development all these disciplines are mentioned in the Primary Education Act.

As drawing, handicrafts and music have a set place in the curriculum at primary and secondary levels, there are specific instructional materials for these subjects that extend over the entire educational period, and on which schools can base a curriculum. As regards drama, dance, literary and audio-visual development, the teacher has to make do with incidental brochures, lesson notes, project portfolios and documentation files. These materials are often constructed thematically and disciplines are combined with each other.

Besides the use of classroom material, the school can also opt to employ a 'specialist'. Due to a structural shortage of time experienced by most teachers, this practice occurs frequently. Drawing and music teachers are taken on by some schools, but more often, especially for the other disciplines, the school turns to consultants from establishments specialising in artistic development. In some regions, an annual 'art offer' is made to the schools so they can choose from a variety of support programmes: museum visits, theatre performances, a series of dance classes, a photography project, a series of language printing sessions, a children's choir project. 'Consultants' in artistic development take their own working methods and sometimes their own instructional-material into the classroom with them. Their goals vary; sometimes it is a one-off event; sometimes the aim is to train teachers so as to enable them to work independently with a chosen artistic discipline.

3.2 Is Artistic Development Culturally Specific?

Innovation and Tradition

In modern western society originality, innovation and creativity are pivotal criteria for assessment of artistic expression, along with the emphasis on the artist's individual achievements. These characteristics are reflected in the practice of artistic development in the west during the last fifty years. In all disciplines, encouraging the child's personal expression is paramount. Inventiveness is highly-valued. The more discoveries children make and the more ways they find of expressing their personal experiences the better.

Art often has a different function in non-western societies. Frequently, art has a religious goal and is practised in accordance with traditionally proscribed rules. Personal feelings are subordinate to the rules and the individual expression of the artist is less important than the religious or philosophical function of the art work produced. As a part of the appropriate artistic instruction, the pupil's objective is to find her/his way around the practice of the old tradition rather than to explore new and personal avenues. The master instructs the pupil, whose eventual expertise can only be the result of continuous practise over a long period of time.
These differing appraisals of the values and function of art can have consequences for an intercultural complementation of artistic development in schools. The points of departure for artistic development are a consequence of western notions. Whether or not non-western notions can be easily assimilated is questionable.

The Original and the Derivative

Most teachers of artistic development put a high premium on originality: the reproduction of cliches should be opposed. A tendency in children to derive material from cliches can take many forms: the identical rows of suns and flowers in drawings made by girl's and the weapons and airplanes in those by boys; copying popular comic book figures; playing stereotypes; imitating popstars; the language used in stories or poems; the mass appeal of certain American films and television programmes. For most full-time teachers this is not a problem. The pleasure children experience in this kind of activity is their foremost concern and they lack the knowledge and artistic experience needed to bring about any changes. Only those teachers with a specialised training in a subject look for forms and methods that can break through the tendency to reproduce cliches. For this reason, in the 'Werkschuit' (now: Stichting Kunstzinnige Werkvorming Amsterdam) in the fifties the term 'liberating technique' was coined. It embraced techniques by means of which children could be helped to produce pictures divorced from the cliches or set ideas of beauty or ugliness. Techniques such as cutting out printing blocks, painting with thick brushes, tearing paper and making group pictures produced unexpected results that were free from cliches.

In non-western cultural traditions certain manifestations of cliches are highly regarded. For religious reasons, Islamic children are sometimes forbidden to draw people or animals. Instead, they are praised for their skill in drawing minutely detailed non-figurative decorations following an established pattern. Other religions also embrace established symbols, a particular application of colour and representations that are repeated with only minor variations. To children from a Hindu background, centuries-old stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata form an inexhaustible source of material. They are told time and again and re-shaped, even in comic strips and films. And in many cultures the transmission (and, therefore, the endless repetition) of old stories is more important than coming up with something new. Almost no-where in western education are children still obliged to learn texts by heart; in Chinese and Koran schools this practice is the predominant. Likewise, in Chinese and Arabic cultures calligraphy is a separate and highly valued art form, to which even children may apply themselves.

Teachers will have to ask themselves if these cultural traditions actually uphold cliches that should be transcended . As a consequence, they will also have to question the emphasis on originality, authenticity and free expression in modern artistic development. Could it be deemed 'ethnocentric' and should there be a revision of the central notions encompassing artistic development in order to render it intercultural?


Counteracting Cultural Bias

Intercultural artistic development is not only intended for children from ethnic groups, but equally for white Dutch children. All children have both the need and the right to be put into contact with the cultural backgrounds of groups outside their own.

The acquisition of knowledge is perhaps the least problematic area. A teacher can take on some re-training and can be so inventive with materials that s/he can confront pupils with examples of art from all kinds of cultures and can tell them a great deal about it. Receptive and reflective instructional-materials that are geared towards the acquisition of knowledge can be easily screened for cultural bias. The following questions serve as a litmus test. When looking at pictorial art, are art works from non-western cultures included? Are examples of non-western music or dance on offer? Is attention paid to non-western literary forms, such as the oral tradition or specific poetic techniques? And if a diversity in culture is offered, is non-western art systematically appraised 'less important' or 'primitive' in comparison with western art?

It becomes more complicated when one is attempting to interculturalise the creative products of artistic development. When children are asked to express themselves personally, creatively, authentically or originally, this itself entails a particular (western) perspective on humankind. In this view, the human is an autonomous individual, capable of self-determination and able to make decisions independently. Towards the end of the last century the notion developed in Western-Europe that children are more spontaneous, uncomplicated and freer than adults, and that education should respect and use this individuality. This view was to form the basis for the term 'free expression' that came into vogue around 1950. The pictorial arts were dubbed 'expressive arts' and were no longer geared towards teaching children to draw but to let them draw. Supervision was deemed unnecessary. Ten years later 'teaching' made a come-back, however, and 'free expression' became 'artistic development'. The individuality is still central, but they can be taught how to give expression to this by means of effective methodologies. Do these views fit into the practice of artistic development with an intercultural bias? Moreover, does this belong in contemporary multicultural classrooms?


Children in a Multicultural Netherlands

The schematic division into western and non-western entails the danger that children from ethnic minority groups will simply be regarded as representatives of their parent's culture or that of their country of origin. The direct experience of teachers with ethnically mixed groups presents another picture. It is certainly not true that all Turkish and Moroccan children in The Netherlands are prohibited from drawing figures, nor that all Surinamese children live with a musical cacophony, nor that Chinese parents show no interest in their toddlers first scribbles. And it is even less true that multi-ethnic groups find it difficult to work successfully with existing artistic forms.

There has been very little systematic research undertaken into the role that ethnic background plays when children are taking part in artistic activities. There are many hypotheses and suppositions.

Sometimes, when I am working in a class on artistic development I suspect that children from some ethnic groups never read or draw at home. And I also suspect that drawings and dolls made at school by Islamic children are never taken home because their parents do not approve of them. Sometimes, I get the impression that the children from ethnic minority groups become very self-conscious when they are asked for their own feelings or experiences of something. Or, I feel that they are extra careful not to dirty their clothes when they are working with printing techniques.

But I also discover sometimes that Turkish children listen alternately to Madonna and to Turkish music, or more often only to Madonna. Sometimes Islamic children have a long row of coloured crayons at home. White children go to piano and dance lessons and are trained there in something geared towards technical accomplishments. And Moroccan children play drums at home and learn traditional dances from aunts and sisters, while they also spend half the day watching MTV and imitating the dances with their friends.

Finally, among white Dutch children I have seen so many differences that it is impossible to present a unambiguous picture of them.

If something in general can be said about the relationship between ethnicity and artistic development, then it is perhaps this: children from ethnic minority groups are probably better equipped to function in various cultural contexts than Dutch children in 'white' schools. It is a necessity for them! The wedding of a Moroccan cousin, at which men and women will absolutely never dance together, is as important and as unavoidable for a Moroccan child as the school party the day before where boys and girls throw their arms around each other on the dance floor. To one extent or another, children from ethnic minority groups are all faced with the differences between the western culture all around them and the ethnic culture practised by their parents and relatives. The differences can create tensions, but also lead to new possibilities for expression. At school children should be given the space and the support they need to look for forms of expression that are most fitting for them at that stage of their development.

In my opinion, intercultural artistic development can only take place experimentally in the field of tension between elements of different cultures. There is no reason to stop children from ethnic minority groups using 'self-expression'. There is every reason to keep an eye on the effects of this on these children so that the instructional-material can ultimately be adapted or complemented accordingly. Alongside this, all children should be systematically confronted with works of art and techniques from non-western cultures. The latter should dovetail with the steady increase in attention that is being paid to techniques in all artistic disciplines at the present moment.


Ethnicity, Folklorism and One's Own Experiences

The relationship between ethnic origins and participation in artistic development is not uncomplicated. Actually, it is impossible to say in general what role ethnicity plays in the child's daily life.

Children from Turkish origins will not feel Turkish all day long and to the same extent, in the same way that white Dutch children will not continuously feel Dutch. Usually, they feel simply different: small, large, boy or girl, unhappy, tough or sexy. They can be very proud of their Turkish origins, or they can reject it, either all of it or just a small part. This depends on the circumstances.

Teachers cannot just turn to a child at any particular moment and address her/him on the basis of their supposed ethnicity. It could have an undesirable effect if one shoves a drum at a Surinamese child with the instructions 'here, play the drum in a Surinamese way'. Nor should one assume that children from Ghanese origins would have a great deal to tell the class after watching an African film. They can become very angry or insecure, because they know nothing about, or want to distance themselves from, that which is expected of them. Equally, one could find them blossoming, exactly because they have recognised something and suddenly they are the 'expert'.

For a long time, the intercultural approach existed in schools in the form of organised projects about countries and about Turkish, Moroccan or Hindu celebrations, abundantly endowed with exotic snacks, dances and music. This was intended to help children from different ethnic groups approach each other. In the meantime, this strategy has been rejected as 'folklorism': a reprehensible attempt to attract contemporary Dutch children to a few colourful characteristics of a country they have usually never visited. While this criticism is justified, it pays too scant attention to the obvious pleasure children could nonetheless experience from this type of 'folklore'.

As an alternative to folklorism the individual, personal experiences of the children can be made central, by means of which extra attention is paid to the ever different ways in which these experiences are influenced by the ethnic background. In artistic development, especially, where there is a continuous search for an individual, authentic manner of expression, it is important for teachers to learn how to foreground something without pressure or stigmatisation.

Another alternative can be found in an approach which pays serious attention to non-western art forms, by presenting and studying these in their contemporary modes of manifestation, and by taking on artists from various ethnic groups in establishments for artistic development.


Museums, Concert Halls, and Theatres

In most schools it is usual for children to become acquainted with original works of art through visits to museums or attendance at concerts or plays. While some change is taking place, most of the art found in museums is western, and the same can be said of that which can be seen and heard on Dutch podia. Non-western art is predominantly to be found in anthropological museums or at special multicultural or folklore festivals. The works are usually not exhibited then in their own rights, but serve broader social goals, such as giving information about the lifestyles of non-western peoples, or improving the position of ethnic minorities.

This reflects the (steadily changing) relationships between 'native' Dutch ('autochtone') and ethnic minority ('allochtone') groups, but is also a consequence of the different function of art in non-western cultures, in which works of art often have a social function. This vanishes in the neutral museum environment or on a disengaged, brightly-lit western stage. An accompanying lecture or an information brochure changes little. Rather, it could put the art in a more educational context and, therefore, render it boring.

Alternatively, there is something to be said for the practice of bringing non-western art and performance into museums and theatres. It can release non-western art from its anthropological ambience and enhance its status as 'real' art. Furthermore, it brings a wider cross-section of the public into contact with different cultures. Perhaps it even renders the sphere of professional art more accessible for laymen and amateurs. It would be a fine outcome of receptive artistic development in schools if attending a concert or visiting a museum prompts the individual to feel the artistic urge and a will to put it into effect.

It would be fine if the range of exhibits and performances on offer were to become more multicultural. One should be able to take children to look at 17th century Dutch masters, but also to Chinese water-colours or African statues, or to Matthew's Passion and to a rai concert, to Swan Lake and Ghanese dancers, to a play by Pinter and also an Indonesian Wayang performance. Perhaps, contemporary artists from ethnic minorities could be brought into the classroom. Then the children could start painting, dancing, acting or making music themselves.

For teachers there is also a great deal of work to do if they are ready and willing. It will not be easy to put such a multicultural scope into effect. Secondly, the teacher will need to acquire a great deal of new knowledge. Thirdly, it is impossible to predict the ways in which children from different ethnic groups and environments will react to the material. Art evokes emotions. Teachers will be confronted with the whole gamut from recognition, curiosity and enthusiasm to lack of interest, resistance and anger. A concert of Turkish music could divide a whole group of Turkish children into opposing camps, because some children will want to identify with the culture others will not. Dutch parents can also protest against this type of approach, 'because the school is already Turkish enough'. It requires tact, openness and inventiveness to preclude suchlike conflicts.


3.3 In Conclusion

Artistic development is about doing; making art, listening to it, looking at it thinking and talking about it. The emphasis on one aspect or another can be varied. At present little exists for (prospective) teachers to help them come to grips with the need to complement artistic development with interculturality. In this chapter a number of problems have been discussed and projects from six artistic disciplines prioritising intercultural objectives and assumptions have been cited. The following is a brief summary:

 -·The objectives of artistic development are sometimes instrumental, that is they are the means by which a general developmental objective can be achieved. Sometimes they are intrinsic: they remain within the boundaries of the relevant artistic discipline. In intercultural artistic development both are to be found, depending on the approach. When personal attitudes are concerned, such as having 'respect for other cultures' and being 'open to cultural exchanges', the objectives are instrumental. When the acquisition of skills or knowledge is central, such as learning certain dance steps or distinguishing between different musical traditions, the objectives are intrinsic. Teachers she scrutinize the lesson-material bearing the following two questions in mind:

-·Are attitudes learned by the children (in an active, receptive and/or reflexive sense) likely to help them negotiate an independent path in a multicultural society?

-·Does the material use all the opportunities available for explaining art from other cultures within the same discipline alongside western art?

-·In a multicultural society there are differences in the evaluation and status of art. western attitudes often contrast with non-western attitudes, but also within cultures there is no agreement concerning the function of art. This does not preclude an exchange and a blending of art forms. The teacher can try to provide answers to the following questions, though the answers will vary according to the discipline.

-·Which points of departure concerning the function of art are fundamental to this material? Are they typically western? If so, pupils from another culture could be embarrassed, by stress laid on certain skills, such as a capacity to express oneself in a literary style of Dutch, or by being asked to draw a picture of a deity or to express personal feelings.

-·Which (technical) skills are being valued and taught through the material? And which forms of creativity and originality are being valued and encouraged? Are you aware, as a teacher, of the specific objectives you are realising through artistic development, and what effect your methods will have on different ethnic groups.

-·The significance of ethnicity both in everyday life and for children taking part in artistic development in The Netherlands at the present time is not a given. It is changeable and dynamic. What is on offer in the intercultural artistic arena must take this into account and be varied by definition. It is crucial that the multi-ethnic nature of the class, and of The Netherlands, is represented as self-evident, and that no single pupil should be pigeon-holed on the basis of her/his ethnicity. The following questions are fundamental:

-·Does the material, and the supervision, give each pupil sufficient room to search for a means of expression that is most suitable to her/his own development?

-·What are your attitudes, as a teacher, to the pupils' ethnic backgrounds? To what extent have these been gleaned from personal statements made by the pupils themselves? How can you use the art itself to ensure that pupils are given the opportunities to express their own cultural background? Do you given them the freedom to do this? 

-·In existing projects operative in the field of intercultural artistic development there are a variety of intercultural supplements available. Four approaches have been distinguished:

1. A non-western cultural event is studied in detail. Try to do this as far as is possible with the correct cultural context and function, otherwise this method never moves beyond the study of folklore.

2. Non-western or ethnic artists and works of art are added to the western, or non-ethnic. An exchange of the western and non-western, rather than merely a complementation, would be ideal. Teachers need to acquire knowledge of several cultures. Museums and performances that display diversity can also be put to use.

3. Universal themes should be regarded from a variety of perspectives. Personal experiences, such as loneliness, love, happiness and sadness, as well as families, conflicts, work and friendship are topics that find expression in all cultures and every discipline. If this method is to be successful, a great deal of cultural knowledge must be employed by the teacher and/or the pupils. The diverse supplements that can be used with these themes should ensure that both similarities and differences between cultural traditions become evident.

4.Ethnicity and multiculturality as it is experienced by contemporary Dutch children should be central to the projects. Not all disciplines have had material developed that deals with these aspects, however, the primary source should be the pupils themselves. If they can exchange experiences with each other, express themselves creatively and enjoy what they are doing, then a great deal will have been achieved.


3.4 Note

1 Schermel, Atie, 'Intercultureel onder-wijs en kunstzinnige vorming' (Intercultural Education and Artistic Development). In: Handboek Intercultureel Onderwijs (Handbook for Intercultural Education) Alphen a/d Rijn: Samsom, 1989.

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