CULTURAL CONVERGENCE (by Greg Morgan)

Greg is a friend, colleague, and fellow DP art teacher and examiner, and I have known him for a number of years. I have been consistently delighted by, and impressed with, his passion for our subject – visual arts – so I invited him to contribute something to this blog, and I am pleased to report that he has indeed written a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

Please welcome our first ‘Guest Blogger’ – Greg Morgan!

Cultural Convergence by Greg Morgan

Undertaking my high school education in England during the 1980s meant that it was entirely possible to study Art without ever considering that anybody else had previously engaged in acts of artistic creation. Even today I sometimes encounter art teachers who are reluctant to expose their students to what they seem to regard as the pernicious and overwhelming influence of existing artworks upon nascent creativity.

Fortunately I had a fantastic teacher who insisted on the value of exploring the history of art. However, the full scope of our exploration of human artworks could be neatly summed up within the title of one of our key textbooks: ‘From Giotto to Cezanne’ (Levey. M, 1962). Whilst this compact volume offered a useful, if somewhat linear, journey through 600 years of Western painting. It did seem to suggest that all significant art had been made by men from Europe who died a long time ago.

The IB Visual Arts programme views the making of new art and the investigation of existing artworks as being inextricably interwoven. As one would hope from an internationally minded educational system, the first bullet point of the visual arts descriptors for the investigation component, expects students to ‘analyse and compare perceptively art from different cultures and times, and consider it thoughtfully for its function and significance’.

The IB Visual Arts guide suggests that:

A culture can be described as learned and shared beliefs, values, interests, attitudes, products or patterns of behaviour.

Crucially, it emphasizes that:

Culture is dynamic and organic and operates on many levels—international, national, regional, local and social interest groups.

This notion of cultures as vibrant, evolving entities, rather than eternally fixed monoliths, is particularly relevant to my situation in an International school in Rome. Many of my students are what the American sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem described as ‘Third Culture Kids’. That is they may have lived in a range of locations and are generally growing up outside of their parents’ culture. This offers the potential to assimilate diverse influences including those of the visual arts.

One of my current students has Italian parents, yet spent all of his early life in Ethiopia. This has contributed to a fascination with the Byzantine influenced Christian painting of this part of Africa; which is in itself a vivid example of an artform emerging from the convergence of diverse cultures. His investigation of these artworks moves beyond the all too common, superficial referencing of ‘African Art’ as a homogenous entity, usually taking the form of ritual masks, that recurs in many students IWBs.

My second year IB artists have just been given an open ended research brief to seek out and investigate examples of visual art forms that may be perceived as either a product of cultural interchange and convergence, or as artworks created specifically to comment upon cultural interchange and convergence.

As ever, their independent investigation should in some way linked to their own personally relevant projects, concerns and themes. By way of inspiration, I have provided them with a range of links, images and information relating to 3 diverse examples of this phenomenon, including the art and architecture of the Spanish city of Seville.

Seville has a long and complex history which is reflected in its architecture. For example: fragments of aqueducts reflect early colonisation by the Romans. Like much of the Iberian peninsula, the city was subject to waves of Visigothic and Byzantine conquest. It was subsequently conquered by the Moorish peoples of North Africa.  In 712 AD the city fell under Muslim rule and was named Išbīliya, from where the modern Spanish name Sevilla is derived. From the 8th – 13th Centuries it was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Almoravid dynasty, and the Almohad dynasty. However in 1248, the city was conquered by the Christian armies of King Fernando III of Castile.

The Alcázar Palace offers a vivid example of cultural convergence in the art & architecture of Seville. The original structure was constructed during the 12th century Almohad reign. However, whilst the current palace’s plan, gardens and decoration frequently follows the style of traditional Islamic palaces, it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1364 for the Christian ruler Pedro I. This synthesis of Islamic forms and decorative elements into non-Islamic buildings, that emerged in the Iberian peninsula after the Christian ‘re-conquest’ is known as Mudejar style. This idiom remained influential in Spain until the 17th Century and was revived in the 20th Century Neo-Mudejar style.

 

Alcázar external view: note combination of Islamic and classical arch forms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcázar: View of an internal courtyard with carved  decoration

 

 

 

Further references:

UNESCO site on Seville

UNESCO Video

Iberian peninsula timeline:          1000-1400 AD

Greg Morgan 19/09/11

2 Comments
  • nanda kathale
    October 12, 2011

    HI,
    This is a nice article on exploring culture through art. Can a student take up study of culture (the student can decide which culture to reflect upon) and make it his theme for all the studio pieces required ? Or should it form a part of it ? Or will it remain only as RWB ?

  • Greg
    October 12, 2011

    Hi Nanda

    I have examined IWB & Studio work from schools in which all of the students seemed to have been instructed to explore their own cultural heritage as a ‘personal’ theme for their entire course. I certainly wouldn’t recommend such a rigid approach myself!

    I tend to find that the most successful students interweave aspects of their consideration of diverse cultures within their studio projects, even if their overall ‘theme’ might be something more open-ended. Sometimes these cultural concerns might relate to the student’s own heritage and situation. In other cases they might be ideas that the student has discovered for the first time through their own unfolding critical and studio research.

    There should always be a strong and vivid link between the work in the students’ IWBs and their Studio practice. The books shouldn’t be some sort of separate study of art history, unrelated to their emerging concerns as practicing artists.

    regards

    Greg

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