Nationalism, Public Formation and Art Education

Year: 1992

Author: Weate, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The public formation of education, and art education in particular has recurrently been influenced by the perceived interests of government. The dominant voices in government have most recently been described as economically rationalist. In this paper I will argue that a National Curriculum in the Arts serves the interests of these voices in two distinct, yet interconnected ways. They are : (1.) in the economically rationalist interest in efficiency, models and organisation, and (2.) as an expression of nationalism. It will be argued that art education has little to gain from a National Curriculum statement. At the local, national and international level education is being reshaped by the imperatives of government in the guise of curriculum change or reform. In New South Wales educators prepare to accommodate new curriculum documents and the demands of the National Curriculum in concert with recent experiences of intensification through the increasing accountability of education to economic values. This paper argues for a more critical analysis of the concept of nation(al) in the national curriculum. I am interested in bringing together two theoretical positions to problematise the idea of nation in the national curriculum. This paper is based on current research toward understanding the framing and cultivation of art education as it relates to political economy and public formation. I place art education within culture as a potent force in the representation and appearance of a society and not just as an instrument to deliver culture. The theoretical positions of Gramsci and Althusser that assume education reproduces society/culture and reciprocally is shaped by culture support this discussion. Art education is as much a force in shaping student and social conceptions of art, culture and identity, as it is in turn shaped by art, culture and identity. Education, and art education, in its concern for the cultural, is very much a part of the invention and imagining of nation. I bring Benedict Anderson's theory of nationalism, with selective consideration of Fredric Jameson's writings on imperialism, and Michael Pusey's critique of economic rationalism to impinge on the national art curriculum as an idea, and as represented in The Brief for National Curriculum Statement and Profile in the Arts (Emery and Hammond, June 18 1992). The structure of this paper is in three parts. The first section details my conception of curriculum as a culturally constructed critical practice. This is central to subsequent discussions of economies and nation.. This is followed by consideration of how economic rationalism or neo-classical economic theories have influenced the intellectual climate of government decision making to have a National Curriculum, and the form and values of the National Curriculum. The third section engages nationalism with the idea of a National Curriculum and how identity formation, so central a theme in histories of Australian art, is defined and effected through the brief for the arts curriculum statement ; All nationalisms have a metaphysical dimension, for they are all driven by an ambition to realise their intrinsic essence in some specific and tangible form. The form may be a political structure or a literary tradition (Seamus Deane 1990 p.8).