It wasn't until I was teaching art appreciation at the college level that I needed to address art from world religions in my lectures in depth and on a consistent basis. How could I not include artwork made for religious purposes or that included religious iconography? So much artwork made during all eras and historical periods and across all cultures was made with religious intentions. But my own educational background did not prepare me for teaching even the basics of world religions. I researched different religions as much as I could in preparation for discussing them with my large lecture classes. I tried to be as matter-of-fact and knowledgeable about the iconography of each religion, but I still felt uncomfortable in doing so for the reasons stated above. Due to the post 9/11 climate, Islam in particular was a difficult subject to approach. I had no strategies in discussing such an important yet touchy subject.
Last year, in researching the artwork of Morocco and Tunisia for my Fulbright-Hays curriculum project, I found the term "Islamic Art" was repeatedly defined in numerous sources as any artwork made in an Islamic country whether it was made for religious purposes or not. What about contemporary art? Secular art? Artwork made by Jewish artists or Christian artists within those countries? Artwork made by non-native artists? It is a problematic definition. Also problematic is addressing Islamic art as a subject in K-12 schools, and I was writing my curriculum project for potential use in elementary, junior high, and high school art classrooms. How could I properly address the meaning and intention of the artwork in Morocco and Tunisia without misrepresenting or generalizing a religion that continues to be considered controversial? In my research I came across the American Academy of Religion Guidelines for Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States and found it helpful in addressing religion as a topic. During the spring 2012 semester, I included these guidelines as required reading in one of my art education classes prior to introducing my curriculum project Patterns of Complexity: Islamic Art of Morocco and Tunisia.
In further developing a research focus for this current semester, I first scanned numerous articles and resources on how art education and religion intersected. Despite the importance and prevalence of religious iconography in art and its subsequent pedagogical inclusion, I found that there are limited resources for this topic. This lack of scholarly sources is noted in Barrett et al. (2006) (Spirituality and art education is a more common topic. While spirituality does intersect with religion, it is separate.) Considering the religious tensions and conflicts today, it makes it even more relevant and necessary to include religious art in the art curriculum, not only so students learn more about the meaning or intentions of the artwork but also so they become religiously literate, something that the AAR advocates for in its guidelines.
My Concept Map for my topic:
|The overall concept map "Religion and [spirituality] in Art/Education"|