Saturday, December 31, 2011

Challenges in teaching Lao arts

Dr. Lynette Henderson in her 2005 article "Teaching Cultural Traditions: Art of Laos" from the May issue of Art Education discussed a 2003 project of interest to our community.

The project involved Children's Art Workshop, the Program for Southeast Asian Studies and Hayden Library at Arizona State University and the Arizona Lao Association. They sought to teach Lao art traditions to 25 students from diverse communities in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

"Our problem became, then, how to give students necessary skills, maintain a sense of individual vision and remain true to the form and function of Lao art and design as we understood it." Henderson noted.

"Teachers should ask students to define and identify primary tenets of the tradition in their own work and then contrast those with familiar tenets as a learning tool, such as symmetry and symmetry, for example, which are common principles in Western art," she noted as a recommended practice.

In her concluding remarks we can find some interesting recommendations. I will be interested to see how many of these are applied and incorporated into existing efforts over the next twelve years in particular. She writes:

"Due to the differing nature of traditional Lao craftsmanship and the Western emphasis on self-expression, issues arose both during the planning stages and in the classroom on exactly what and how to teach Lao weaving and design. Context also played an important role regarding potential conflicts in terms of the flexible nature of a Saturday art program, regarded more as entertainment than education by some parents and students, and demographics of the student body. Teacher and staff awareness of those factors and possible ensuing issues, however, will help preparations of future classes for issues that need resolution, and to remain focused on both the material and conceptual aspects of art production. In addition, the notion of pushing into deeper content in student artworks is one that can be built up through a series of activities moving from simpler lessons to a more complicated mixture of form and function. Over time and with focused attention, the presentation of a multitude of art traditions will become more commonplace within art education, particularly within teacher preparation programs. The issues will seem less contentious as appropriate language and viable solutions become easier to access through repeated practice, leaving the way open for both techers and students to successfully navigate and enjoy the complex mysteries of art and culture."

But what are some approaches and challenges you see with teaching Lao art?


Vanessa said...

As a Laotian artist, I incorporate many Laotian pattern and designs inspired from traditional clothing and ancient Buddhist scripture. Some approaches that Lao art students can take is to first be aware of the beauty of their culture. One thing I noticed is that Lao patterns are geometrically proportioned and usually hold a symmetrical quality to it. In Western art, emphasis is put upon organic shapes that supposedly better express emotions but what many people fail to realize is that geometric patterns is relatable to math, science, and astronomy, and even religion thus encompassing all aspects of life and knowledge. As Lao artists we should keep our innate ability to form perfect geometrical shapes and lines. The challenge is that our pursuit of perfection for craftsmanship sometimes clouds what we are trying to express. When I focus on certain patterns I sometimes forget what I am trying to communicate to my audience so I balance it our by incorporating representational images such as animals, people, anatomical structure. There is a sense of self-expression coming from the Lao people. It is more difficult to see through the outsider's eye because it takes time to understand that we are a collective culture. We do in fact express ourselves as individual beings but tight knit patterns and designs is what keeps us together.

Bryan Thao Worra said...

It's something that Lao artists need to gain from experience and committed engagement to our art. Only through time and continuous study do we see there's both technical skill and the artistic skill.

It must lead us to appreciate that only a few in each generation of Lao can really create the paintings, sculptures and textiles in a way that is technically excellent, but that even more rare is the Lao artist who has a mastery of both the technique AND also has something interesting to say within each piece they create in their lifetime.

Then, there is the challenge, having created an excellent piece with a good energy, spirit and imbued with something meaningful to add to the great conversations of the world, can those pieces find their way to the right audience, the person who will appreciate it most and be transformed by it.