In the realm of the visual arts, one of the things I find most fascinating is how in the graphic arts - advertising, media, packaging, there is an inherent assumption that the resulting visual entity is imbued with a proclivity for dialogue; that it is in effect, inherently dialogical. By the very nature of being designed and conceived to sell us something, inform us, or convey a message to the 'reader' we take it for granted that this is the case. As the nature, purpose, or function of art shifts, however, as it becomes less 'consumable' the aforementioned changes. As art becomes 'higher' art (art with a capital F), the average viewer appears less confident in interpreting the message or engaging in discourse with the art; fine art becomes much more about a didactic relationship and less about a dialogical relationship. It appears that we need curators and critics, middle-(wo)men and cultural commentators who are employed like religious orderlies to interpret the word of the Almighty and bestow on the minions the translation of the visual narrative. In reaching these apparent heights it is my contention that we lose a great deal of what the artistic project set out to achieve. It appears that art has lost its tongue, that it becomes less about its dialogical potentiality, its presentation as a writerly text, and much more about slipping postmodernism's leash and absconding back to modernism's grand recit where it espouses a singular monlithical truth.
In Education for Critical Consciousness (1974) Freire attempts to introduce visual arts as a dialogical tool, but as Lewis (2010) reminds us in The Future of Image in Critical Pedagogy, what Freire actually does it to reinforce the anti-dialogical aspects of visual art by merely using a coded visual image with a pre-defined set of codes, signs, and signifiers which it is the job of the educand merely to retrieve; art in this instance is therefore, neither dialogical nor democratic. Project e-ma however, has found a way to exploit the dialogical proclivity of art. By using the Japanese cultural artefact e-ma as a tool to engage citizens with hope, it employs the theoretical frame of Freire's Critical Pedagogy as a means to explore both the potentiality of art for other purposes (raising critical consciousness, for example), but also as a means of stimulating dialogue and interaction.
By using more abstract mark-making (not painting, per se) we open up the possibilities of meaning on three different levels. Firstly there is the personal meaning the maker attaches to their e-ma and attempts to express on it. Next, there is the interpretation fellow co-constructors of knowledge assign to the other person's e-ma, and finally when the e-ma are displayed on the frame, there is the third-person viewer who sees not only individual e-ma, but e-ma collected together to form a composite artwork Needless to say that when the e-ma are hung together to make a collective artwork, all the individual authors and co-constructors/participants have an opportunty to re-consider their e-ma in reltion to the whole, and to reflect on the subject from both a personal, icolated perspective and also as part of a group. By utilising the e-ma in this way and by approaching the research from the perspective of Freire's Critical Pedagogy, it is arguable that we can attempt to suceed in using the visual arts for dialogue, democracy, and conscientizacao, where Freire himself failed.
*Project e-ma is copyright ARWoollock 2013, all rights reserved. Legal and intellectual property rights have been asserted.