AO's literature, music and art were selected based on Charlotte Mason's principles: works should have a refining, elevating influence, express great ideas, and encourage students to make connections. (For more about the criteria used, see Wendi's notes and a collection of quotes from Charlotte Mason on the principles AO used for picture study and artist selection near the bottom of our art page.)
Are we saying there are no depictions of people of colour, or people outside of western civilization, no works by artists of colour, no artists from other cultures outside of western civilization which depict any of those ideals? No. However, AO is largely a curriculum deeply rooted in western civilization.
One of the problems with bringing in a wider variety of artists is the difficulty of really understanding much art and music outside of "our" own western culture. We're tourists, basically, when we look at Asian art; there's a whole long and deep story there that we're just not going to be able to do justice to. Exploring the "canon" of western artists, on the other hand, should create connections for us, from one time and artist to another. One Advisory member read an art book with her eighth grader that explored different depictions of Christ in art, including recent and multicultural works, and depiction tried to point out that what a Thai viewer looking at a Thai version of the crucifixion might take away from it is much different from what western eyes might see; the same with a Native piece of art that perhaps combined thunderbirds and Jesus.
While it's good to bring in a wider appreciation of art for everyone, it's really beyond the scope of what we can knowledgeably suggest. Those who live in other countries or have another heritage, who have some sense of what they're looking at when they look at thunderbirds or Thai art or the Canadian Group of Seven, or Middle Eastern dancing, or Inuit throat singing, should be encouraged to incorporate those stories as well.
It is a regrettable fact of life that saying "yes" to anything is the same as saying "no" to something else. Is art about art--great art--or is it about making sure certain types of artists get equal time based on a value unconnected to the art itself? Because saying "yes" to a regional, female, or other minority artist because of the geography or DNA of the artist (or the subjects) is saying "no" to DaVinci, Rembrandt, Monet, or Raphael, or whichever historically recognized artist you are bumping to make room for them. There are times that is the appropriate choice for a family to make. However, AO serves many families all over the world. We are based on Charlotte Mason's principles, and we have chosen to follow Charlotte Mason's guidelines and recommend artists of high standing. It is unfortunate that women and minorities, historically, have not had the same opportunities or recognition, but we cannot change the past. We can change the future, but we don't believe we will accomplish anything worthwhile by jettisoning the best of the past. We only have 36 terms for picture study, after all.
We believe Charlotte Mason would have enjoyed the idea that we can go beyond what's most familiar, without feeling like we're culturally misappropriating something. But as a curriculum, there's only so much we can specifically offer. Which brings us to some issues of logistics.
It's also a problem that most classical works by European artists which even include people of colour show them in servile positions, which is not what we would wish for picture study. The majority of positive depictions of people of colour in art, and by recognized artists of colour are found in the last 50 years or so. This brings up copyright issues for those who would print the paintings. We also do not want the curriculum unduly weighted in the modern era at the expense of the best western civilization has to offer over the last two thousand years. As moderns ourselves, we are all ill equipped to truly judge what are the most timeless and best works of our culture. Incidentally, Miss Mason also addressed why she did not do more that was modern in her day, and she said she found students educated on the lines she indicated tended to find the best the contemporary offerings on their own.
In addition, a small, but important issue is that we also need to have six separate prints for each artist. This also limits us. For instance, one lovely example which we would certainly include is the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle that inspired the movie "Belle." However, to be useful for picture study, we'd need six works of art by the same artist. We could include that painting but it would be alone. We don't know who painted it, so we can't have six works of art by the same artist.
The Year 9 booklist contains the following footnote, which is about American History, but applies to other topics as well: "We do not wish to appear to imply that a full and complete study of American History is mandatory for non-Americans. Because of the influence the US has had on world events, we do believe that some understanding of the histories of England and the US is necessary for everybody; however, the depth of that coverage is an individual choice. Students from other countries should have a more thorough exposure to their own national history than our suggested options offer, and we encourage all AO users to seek excellent books on their own history and heritage. However, as we lack the resources and time to choose histories for other countries, we leave this responsibility to our foreign users. Please be bold in making the curriculum fit your own needs."
Art is about art, and we expect each family to make the curriculum their own based on their needs. We also fondly hope that AO has opened up doors of interest so that each family will take up any opportunities they have to visit museums with more contemporary and diverse art.
-- Wendi Capehart, Karen Glass, Anne White, 2016
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