Michelle Forrest


Art is Social Action


According to Jeanette Winterson, art objects. Art is not about static objects. By objecting to our habitual and conditioned ways of engaging in the world, art-work guides us beyond the safety of our own experience. “Art cannot be tamed” says Winterson, “although our responses to it can be, and in relation to The Canon, our responses are conditioned from the moment we start school” (15). In my view, art is social action. It challenges orthodoxies, not only in its subject matter, but also (and possibly more importantly) by stretching our ways of engaging with the world. The fact that citizens are, for the most part, conditioned to think of art as irrelevant, merely decorative and an outrageous waste of tax dollars is the fault of education, not the fault of art.
My background as a classically-trained singer and my interest in formal openness as exemplified in ‘open’ art-work has led me to use difficult art in teaching philosophy and aesthetics to pre-service and in-service teachers. Art that goes beyond the expected methods and media of ‘the Masters,’ provokes every manner of fear, outrage, disgust and dismay in my students. I find this rich ground upon which to discuss the ideal of open-mindedness in education. I consider this approach social action: those who are teaching youth across all the disciplines are being introduced to the infinite ways in which art objects by fostering open-minded in their own curricula. As an example, a social studies teacher could use Robert Smithson’s earthworks in geography class to discuss our ideas of place, location, nature and much more.
In my paper I will also discuss John Dewey’s claim that art is experience and the appropriateness of his theory in designing arts curricula better able to open citizens’ to the action of art in society.


Michelle Forrest is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. She teaches both pre-service and in-service teachers in the areas of philosophy of education, aesthetics, research literacy and media studies. Her research focuses on the arts and aesthetics in education, collaborative research and teacher education. Among her published articles are pieces on the role of difficult art in teaching to be critical and the place of media studies in developing open-mindedness. Before joining the academy, Dr. Forrest taught secondary school English and drama. She began teaching after a career as a singer of opera, oratorio and concert repertoire. One of the performances she recalls most fondly is a programme of Russian and Canadian folksongs which she sang for an assembly of international ambassadors at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow.
Though no longer singing professionally, she remains active as a performing artist by participating in fund-raising and other special events, by incorporating music into her collaboration through the arts, and by jamming with students and friends whenever she gets the chance.