Quotes, Qualms, and Questions:  

The Impact of June King McFee and Vincent Lanier on My Life and Beyond

Professor Paul Bolin
University of Texas

It is an honor to be invited to be with you today, here on the campus of the University of Oregon. I consider it a great privilege to be asked to share with you some of my reflections regarding two remarkable art educators who have influenced me, the lives of many others, and the entire field of art education in such profound ways. It is with an opportunity like this, to pause and look toward an earlier time, that I can perceive in very clear and direct ways the impact these two individuals have had on me, both personally and professionally. And, for their influence I am extremely grateful.

Some Context

I was a graduate student in the Department of Art Education at the University of Oregon between the years 1979 and 1986. Thus, at this very time 25 years ago I was a master's degree student taking classes in Lawrence Hall from faculty members June King McFee, Beverly Jones, Rogena Degge, Gordon Kensler, and Jack Bergner. Also in that year, Tom Linehan and Terry Barrett, both from The Ohio State University, were here as visiting instructors in the Department. For six of seven years between 1979 and 1986, I was a graduate student on campus, completing my master's degree in 1980 and my Ph.D. in 1986. After graduation, I had the privilege of working and teaching within the Department for the next five years.

As a graduate student I was given the opportunity to come in contact with June McFee and Vincent Lanier through their engaging writings and by way of face-to-face conversations. This was a period of significant questioning and discussion in art education, leading to a reassessment and the shifting of priorities within the field. June McFee and Vincent Lanier were two noted contributors to this scholarly debate and re-examination of art education. The three of us speaking here today-- Kristin Congdon, Laurie Hicks, and I--along with scores of other graduate students from art education and across the campus, were beneficiaries of June and Vincent's spirited participation in this academic reappraisal and critique of the field. The work of June and Vincent led and promoted an expansion of art education that embraced, among other things, a strong community-based orientation.

This was a time of amazing energy and tension within the Department and the whole of art education. Reflecting on this dynamic context surrounding my tenure as a graduate student at the University of Oregon, this paper examines some of the fundamental beliefs expressed by June McFee and Vincent Lanier, as recorded through their writings and conversations. Using selected quotes offered by June and Vincent as benchmarks, many of which raised qualms within the field and initiated questions when they were made, this paper addresses how the words and perspectives of these two individuals have established and continue to form the foundation and direction for much of my work in art education.

Vincent Lanier

One of my greatest regrets in art education is that my years as a graduate student did not coincide well with Vincent Lanier's time as a faculty member in the Department of Art Education at the University of Oregon. When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1979, Vincent was away on leave. He returned to his faculty position in the Department the following year, but during the previous summer I had finished my master's degree and accepted a one-year middle school art teaching position in Lebanon, Oregon. The next academic year (1981-82), I began my doctoral studies in art education, but Vincent had then moved to Tucson, initiating his tenure at the University of Arizona. Vincent's final years at the University of Oregon and my first years here as a student did not mesh together well, a circumstance I do heartily regret.

Even though I was unable to take graduate classes from Vincent, his influence on me has, nonetheless, been significant. Throughout the 1980s, I had the opportunity to meet Vincent at various National Art Education Association conferences, primarily through introductions made by my graduate student peers who took classes from him during the year I had been away from campus. I was intrigued by this man who spoke his mind about art education, and did so with such vitality and passion. I learned a great deal about art education through listening to what he had to say, and also gained much from observing how he communicated his beliefs with such clarity and fervor. Moreover, not only did the content and style of his conversation at these conferences fascinate me, but the chosen forum for his discussion did so as well.

Vincent's daily routine at a conference was to "hold court," as we graduate students called it. Throughout the days of the conference, Vincent positioned himself at a strategic location in the conference hotel lobby or at the confluence of the hotel escalators, to greet, discuss, and lament the condition of art education with those he knew as they stopped by. And, because he was Vincent, he knew the majority of those who strolled passed.   Needless to say, his deliberately chosen location at the conference was filled with as much vigorous and electrified conversation as what occurred in most scheduled conference sessions.  

I am not alone in this memory of Vincent’s "courtly" participation at conferences. Ron MacGregor, writing respectfully yet wittily about Vincent, offers that his vibrant contribution to art education,

could be documented at any NAEA convention, where he would install himself in a chair in the lobby, and a steady stream of friends, admirers, and critics too, would stop by to chat and exchange greetings. The success of a convention hotel was, for Vincent, proportional to the comfort and quality of its foyer armchairs. (MacGregor, in Lanier, 1998, pp. 45-46)


Prior to being introduced to Vincent Lanier at a National Art Education Association conference, my first encounter with him came through one of his writings. This occurred during my first week of graduate study here at the university, which I remember quite well. As a student in Dr. Beverly Jones's course, History and Philosophy of Art Education, we were handed to read a purple-inked mimeographed copy of Vincent's 1975 article, "Objectives of Art Education: The Impact of Time."  One section of the historically-directed article read:

To supplement earlier notions of art activities as limited to the training of artists and as genteel accomplishments for young ladies in finishing schools, that period ["nineteenth century America"] developed the concept of using school art as an adjunct to industrial development. Specifically, school art was to be used to reveal talented youngsters who might be trained as industrial designers in the newly burgeoning factories of the United States, primarily in New England. (Lanier, 1975, p. 180)


The notion that art instruction in schools could be used in the service of industry, particularly in nineteenth-century New England, was an idea that caught my curiosity and soon afterward propelled me toward an investigation of drawing education in nineteenth-century Massachusetts, a topic that would become the focus of my doctoral dissertation.

I completed my doctoral dissertation, titled, "Drawing Interpretation: An Examination of the 1870 Massachusetts 'Act Relating to Free Instruction in Drawing,'" in 1986. The hub of my research was a law enacted in Massachusetts, which mandated that drawing be a required subject of study in all public schools throughout the state, taking effect in May 1870. An initial motivation for the legislative action leading to enactment of this drawing education law was, as Vincent wrote, for drawing to be used in the service of industry, particularly in late nineteenth-century New England. Research conducted for my historically-based doctoral dissertation was the beginning of what has become a 20-year exploration into art education and legislative action, particularly as it occurred in New England in the final third of the nineteenth-century.

Working from this initial investigation of the Massachusetts Drawing Act, I have had opportunities to investigate and uncover a number of fascinating people and events from American history, and bring to light their connection with art education. One such historical event, perhaps of particular interest to those in the Arts and Administration Program, was the first large-scale music festival held in the United States. The National Peace Jubilee and Musical Festival occurred for five days in the summer of 1869 in Boston (Bolin, 1997). This was a grandiose affair of the time, yet it has been nearly relegated to the lost archives of American history.

This Boston-based peace festival and music celebration was conducted as an attempt to help unify a fractured and bitter nation at the conclusion of the United States Civil War. Held in the largest covered "coliseum" of its kind in America, seating 50,000 and built exclusively for this magnificent celebratory event, the five-day vocal and instrumental musical extravaganza drew thousands of participants and overflow crowds each day from throughout North America and Europe (Gilmore, 1871). The centerpiece for this event was the most powerful pipe organ every constructed, which measured 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Music rang from the organ's nearly 1,800 pipes, the largest of which reached a height of more than 40 feet. President Ulysses S. Grant and dignitaries from around the world were in attendance. It was truly an affair of colossal proportions, particularly so as it occurred in the years directly following the Civil War. There is much more that could be said about this event. But, it will need to be saved for another time.

So, thank you Vincent. Your statement about drawing education and its ties to industrial development in late nineteenth-century New England, which I read during my first week of graduate school, became a catalyst that initiated and has motivated my historical investigations for the past 20 years.

Vincent's writings have been described as "a stream of provocative articles designed to stir things up" (MacGregor in Lanier, 1998, p. 45). And, Vincent's writings have indeed accomplished this. Titles such as "The Teaching of Art as Social Revolution (1969b)," "The Future of Art Education or Tiptoe Through the Tea Leaves (1976)," "The Five Faces of Art Education (1977)," "A Plague on All Your Houses: The Tragedy of Art Education (1974)," and "One Word is Worth A Thousand Pictures (1969a)" attest to Vincent's hard-hitting, provocative, and assertive character.  

In 1984, Vincent brought together a number of his fundamental beliefs about art education in one of his culminating articles: "Eight Guidelines for Selecting Art Curriculum Content." These eight guidelines, stated with clarity and conviction, have directed much of my thought and action in art education. Two of these guidelines, in particular, influenced greatly my beliefs about art education as a graduate student, and still impact my thinking today. These two tenets are Vincent's beliefs that within all contexts of art instruction, "Content [should] be centered on artifacts well within the cultural milieu of the learners" (p. 233), and educators should, "Structure the content of art curriculum so that it moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar" (p. 234).

These two of Vincent's guidelines for developing curriculum and organizing instruction in art education have for years guided my overall thinking and daily practice in art education.   To illustrate this, I will share one instructional example I developed 20 years ago, soon after reading this article by Vincent. However, even though this is a resource I constructed some time ago, it remains an instructional tool I use regularly, even now. The project is called the Comic Book Art Book . This book was developed, based on my experience working with teenagers. Through my daily contact with adolescents I discovered that comic books were prominent "artifacts well within the cultural milieu" of many of them. For this reason, following Vincent's admonition, my purpose and goal in using comic books as curricular content was to have learners move from studying content that was "familiar to the unfamiliar." In this way I was working to achieve both proposals Vincent was supporting.

The outcome of my effort has been significant. Hundreds of people, young and old, in school and outside of a school context have had access to the Comic Book Art Book . Through these encounters, readers of the book, I believe, have been moved from the world of the "familiar to the unfamiliar." Utilizing the readers' interest in and knowledge of comic book characters, narratives, objects and settings, my role as author of the book was and attempt to connect the past with the present--to begin with what was familiar to the reader and then help move them to the unfamiliar--information I wanted them to know. The following are just a few of many examples from the pages of the book that I could show and discuss.

I found that many comic book readers were familiar with the character holding this curved-bladed spear. My purpose was to begin with the object of their familiarity, and help move them into unfamiliar territory. Through looking at and reading this book, I wanted the reader to learn that this particular type of implement is called a naginata . A naginata is a particular type of spear, originating in Japan, with a head like a sword blade, curling back very near the point. It is sometimes referred to as the "woman's spear," because women were taught to use it, mainly for exercise, but also out of necessity in case they were called upon to employ it in conflict. Also, I used the environmental setting for another comic book character to introduce learners to information about the Colosseum in Rome and similar structures in other Italian cities. The spiral designs, so characteristic of Minoan pottery motifs (c. 1800-1700 BC), are found embedded in the pages of comic books. And, still another setting from a comic book scene contains visual references to the carved wooden animal head unearthed from the Oseberg ship burial (825 AD), which is very familiar to many art historians. Our well-known everyday lives are filled with references to a world long ago or to an unfamiliar culture. What can be done to help people move from residing in a place that is familiar and secure, and to expand their aspiration and knowledge-base in order to learn about and from a world that rests outside their current place of knowledge and comfort?

Vincent's two keystone recommendations for structuring instructional content in learning so that study is made of "artifacts well within the cultural milieu of the learners" and "so that it moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar" have been primary motivators for much of my thinking and activity in art education. In so doing, Vincent expanded the notion of what art education could (and should) be, emphasizing instead a wide range of objects, contexts, learning experiences and encounters that occur beyond the parameters of public school, and embrace non-traditional community-based art endeavors.

June King McFee

I began graduate school just at the time June McFee and Rogena Degge's book, Art, Culture and Environment (1980) was published. I read this book during my first term of graduate study, as it was assigned for June's engaging and endearing introductory course in the Department of Art Education: Art in Society. Art, Culture, and Environment has done more than any other text to influence my own perspectives of art education. Its clear argument in support of democratizing the arts, focus on individual differences of learners, discussion of the critical import of understanding culture and context in order to negotiate the world of art, and inclusion of the built environment and community assessment as essential parts of art education make it, for me, a decisive text within the field. Over the years it has become the book I most often refer to in my teaching.

As a graduate student, I was also introduced to June's earlier book, Preparation for Art (1970). Along with presenting me with captivating broad-based ideas about art education that were new to this young graduate student, Preparation for Art accomplished much more. Preparation for Art confirmed as worthwhile some of the thoughts, notions, and questions I was developing on my own about the nature of art, the function of art in the manifestation of culture, and the breadth of what art education is and what it could possibly be. I began to personalize these ideas and questions, and connect them with tangible objects from my own experience and daily life. Objects and structures around me and within my community took on new meaning and significance. A lifetime of constructed boundaries starkly separating learning in school and living in the world began to dissipate. Now, learning and living were becoming fused, and I began to perceive my tangible surroundings in new and exciting ways.  

Reflecting on that time, now 25 years ago, it becomes clear that my current and longstanding interest in and involvement with the field of material culture studies is connected directly to the ideas presented by June in Preparation for Art (1970). Her delineation of "art" in this volume, which I encountered as a graduate student, is very similar to Thomas Schlereth's definition of material culture I came across a few years ago, that has shaped my view of the field of material culture studies. For comparison, in Preparation for Art (1970), June wrote:


Art is that form of human behavior by which man [or woman] purposefully interprets and enhances the quality or essence of experience through the things he [or she] produces-from the simple enhancement of a tool to the expression of his [or her] deepest feelings and profound projections in painting, sculpture, architecture, and city planning. (p. 30)  

Similarly, in his description of material culture, Schlereth (1985) offered that, "Material culture is that segment of humankind's biosocial environment that has been purposely shaped by people according to culturally dictated plans" (p. 5). In support of this notion, Deetz (1977) described material culture to include "all artifacts, from the simplest, such as a common pin, to the most complex, such as an interplanetary space vehicle”"(p. 24), or "everything from a pot to a city”"(Berger, 1992, p. 8). It is not evident that June used the term "material culture" within the pages of Preparation for Art , but her discussion of a wide variety of   "artifacts" (p. 39) from various times and cultural locations has helped to shape my thinking with regard to the tremendous value of artifact study and the investigation of material culture.

It was through Preparation for Art (1970) and June and Rogena's Art, Culture, and Environment (1980) that I had my initial contact with the cross-disciplinary field of material culture studies, as it emerged from June and Rogena's stated recognition of the need for art education to study "design in clothing, household goods, cities, buildings, television, movies, magazines, books, and advertising”"(p. 6). The authors' statement that, "material culture and art continuously educate the members of a cultural group into the behavior patterns of a given society" (p. 280), was my introduction to the notion of "material culture." Since that time I (along with my good friend Doug Blandy and a few other colleagues in art education) have been able to share with many others the important benefits of engaging in the holistic and multidisciplinary field of material culture studies. I am currently teaching a graduate seminar course at the University of Texas at Austin, titled Exploration of Material Culture, which continues to be one of my most satisfying instructional experiences.

A new project for me within material culture studies is currently emerging. It connects directly to something June wrote about in Preparation for Art , which I encountered as a graduate student, and links to an interest I have had since I was a young boy. This developing investigation into a particular kind of material culture object surfaces from the questions raised in the following statement made by June:


Have you ever wondered why we decorate money? Why do we go to the great cost of minting coins and engraving currency? Apparently decoration gives added meaning. From ancient times to the present we have enhanced the value of money by decorating it with symbolic forms. We use images of our cultural  heroes, our mottoes of faith, and our national seal to authenticate the worth of a coin. The decoration of  baskets, pottery, tools, and implements indicates a need of [hu]mankind to enhance the appearance of  things he [or she] uses. Where the symbols used are part of the folklore, the enhancement has direct value in maintaining the culture. (McFee, 1970, pp. 37-38)

As objects of material culture, coins are carriers and communicators of particular national values, and are thus perceived to portray the beliefs we embrace as a collective people. We emboss our coinage with images and motifs that act as reflections of ourselves. This is not the place today to embrace a thorough discussion of all the questions I am currently asking regarding coins (with an emphasis on US coinage), but the following are some of the basic queries guiding my initial investigation:

  • What imagery has been placed on US coins, and why?
  • When and why did the shift occur from placing various personifications of "Liberty" on US coins, to replace them with images of noted political figures?
  • Why are the images of so few women represented on US coins?
  • What roles have professional artists and designers played in the designing of US coins over the years?
  • Why were images of Native Americans displayed on the one cent piece (1859-1909) and five cent piece (1913-1938)? How did the US public respond to these particular designs?
  • What motivated the shift in the US one cent piece from displaying wheat stalks on the reverse of the coin to include, instead, the Lincoln Memorial, in 1959?
  • Why was a fasces included in the design of the "Mercury dime" when it was introduced in 1916?
  • What do the two types of flora, as well as the torch, represent on the reverse of the Roosevelt dime?
  • Why are some US coins designed with parallel line-ridges along the edge (e.g., 10-cent, 25-cent, and 50-cent pieces) and others (e.g., one-cent and five-cent pieces) are smooth-edged?
  • What stories and messages are being communicated through the popular US "State Quarters" and "Lewis and Clark nickels" currently being minted?

An investigation into these and other questions concerning the small symbol-filled metallic relief-sculptures we carry in our pockets and purses will reveal, I believe, a very engaging look into current and past values displayed as a nation.

June's statements like this one about reflecting on objects in our local communities, nation, and world, and her many informative writings about art and culture, the importance of the individual, and the vital role structures, places, and spaces play in our lives, have had great impact on me and my professional work. Yet, perhaps June's greatest influence toward me has come through what I gained from her in our face to face conversations. I would like to share briefly something very important I learned from June through direct contact with her when I was a graduate student.

As a graduate student, I visited June in her office quite often. A most remarkable thing I remember from these meetings was that whenever I would enter her office, she made me think that nothing in the world was of greater import than carrying on our conversation at that moment in time. No matter what else needed her essential consideration, and putting aside pressing administrative obligations and teaching demands, I was given her full attention and she was genuinely interested and excited to hear what I was thinking and doing. She wanted to know what authors I was reading. What questions did I have? What class projects was I working on? How were studies going in my other classes, and how did they relate to what I was learning in art education? She is one of the best listeners I have ever met. Not a listener who sat aloof, quiet and reserved, thinking perhaps about other matters needing her attention. Rather, she was eager to hear from me. She did not see the situation in her office to be first and foremost her time to instruct me, but instead she made herself available to answer my questions and to direct me toward resources that would further my growth and motivate my interest as a person and as a professional. A critical lesson I learned from June, which I have tried to demonstrate to my students over the years, is how to listen well to their needs and interact with them about exciting things they are learning and what is of primary and vital interest to them.

As many of you know, through the financial support of a number of groups and individuals, including the Arts and Administration Program at the University of Oregon, a team led by Rogena Degge and Kristin Congdon produced a videotape in 1995, titled, A Conversation with June King McFee.  This 35-minute tape was edited and produced from many hours of conversation, and is a wonderful glimpse into June’s life, motivations, thoughts, and activities. In one segment of the tape June says, "I have always had such a strong conviction about the importance of the individual, the potential for individual growth that is there with everybody." Through my many office meetings with June, I can attest to the heartfelt actions of her convictions in striving to develop the potential available within each individual, even when that individual was a young man just starting out on his graduate school journey.

I left the University of Oregon in 1992, to take a position at Penn State University, where I spent the next 10 years. In 1998, at the time I was a faculty member in the Art Education Program at The Pennsylvania State University, June was invited to Penn State as a guest speaker. During the time June was on campus I had the opportunity to talk with her one-on-one over breakfast one morning, to renew some of those conversations we had years earlier in her office. It was a delightful time of conversation about the field of art education, particularly exciting for June as she was back on the campus where she had participated in the 1965 Penn State Seminar in Art Education, a professional gathering of great significance in the development of the field of art education. In fact, that morning June and I were having breakfast in the Nittany Lion Inn, the building where the Penn State Seminar in Art Education was held some 33 years earlier.

I remember at one point in the breakfast conversation saying to June, something like the following:

June, you have written so much about the vast array of designed objects in our world--from Navaho sand painting and Australian aboriginal carvings, to community-based city planning and architecture, to museum-oriented paintings and sculpture. I have wanted the opportunity to ask you this question for quite sometime, and now that we are talking this morning I have the chance to ask it. June, do you see a difference between what we call "art" and what we call "artifact"?

As she sat at the table, June stirred her tea for just a moment, and then replied in a soft yet commanding voice, "No, not really, I don’t see much of a difference between them. I see very little difference between the two." To be honest, it was the response I was wishing to hear from June. It helped to confirm my own beliefs about the value and place of material culture study--investigating a full range of artifacts and expression--for art education.

In closing my portion of this discussion today, I would like to return for just a moment to June's videotaped conversation from 1995. In one segment of the tape, June recalls that when a new graduate student would come into the program, the student would often soon thereafter ask the question: "Well, what is Art Education?" With a tease of laughter in her voice, as recorded on the videotape, June offered that her reply to the inquiring student would be, "What is Art Education? . . . . It's what we make it. . . . And, a lot of 'making it' has taken place."

Yes, June and Vincent, thanks to you and to your efforts, a lot of "making it" in art education has taken place. Innovative directions for art education have been and are currently being forged. The recognition of what is possible within the field of art education has expanded greatly--as evidenced by, among many things, this exemplary Arts and Administration Program at the University of Oregon and the community-based view of the arts that it embraces. New generations of arts participants and activists are emerging. A greater sense of the need for collaborative efforts in the arts has appeared. It may be through the direct efforts of people in this room today that these new dimensions and directions in arts activity have materialized. Yet, it is without question, that a lifetime of commitment and activity by both June King McFee and Vincent Lanier laid the foundation for the achievements and accomplishments of those who come after them.      

References

Berger, A. A. (1992). Reading matter: Multidisciplinary perspectives on material culture . New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Bolin, P. E. (1997). “The National Peace Jubilee and Musical Festival,” June 1869: Historical context for petitioners of drawing education. In A. A. Anderson, Jr., & P. E. Bolin (Eds.), History of art education: Proceedings of the Third Penn State International Symposium (pp. 347-354). University Park, PA: Art Education Program of The Pennsylvania State University.

Degge, R. M., & Congdon, K. (1995). A conversation with June King McFee [Videotape]. Eugene, OR: Arts and Administration Program.

Deetz, J. (1977). In small things forgotten . Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

Gilmore, P. S. (1871). History of the National Peace Jubilee and Great Musical Festival, held in the city of Boston, June 1869, to commemorate the restoration of peace throughout the land . Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Lanier, J. S. (1998). The complete Lanier: A professional profile . Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association.

Lanier, V. (1969a). One word is worth a thousand pictures. Educational Perspectives , 8 (1), 5-9.

Lanier, V. (1969b). The teaching of art as social revolution. Phi Delta Kappan , 50 (6), 314-319.

Lanier, V. (1974). A plague on all your houses: The tragedy of art education. Art Education , 27 (3), 12-15.

Lanier, V. (1975). Objectives of art education: The impact of time. Peabody Journal of Education , 52 (3), 180-186.

Lanier, V. (1976). The future of art education or tiptoe through the tea leaves. Art Education , 29 (3), 12-14.  

Lanier, V. (1977). The five faces of art education. Studies in Art Education , 18 (3), 7-21.

Lanier, V. (1984). Eight guidelines for selecting art curriculum content. Studies in Art Education , 25 (4), 232-237.

McFee, J. K. (1970). Preparation for art (2 nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

McFee, J. K., & Degge, R. M. (1980). Art, culture, and environment: A catalyst for teaching . Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co.

Schlereth, T. (1985). Material culture: A research guide . Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

 

 

 


CultureWork is an electronic publication of the University of Oregon Institute for Community Arts Studies. Its mission is to provide timely workplace-oriented information on culture, the arts, education, and community. For previous issues of CultureWork, visit the Previous Issues page. Prospective authors and illustrators please see the Guidelines.

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