Blackboard Cinema: Learning from the Pedagogical Art Film
Michael Cramer, Yale University, United States
Yale University . Awarded
This dissertation examines the efforts of European filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s to create a new kind of cinematic production that would be both pedagogical in aim and artistically experimental. Such efforts arise in response to the instrumental use of images by the consumerist "culture industry," which many artists perceive as a usurpation of art's aesthetic properties and power. "Art" filmmakers, in an attempt to resist this usurpation, seek to surpass their function as entertainers or creators of beautiful-but-useless cultural objects by insisting on their art's capacity to teach. The "pedagogical art films" that result, however, must redefine the relationship between pedagogy and art if they are to do battle with the products of the culture industry: they challenge both a modernist conception of art, which would prohibit the merging of pedagogical and aesthetic practices, and the existing models of didactic art (Socialist Realism, "engaged" art as defined by Jean-Paul Sartre), which tend to privilege transparency and content over formal innovation. Unlike either of these two alternatives, the pedagogical art film looks to the formal and aesthetic elements of art as potential tools for teaching, and hopes to draw upon this potential in order to assert art's social and political power. In order to do so, however, it must break free of the commercial film industry, seeking out new exhibition spaces and new relationships with audiences. The three European filmmakers that develop the most ambitious and systematic modes of pedagogical art, Roberto Rossellini (Italy), Peter Watkins (UK), and Jean-Luc Godard (France), therefore turn to public television in order to realize their projects. European state television, as a result of its relative freedom from market imperatives and its commitment to public service, offers an ideal site for pedagogical programming. The mass media, despite the threat it poses to established notions of culture and its close association with the culture industry, provides the means through which artists redefine the relationship between art and pedagogy.
While no filmmakers succeed in creating a lasting model of pedagogical art, we can nonetheless learn from the pedagogical art film: it teaches us not about its ostensible subjects, but rather about how, at a critical cultural moment, the function of art was delimited and defined, and how new functions and conceptualizations of art, building on new formal possibilities (the innovations of cinematic modernism), new media and technology (television, video), and new contexts (the ubiquity of the image, "the society of the spectacle"), were developed. The lesson taught by the pedagogical art film illuminates the capacity of cultural practices (cinema, pedagogy, but the more abstract category of "artistic practice" above all) to maintain social importance through a self-willed redefinition, as well as the cultural and political forces that limit this capacity.
Cramer, M. Blackboard Cinema: Learning from the Pedagogical Art Film. Ph.D. thesis, Yale University.
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