Horror in Art and Popular Culture: Rob Zombie

          Horror films are judged by their use of visuals, concept, plot, and characters. How these aspects work together in the film can determine how the audience interprets the film. I’ve chosen Rob Zombie as my featured artist in this research paper. In 2003 he created his first film, House of 1000 Corpses. The film was so horrific that he was granted the creative privilege to remake the classic horror films Halloween and Halloween II. His films are unlike most popular horror films in today’s culture. Viewers of Zombie’s films are left with useless knowledge of previous horror films, in the sense that they are unable to make predictions of what lies ahead for his characters and the plot of the story. Rob Zombie’s films take a realistic approach to representing horror film archetypes. Zombie uses specific techniques in representing horror to create his interpretation of how horror can be shown in a film. As a writer and director, Rob Zombie has made five films. In the following paper, I will discuss his work in the horror film industry and analyze specific techniques used for evoking horror of his films.

            One of Zombie’s signature traits in his films is the use of gore and brutal scenes of torture and bodily harm. With the use of such demented killers in his films, they offer endless opportunities for Zombie to show the aftermath of their violent actions. The killer(s) in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween, and Halloween II have no mercy for their victims. Specifically in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, the killers enjoy physical torture as much as psychological torture. As viewer’s of these films, Zombie spares nothing and forces us to witness it all.

Zombie’s attention to detail and his dedication to have the detail exposed to the audience to the full extent is a major part of his horror in all of his films. Not only do we, as the audience, have to witness the brutal torture of the victims, but also we have to look at the grotesque imagery of the victims after. “The cause of fear is nothing more and nothing less than the onscreen appearance of the disproportional immortality and disturbing brutality of the violent act or monster, forced on us through the vividness and impressiveness of threateningly close cinematic images and sounds” (Hanich, Page 4). Zombie’s scenes of torture are usually long, which increases the level of anxiety and feelings of discomfort in the audience. After the audience has seen the victims last moments, they now watch as the film shows their mutilated bodies in the scene as well as close up views of their wounds and the gore filled scene. Zombie uses this graphic material to build a relationship between the audience and the film.

In his film House of 1000 Corpses Zombie shows what the killers do to their victims and uses a shifting timeline in order to show examples of the killers “work” before, during, and after their latest kill. The killer Otis’s first murder/torture scene is of four missing cheerleaders who are indirectly involved in the main plot of the film. Zombie shows the audience “found footage” clips of him torturing each girl individually as a way to inform the audience of Otis as a character and as a scene change. Zombie’s use of these found footage clips reoccur throughout the film, and are used to intensify the current moment in the storyline; to add on to the anxiety of the audience. These “found footage” clips of Otis and his victims are shown sporadically through out the film. Later in the film Otis’s sister Baby is in the room where Otis’s first victims were tortured. In this scene Baby is applying makeup and making fun of one of the surviving cheerleaders, lying on the bed. Baby says,  “I thought you kids were all about team spirit? I mean you aint’ done fuck to cheer me up since you got here” (House of 1000 Corpses). The camera pans to the right to show the dead mutilated corpse of one of the cheerleader’s friends lying next to her. Zombie intentionally shows the physical harm done to the surviving cheerleader’s friend and wants the audience to experience the intensity of the moment. We as the audience have already seen what was done to the girl as it happened; now, we are able to see what remains of the victim.

            In The Devil’s Rejects there is a scene where one of the victims escapes from the killers but is still killed. After all she has been put through in such a short amount of time, and after surviving an encounter with three truly sadistic killers, she dies from getting hit by a truck as she tries to flag someone down for help. The scene is so fast that before the audience realizes that a passing truck killed her, the scene moves on to the closes ups of the gore and a view of the whole road.  Time jumps forward to when the police have arrived and have shut down the road. The camera at first shows the stretch of road covered in blood and we can see the mangled and dismembered body of what once was a girl. Then the camera pans through the remains of the body, giving us close up glimpses of body parts, internal organs, and skeletal remains. The scene is extremely graphic and uncensored; a perfect example of Zombie’s choice to show the victims in their disfigured state. Zombie wants us to feel fear in the pit of our stomachs because of a scene that can only be described as horrific in every sense.

            Along with the gruesomeness of his films, Zombie also chooses to use the brutality of his characters to enhance the emotional tension of the film. Every kill in his films is done in either anger or pure entertainment for the killer. Throughout Halloween and Halloween II, Michael Myers unleashes his inner emotions of anger when he commits a murder. One of the most brutal murders Michael Myers commits is his first murder early in the film when he is still a child. In a bathroom scene at his school, we find out that an older boy who bullies Michael on a regular basis both physically and psychologically. Michael later follows the boy into the woods on his way home from school, and it is there where he beats the bully with a wooden club. Even as the bully begs for him to stop and apologizes, Michael remains silent and continues to beat the bully until he dies. This scene seems even more intense and brutal due to the fact that it is a child committing such a violent crime. Zombie uses the character’s young age in his favor to make the audiences feel uncomfortable along with how cruel and unmerciful this young child is behaving. Again here Zombie is showing the violent brutality of this cinematic “monster” in hopes of evoking an emotional relationship between the audience and the film.

            Another characteristic of Rob Zombie’s films is his technique of lengthening certain scenes to the point where it becomes unnerving. He does this in the attempt of achieving two effects. Some scenes he lengthens to the point where you know how the scene is going to end but you don’t know when or how he is going to go about doing it. As well, he adds a gruesome emphasis on the imagery of the scene for the effect of keeping an unpleasant image or idea in your head.

            In House of 1000 Corpses, there is a scene where two lawmen along with one of the victim’s father went to the killer’s home to investigate the two missing couples. The deputy went to search the property with the victim’s father, and the sheriff went to talk to the owners of the property. That’s when deputy discovered a shed in the back of the property filled with dead bodies. Before he could radio for help, Mama Firefly shoots the sheriff in the head and Otis shoots the father of one of the victims multiple times outside. Otis then turned his gun to the deputy who had raised his arms in defeat. The scene pans out, as Otis holds the gun to the deputy’s head as he sits on his knees, in utter silence until finally Otis shoots the deputy. The audience knows that Otis is going to shoot the deputy but Zombie extends the time between Otis killing shooting the victim’s father and shooting the deputy. The scene creates an intense moment in the movie where nothing is occurring and the lengthened wait for something to happen unnerves the audience. Because the audience knows the sheriff will be shot, they are forced to wait in silence, for what seems to be longer than usual films, for Otis to finally shoot the deputy. 

            Another example of this attempt to keeping an image in the audience’s head for emphasis is the first murder scene of Halloween. As mentioned before, the entirety of the scene is of Michael Myers as a young boy beating his school bully with a wooden club. The length of the beating lasts longer than two minutes. For two minutes, the audience watches as Michael Myers ruthlessly beats another boy to death with a wooden club.  The audience can see the emotion and utter force behind each blow from the club. And as we listen to each whack, the audience also listens to the bully beg for him to stop. Zombie wanted this scene to be incredibly intense and wanted to set the tone of the film and the future development of the character with this first kill.

            The last major characteristics of Zombie’s films are his sharp twists in the plot of the story and the unpredictable nature of his films.  Some of his choices leave the audience with disbelief or shock. Rob Zombie has no fear to kill off any character in his films, no matter how “major” the audience believes them to be to the plot of the story.  In the ending of House of 1000 Corpses, one of the victims escapes after witnessing all of her friends being murdered enduring what the Firefly family put her through, she survived. She runs away from the Firefly house of horrors and manages to find a road. There she flags down an oncoming car that Captain Spaulding just so happens to be driving. He lets her in his car and says “Sweet baby Jesus girl what happened to you?” and he tells her “Alright just sit back and relax. I’ll get you to a doctor” (House of 1000 Corpses). And at that moment, Otis sits up in the back seat of the car and stabs her. A seemed to be, a hopeful ending, turned out to be a false sense of hope for the girl and for the audience.  

            In Halloween there are numerous scenes where Michael Myers acts unpredictably and the audience is left in suspense to find out what is going to happen next. But Zombie also uses sudden changes in the story to leave the audience in complete shock. One specific scene is the murder of Laurie’s stepfather. The scene opens to Laurie and her parents sitting on their porch just before Laurie is about to leave to babysit. The scene progresses and Laurie leaves in a car with her friend. Her parents talk briefly then they get up to go inside. Laurie’s stepmother enters the house and the stepfather lingers a few seconds just to turn around and look at the street. Then out of nowhere, Michael Myers stabs Laurie’s stepfather in the throat with enough force to push him into the house and Michael shuts the front door behind him. The kill is so fast that the audience doesn’t even have the chance to react before the next scene begins with the murder of Laurie’s stepmother.

            Rob Zombie takes common concepts for horror films and manipulates them in order to walk the boundaries of what is scary and what is truly horrific. Whether he comes up with the whole concept for the film or he writes a new screenplay, his films can easily be associated with his style of gruesome horror. Zombie spares no details when it comes to truly making something visually horrendous for a film. He gives the audience a firsthand experience into the world he has created with the use of graphic content, emotional connections, and techniques for manipulating a storyline. His ruthless depictions of killers and extreme plot twists keep audiences on the edges of their seat as they try to guess what drastic turn his film will take.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

Halloween. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, William Forsythe. Dimension Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Alliance Films, 2004. Film.

Halloween II. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Scout Taylor-Compton. Dimension Films, 2010. Film.

Hanich, Julian. Cinematic emotion in horror films and thrillers: the aesthetic paradox of

            pleasurable fear. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

House of 1000 corpses. Dir. Rob  Zombie. Perf.  Sid Haig, Karen Black, Bill Moseley. Distributed by Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 2007. Film.

"Rob Zombie." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0957772/>.

The Devil's Rejects. Dir. Rob  Zombie. Perf.  Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley. Nordisk Film, 2007. Film.

Filmography Rob Zombie | Official Website." Rob Zombie  Official Website.

            N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. <http://robzombie.com/movies/>.

Death and Life

           This paper will discuss two topics: the topic of death in the physical sense and the topic of living a meaningful life. In the first part of the paper I will discuss the definition of death by attempting to answer the question, “When is a human considered dead and no longer living?” In the second part of the paper I will discuss an unrelated topic by addressing the question, “What makes a life meaningful?” I will review materials from in class discussions, the film The Seventh Seal, and information about defining death.

            Death is defined as  “the action or fact of dying or being killed; the end of the life of a person or organism” (Oxford Dictionaries). In class we discussed when a human is considered dead. One point made in the discussion was that a human body is considered dead when there is no brain activity. This led to a counterargument of people who are in a comatose state and whether or not they should be considered living or dead. Are people in comas dead? People who are in a comatose state still have a heartbeat and breathe, disregard the fact that they are maintaining these normal bodily functions via machine should make no difference. It does not matter that these people are “living off of machines” because their body is still a living organism. The debate is started because the right question was not asked. The discussion should have been about when is a body no longer alive compared to when is a person no longer a person. A person in a comatose state does not maintain their previous personality, they do not have emotions; they are essentially a living organism with no brain activity surviving with the help of machines. In Emergency Medical Technician School with the Chicago Fire Department, students are taught to define death as the ceasing of all bodily functions. When a person is unresponsive, is not breathing, and has no pulse, they are not considered a living being. This definition along with the previous mentioned definition helps people understand death. Death of the physical body can only occur when all functions of a living organism cease to occur. Whether or not brain activity is present, the body can be kept “alive” in the sense that decomposition has not started and the body will continue its normal functions with a different energy source.

            The next part of the paper will cover the discussion of “What makes a life meaningful?” Is it the things we do in life or the things we gain in life that decides if it has been a meaningful life? In the film The Seventh Seal the main character Antonius Block, a knight who participated in the crusades, faced death. Throughout the film he plays chess with the figure that the viewer comes to understand in the physical representation of death. Block wishes to do something, before he is taken by death, which will give his life meaning. Near the end of the film, Block is presented with an opportunity to save a family from being taken by death, and he takes it. While Block and Death play chess, Block knocks over the game board so that the family could slip past death unseen. He believed that in doing this he would save a family from dying and that will be the defining moment that will give his life meaning. So I ask again, what makes life meaningful? Can one act of good make a life meaningful?

            A meaningful life can only be defined as doing something meaningful in your life. For those who give back to society, for those who do something for the greater good, and for those who stand up for a cause, they are the ones who are making their life meaningful. "It’s not the length of life. It’s the meaningfulness of life that matters" (Stark, 11/25/13). We all define our lives by what we want to gain in life. Whether that is spiritually or physically, we all want to achieve our goals of what we describe as success. But is that enough to claim our life as being meaningful?  Is it just about our own personal success or is it about doing something for the greater good of mankind? However, each person defines a meaningful life in different ways and that is where no statement can truly be deciding on being the definition of a meaningful life.

            In this paper I have discussed two topics of discussion that have been brought into class discussions more than once. The first discussion was of the question, “When is a human considered dead and no longer living?” and the second was of the question, “What makes a life meaningful?” These questions have lead to both philosophical discussions and heated debates. With the use of the discussions and debates, references from class films, and outside sources, the paper has taken a step closer to answering these questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Oxford Dictionaries "Definition of death in     English." death: definition of death in

 Oxford dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

            <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/death>.

 

The Seventh Seal. Dir. Ingmar Bergman. By Gunnar Fischer. Perf. Max Von Sydow,

 Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Åke Fridell,

 Gunnel Lindblom, and Anders Ek. Svensk Filmindustri, 1956.

 

Stark H, Nov. 25, 2013, English 1001-023 FYS I: Death and Life, School of the Art

            Institute of Chicago.

 

Havana, Cuba in 10 Days (2015)

“See everything; the good things and the bad things. You have to feel things.”

-Juanito Delgado

 

I began this paper with a quotation by Juanito Delgado because I believe that it perfectly describes my experience and what I took away from Cuba. It is difficult even now, to put into words what I took away from this trip. This was filled with new and unfamiliar experiences that reshaped a lot of my beliefs as a person and as an artist. During this trip I tried to experience as much of Cuba as I could, from discussing political and social issues with the Cuban people, from experiencing our “tour” of Havana by our tour guide Marta, as well as Cuba at night when the tourist aesthetic left the streets and was replaced by genuine Cuban people. I spent a lot of nights discussing these experiences and beliefs with my fellow classmates as well as the superiors on the trip. In a lot of the group discussions we were asked more than once if we had any thoughts about things that didn’t seem to add up. Throughout the trip I took note of the things that I believed didn’t add up, ideas of things that intrigued me, and my opinions on aspects of Cuba’s society. 

The first thing that I wanted to discuss was the paranoia that most of us students felt on the trip. Our tour guide Marta created the source for most of these feelings of deception. On our day of arrival we experienced our first culture shock, and the only thing the students wanted to do at first was look at everything and soak it all in. However, it seemed that Marta wanted us to only focus on her and not of the surrounding area. The area around the airport that we realized was not up to par with the visual tourist aesthetic that we soon found out Old Havana had. This event was brought up at different times during the trip whenever someone felt we weren’t being shown the true uncensored picture. I didn’t really think anything of her wanting us to focus on her and not look out the windows until it began to seem clear that she was trying to paint this perfect image of Cuban society.

Another point in the trip she tried explaining to us that there was no racism in Cuba. We all laughed it off because it was just ridiculous to think that “Cuba had solved racism” as one of my classmates, commented. In our textbook, chapter 35 discusses race. The chapter describes how discussion of race among Cubans, especially white Cubans, is unwelcome and some claim “racism has never been a problem in the island and that its open discussion is not convenient and will only serve the divisionist purposes of the enemy, however defined” (Alejandro de la Fuente, Page 316). It seems to me that the idea that racism exists in Cuba is something most Cubans don’t want to acknowledge in hopes that maybe it will cease to exist if it is not spoken of. Outside of Cuba it seems that people do identify racism as being a problem, in fact the textbook quotes an Afro-Cuban-American businessman stating that racism “is at the heart of Cuba’s crisis” (Alejandro de la Fuente, Page 316).

Another thing Marta implied that Cuba had fixed was the problem of homophobia. She had implied that the Cuban society was open to the LGBTQ society. She did not try to deny the Cuban governments past with unfair treatment of gay men during and after the revolution. The concept of homophobia was built into the ideas of the revolution. Marta explained to us that gay people were sent to “labor camps” where they were put to work everyday and were out of sight out of mind for the rest of the Cuban society. In fact in 2010 Fidel Castro acknowledged the unfair treatment and injustice towards gays and lesbians during the revolution. Castro is quoted by journalist Carmen Lira Saade from the Mexican daily La Jornada saying, “There were moments of great injustice, great injustice! If someone is responsible, it’s me.” Now in regards to the current Cuban society Larry R. Oberg writes in chapter 36 of our book on his experiences with gays in Cuba. Oberg states, “all laws that discriminate against Cuban gays have been removed from the books” (Larry R. Oberg, Page 327). My first hand experience with how open the society is towards homosexuals was mixed. Walking the streets at night or along the Malecón I saw mixed couples, gay couples, lesbian couples, and there seemed to be no discrimination amongst the crowd. But I heard from two members of our group different experiences with people from Cuba and their reaction to meeting a gay man. These two members were met with hostility and prejudice and that’s where the mixed experiences of LGBTQ acceptance were made.

A big part of Cuban society, it seemed, relied on the black market for items of luxury, supplies, food, and so on. It was Esterio Segura who confesses that his fiberglass airplane sculptures were “100% illegal.” He explained that the government knew that the sculptures he was making could only possibly be made with supplies off the black market. Because Esterio was bringing money into Cuba with selling his works and because they were not considered “counter-revolutionary”, I believe that’s why the government had no problem with him accessing the black market. Using the black market for whatever it is you’re trying to obtain is a social normality in Cuba.

After talking with Lázaro’s two sons Lázaro and César about what its like to grow up in Cuba right now, I found out that Cuban culture isn’t as separated from the American culture as I thought. I was fascinated with their knowledge of television shows, movies, and music from America. Their favorite television show was Family Guy; they loved Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and many young pop artists in America today, and they repeatedly imitated Christian Bale’s Batman voice from The Dark Knight trilogy. They explained that when their father would travel outside of Cuba he would come back with flash drives full of music, movies, and television shows. This is such a big part of culture that Wilfredo Benítez, associate director of the Ludwig Foundation, told us that they were currently conceptualizing a way to obtain and track the flash drives. The intent was to track and see what the people were interested in and to possibly introduce art into the discussion, to “hack” the system so to speak. This was the normality; this is how they were able to stay in contact with American culture and to spread theirs. Another thing that was a social normality was pirated movies. At one point of the trip Luke raised the question about American movie sales in Cuba, if there were any at all. The fact was there were no official American movie sales in Cuba; however, you could find pirated DVDs of American films both old and new. 

One thing that I had troubles understanding on the trip was the two money systems at work in Cuba. Initially I thought the money system created a division in the Cuban society between the working class Cuban people and the rich. The fact that 25 CUPs was equivalent to 1 CUC supported my beliefs. This split money system has been in place since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Fidel Castro decided in 1993, due to a lack of hard currency, to legalize the American dollar. This allowed families outside of Cuba to begin sending money back home, which allowed people in Cuba to spend more money, specifically at the new dollar stores that began to appear. Meanwhile, all Cuban workers of the state were still paid less than 20 dollars a month in the old Cuban peso.

This divide between the two money systems I believe separates the visiting tourists from the Cuban people and divides the people of Cuba. I had a discussion about CUCs versus CUPs with a classmate and we noted the similarities between CUCs and Disney Dollars and how they were the currency that could be used nowhere else in the world and only for certain approved expenditures.  Disney Dollars being the official currency of Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. Everything we used the CUC for was for tourist shops, markets, our hotel expenses, restaurants, as well as out fees to leave Cuba. If we wanted to buy fresh produce from a farmers market we would need CUPs. We went to what we called the “ice cream park” there were two areas to get ice cream; one with 3 flavors that could only be bought by CUCs and another with over 30 flavors that could only be bought with CUPs. Walking down the streets at night we came across many “fast food” restaurants. Some of which only accepted CUCs and other that only accepted CUPs. You could look at the two restaurants and see who was paying with CUCs and who was paying with CUPs; a literal divide amongst the people. 

A reoccurring term in our discussions and artist talks was censorship. Almost every artist we talked with brought up censorship in relation to his work or discusses what he/she believed it was. What I think goes along with the discussion of censorship is propaganda. After everything I have seen and experienced in Cuba I think it’s safe to say that there is a huge control over what we as outsiders are supposed to see and not supposed to see. José Toirac’s artist talk gave us a deep insight on the history of Cuba in regards to the revolution. José was told us how Alberto Korda was hired to take photographs that would heroicize Fidel Castro and Che Guevara during the revolution. He said that “Reality was not enough for the revolution” and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would say reality is not enough for Cuba. During the trip we were able to experience different types of Cuba depending on whom we were speaking with. This all goes back to the paranoia of being deceived. The more we learned of the Cuban government’s attempt to paint a perfect picture, the more we began to question things.

When we visited the Kcho Estudio Romerillo La Laboratorio Para El Arte it seemed we were all taken back by the strangeness of the organization. The first place our tour guide took us was the Biblioteca Comandante de la Revolucion Juan Almeida Bosque. A library named after a Cuban politician who was one of the original commanders of the Cuban Revolution. Our guide told us that they offered free Wi-Fi for the neighborhood, access to computers, and access to their library. A few of us began to get the feeling that this was all too good to be true and we weren’t receiving the true picture when we noticed the children that were in the library while we were being taken through there didn’t seem to be reading the books they were holding. The children flipped through the books haphazardly and would read from the end of the book to the beginning. When we left the library, so did all the children who were reading the books. I had suspicions that we were given a staged interaction with the children. Luke later asked our guide if in fact they hired the children to act like they were using the library for us and our guide did not have an answer. She kind of shrugged it off and said that they do not control the children and they were there on their own. I felt a disconnect between this organization with their community. Kcho was the one who funded the organization and who chose the projects. The slideshow/video of the projects they had completed never showed any member of their organization in the photos. So again, there seemed to be a disconnect between the people and even the projects, as if the community projects were just for show and not for the improvement of the community.

On the other end of the spectrum was the Laboratorio Artistico Sculptura Architecture (LASA) de San Agustin. Out of everyone we visited and talked with during the trip I found Candelario Luaces to be the most interesting. The organization that he worked for astounded me.  Candelario talked about a new project he was working on where he would create these sculptures that were apartments and would sell them. Being that there was no law prohibiting selling sculptures that just so happen to be apartment buildings he would get away with it as long as it was in the limits of your property. He talked a lot about how his work focused on breaking through the limits the government placed on the people and finding the loopholes in the system. I though the apartment sculpture project was a fantastic idea that would help the people of Cuba. That was the sense I got from him as he talked, was that he genuinely cared for the people. His art piece where he dyed the bread different colors so that the people would have a choice was simple but meant something to the people. Unlike the relationship between the Kcho Estudio Romerillo La Laboratorio Para El Arte and the people, the relationship between LASA and the people seemed genuine. As we walked down the street with him, his neighbors greeted him and he greeted them back. It was just nice to see such a strong and real relationship between them and the people who would be the viewers of their work.

Cooperation with the Cuban government is a big part of how artists interact and show their work with the public. Candelario explained their unique relationship with local police and this initially shocked me. Candelario explained how they had an agreement with the police so that during their shows the police would patrol the neighborhood to make sure the event wouldn’t be sabotaged. When LASA would organize performances the police would show up to the scene but would not stop the performance, they would allow it to continue and protect it from being intruded on by other people. The way Candelario spoke about their close relationship with local police was astonishing to me. Even in the United States you don’t see a lot of cooperation with artists and police officers. It was refreshing to hear that maintaining a relationship of mutual respect between police and artists active in their community is possible and is being done.

 On the subject of relations between the state and artist I also wanted to write about Jose Fuster and Fusterlandia. In Jaimanitas on the northwestern edge of Havana, Fuster decided to change the look of his home. With the use of paint, mosaic work, and ceramic sculpture he redecorated his home and soon began to gain attention in his neighborhood.  More than 80 of his neighbors have allowed him to cover their homes with bright and colorful artwork. Working as a professional artist since 1966 Fuster had managed to exhibit his work in over 100 galleries as well as in over 500 group shows around the world.

The controversy over this artist was the support he gained from the Cuban government. It seemed to me that because his work was so whimsical and entertaining, the government saw potential in it for a tourist attraction. That is certainly what it felt like when we visited Fusterlandia. Many people, all assumedly tourists, flocked to see his work and purchase art, drinks, or books. I believe it was due to tourists’ interests in his art and the fact that his art was not controversial that the government supported him. His work was not in any way counter-revolutionary and so the government could support it. It had an amusement park feel, in the way that it entertained its occupants and it guided them into purchasing merchandise. Even outside of Fuster’s home there were stores set up by his neighbors that sold the typical tourist merchandise that could be found all throughout Havana. Thinking back, Fusterlandia reminded me of what Calendario said when we visited him, “You don’t provoke the state. You allow them to use you. They don’t understand art so no one will question you. They allow you to do what you do.” What I think Calendario was saying is that in order to be able to publicly display your art with no threat of censorship is to gain the support of your government and to work with it. Calendario also talked about the fine line in which you can provoke the state without a backlash, but only as long as you worked within those limits you could have some freedom to express yourself.

One thing I was not expecting from Cuba was the intensity of tourist attractions and commercialization that has already begun. There were so many stores throughout Havana, and the majority of them sold the exact same items. I personally wanted to find genuine Cuban shops and stores but it was very hard when most of the areas close to us had high tourist traffic. I understood that tourism was a huge part of Cuba’s economy but I did not realize what a big percentage it was.

Something I took note of during the whole trip goes back to Cuba’s culture still gaining access to American culture as I wrote about before. Throughout the whole trip I made note of musicians that are/were popular in American culture. Those artists are as follows: Sting, The Bee Gees, Alice in Chains, The Doors, Rihanna, Eminem, Elvis Presley, Coldplay, Ramstein, Lionel Richie, Frank Sinatra, Enrique Inglesias, Demi Lovato, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Usher, LMFAO, Juicy J, Pitbull, Miley Cyrus, Nikki Minaj, Guns n’ Roses, Michael Jackson, Hozier, Macklemore, Bruno Mars, Fun, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, James Blunt, Eric Clapton, Imagine Dragons, Taylor Swift, Sia, and Foreigner. It amazed me with how embedded these artists were in the Cuban community. A fellow student and I took a taxi and sang a Bee Gees song with the taxi driver, when the whole group went to lunch at a paladar there was a Sting live concert DVD playing, and every day during our group discussion the Foreigner song “I Want To Know What Love Is” played at the pool bar.

I took a lot from this trip. For me it was my first time in a plane, my first time out of the country, my first time to go swimming in the ocean, among other things. I made a lot of good friends, talked to a lot of interesting people, and made connections with Cuba that I hope I’ll be able to maintain as I get older and I continue my career in the arts. I enjoyed every second of our artist talks, gallery visits, museum visits, and daily exploration of Havana. I thought a lot about myself and what I want my art to represent as well as how I want my art practice to evolve into something meaningful to others and myself.  Thank you for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to experience the beauty of Cuba.

Teaching Philosophy

            Art is a form of expression that allows students of all ages to voice their opinions and question the world around them. Our role as educators is to guide the students along their own self-discovery through their art making practice. The true purpose of art education is to give students the skills and abilities to express themselves in ways other than writing or speaking. A proper education should provide a self-awareness of the art they make and it’s connection to life around them.

            The classroom should be an experimental environment, allowing the students to learn through experience rather than strict lessons. For the educators, the focus should be on teaching the students about the materials they work with and what the process of making art consists of.  Much like John Dewey’s approach to providing an aesthetic education, the emphasis should be on the expression that comes out of the relationships between material, process, and idea (Freedman, 2003, p. 39). The teacher should be the resource for the students to turn to in order to continue their practice. Art making is dependent of free thought, not fulfilling a quota. Giving the students the ability to work in an environment with all the materials, tools, and resources they need is how students can understand and create art by doing (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 58).

            The students learn best in an environment open for their interpretation. The teachers should provide the initial instruction about the processes until the students are comfortable enough to continue on amongst themselves. This type of learning would produce artwork that the artist has control over. Tending to the strengths and weaknesses of each student, seeing each student as an individual mind, and allowing them to express themselves through the materials and methods their methods of work. Throughout the students’ art making process, the teachers should remain as fellow artists, to guide them and to push them towards their goals (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 29). Working with all the materials and tools needed allows their creativity to grow without a limit.

            The emphasis on independent work, collaborative environments, and an understanding of material process provides the future generation or artists with the knowledge to make strong and meaningful art. As educators we must understand each student as an individual. We must understand that knowledge is formed in learning environments both in and outside of the classroom (Freedman, 2003, p. 83). Students bring unique experiences to the table that add to the rich environment of the classroom and instead of assuming their capabilities, educators should provide the opportunity for them to work freely to find their artistic voice. Through education, students will gain the skills and abilities to make art in a variety of forms so that they can express themselves in a variety of ways.

 

Resources

Freedman, K. J. (2003). Teaching visual culture: Curriculum, aesthetics, and the social

            life of art. New York: Teachers College Press.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis

            Publications.

 

 

Re-Thinking the American Education System

          The American education system is broken. The system has been based off of the idea of providing an equal opportunity to education. However, the students have not been benefiting from this equal opportunity because each student is different; there is no standardization of minds. How can we expect to standardize education to the point where a student’s worth is measured by a test score? Have we forgotten how students learn? I’m beginning to consider the debate, over Equity versus Equality with regards to public education, in connection to this debate. This paper serves as a reflection of my observations of the education system in America and how I believe it can be improved.

          I believe a true democratic education system will allow the same opportunities to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Living in the United States of America that is one of our rights, yet it is constantly overlooked by those in charge of our education system. There has always been a reality of upper class neighborhoods with better schools versus those neighborhoods of lower class families having to settle for the education their schools could provide. I grew up in Chicago, and experienced what lack of funding could do to schools. I witnessed a lot of great teachers lose their jobs, a lot of great programs get cut, a lot of lost opportunities.

            I thought that if everyone were to be offered the same education programs it would be a perfect system. My focus was on the opportunities lost due to budget cuts and lack of funding. But I failed to look deeper into what was happening.  There is more to a democratic system for education than equal opportunity. That should be the standard nonetheless, for all students to have the same resources and to be able to take advantage of what their schools can offer. But we need to consider, I need to consider, the varying types of students. Not one person is the same as another, that’s what we learn at a young age. Aren’t we all unique in our own way? That’s how we learn. Differently. Every student will have strengths and weaknesses, and having the same opportunities offered o them does not give everyone the same education. We need to consider what each student needs to make the most out of their education. What programs can we offer to students that’s have difficulty reading? Those who have difficulty interpreting the standardized coursework?

            In the American education system there has been a push for the standardization of education since the 1920s with the development of the SAT test. “By the end of World War II, the test was accepted by enough universities that it became a standard rite of passage for college-bound high school seniors” (Fletcher, 2009). Fast forward to today’s education system and we have a multitude of standardized testing, requirements, and curriculum designs all with the idea of providing an equal opportunity to the citizens of the United States. But not every student benefits from this equal opportunity system, because not all students are the same.  Not every student will require advanced physics in their future, or need to understand more than five languages, or know civil engineering, or know how to compose a painting. The key to a true democratic education is that, if there is a set goal to education, it should be for the student to truly learn rather than memorize material to pass a test. A number on a test should not measure a student’s worth. There is more to education than passing a test, and that test should not restrain a student to continuing their academic career because they did not meet or exceed the average standardized test score.

            So how can a proper school reform occur that is beneficial to everyone involved? We have to look at the basic foundations of public education. How we fund our schools. How we organize the public school system. “As a system designed to mold the next generation, the school system seems ideally suited to take on these tasks; and as a publically controlled and publically funded enterprise, it is responsive to political demands” (Labaree, 2012, p. 106). In order to consider all of these levels, the views of the teachers, parents, and students need to be taken into consideration by those at the top.

          Reformers need to consider the impact of change on all four levels of the school system. Labaree defines these four levels of this system being rhetoric, formal structure, teaching practice, and student learning. At the highest level of the system, we have rhetoric, where lawmakers, education professors, policy makers, and others work together to form the broad ideas for reform. This is where the views of all of those who are involved can be taken into consideration. At this level, the ideas can push for frameworks representing change, educational visions, and the concept for a reconstructed education system.

          The next level is applying these ideas at the level to the system’s formal structure. At this level, the ideas formed at the top need to be translated to work at the district level of our education system.  This translation, for lack of a better word, is meant to inform the educators, so that we can have this equal distribution of knowledge. All educators fully informed of the desired direction to push the system towards.  This being done through educational policies, curriculum frameworks, standardized textbooks, and or professional development workshops may offer help in moving forward.  In order to start an educational reform, this level in the system has to be organized. The information must be efficiently distributed and the educators must take on the responsibility of maintaining these standards. But on a state level, the form of government in charge of funding this education system must be held accountable to redesigning the funding system for public education.

          At the local levels, “school districts are primarily funded through property taxes, with half of all property tax revenue being used for public education” (Pitre & Pitre, 2015, p. 75). With a system that provides based on the incomes of the families involved, the families that are middle class or lower suffer. The children suffer. In a city like Chicago, with a history and reality of intense segregation, the school system compared from one end of the city to the other is drastically different. The resources available to privileged (for lack of better word) schools are not always used in the most effective way. The students that require the extra attention, in schools not properly supported/funded lose out on a proper and equal education. The budget for public education needs to be balanced based on equity. This system of funding is one of the things that need to change on a governmental level. “Equity requires that all students in a state be treated equally, regardless of wealth or where they live” (Pitre & Pitre, 2015, p. 77). Taking this basic concept to the rhetoric level of our education system, the ideas directed towards providing schools with sufficient resources to meet our goals and standards.  These resources being, adequate facilities, and states must fund school facilities programs that assure facilities meet state standards (McColl & Malhoit, 2004, p.6).

          Who is it that determines the key points of a curriculum and decides where the funding should go? These ideas created at the top need to be properly distributed through the lower levels of school districts (Labaree, 2012, p. 111). It is the teaching practices that must reflect the goals of these larger ideas. Again, the responsibility falling on the educators themselves to maintain the success that the education is attempting to achieve for its students. The education system needs to be fixed. As of now, the educators are expected to implement the goals and values determined by officials who have not taught. How can someone, who has never been a teacher, tell a teacher how to teach? This creates an artificial education environment that puts the teachers at a disadvantage. The educators have to accomplish what the government decides is important for the students to learn. But the teachers know that there is much more to an education than achieving a test score.

          This year, Illinois passed a bill to replace the Board of Education appointed by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel with one that is elected. This would allow Chicago’s public school system to be overseen by 21 democratically elected members of the public instead of the seven elected members the mayor would have in charge instead (L. F., & F. S., 2016). For years, the Chicago Teacher’s Union, along with the support of Chicago voters, has complained about the appointed board’s lack of communication and proper representation in the concerns of the city.  This bill would allow the people of Chicago to decide whom they trust in charge of managing their public school system. Taking the power away from government officials and putting it back in the hands of the people who are directly affected by these decisions.

          The United States has long been seen as the model for what Democracy looks like. But it has failed to provide its citizens with a truly democratic education system. Over the past few years, the involvement by the parents, teachers, union leaders, and students show that change is occurring. The people must confront these inequalities in the design of the system, not by those who benefit from the system as it is now. Looking towards the future of education in America, the power must be given back to the people. Allow those involved in the school system at its lowest level have a voice in the larger discussions of education. Let the people appoint their own leaders for education.

          My hopes for the future of education are that it truly becomes a democratic one. I hope for an education system that values the student as an individual and understands the potential for each student to become the future artists, educators, and great thinkers of this world. An education system that welcomes the student for the unique experiences and ideas that they bring to the table and does not determine their value from standardized testing. It needs to fall on the educators, the parents, and the students to stand together to change their education system to what they want it to be. Take the control back from those in charge that continue to misrepresent and misunderstand the true meaning of education. Those who experience it first hand know what works and what doesn’t. They are the ones that need to plan for the future generations of educators and students. When the teachers can provide an education that is both equal and equitable, then we have achieved a democratic education that the future generations can truly benefit from.

 

 

 

References

Labaree, D. F. (2010). Someone has to fail: The zero-sum game of public schooling.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

L. F., & F. S. (n.d.). Illinois House passes bill to create elected CPS board. Retrieved

April 24, 2016, from http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/illinois-house-passes-bill-  create-elected-cps-board/

 

Fletcher, D. (2009). Standardized Testing. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1947019,00.html

 

McColl, A., & Malhoit, G. C. (2004). Rural school facilities: State policies that provide

students with an environment to promote learning. Arlington, VA: Rural School

and Community Trust.

 

Pitre, A. (n.d.). Multicultural education for educational leaders: Critical race theory and

antiracist perspectives.