Changing a Dominant Evaluation Paradigm
This post is part of our Excellence and Equity in Arts for Change blog salon.
Aesthetics and their interpretation are defined by institutionalized notions of excellence, and when artistic work speaks to social justice or traditional practices, its creative aspects are often considered lacking the value assigned by entrenched evaluation standards and practices. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework takes the conversation of evaluation to the next phase as it broadens the frame and brings forth a holistic approach to include and honor alternative attributes to define excellence in arts for change.
I will focus on one of the 11 attributes of excellence that brings the principle of cultural integrity into perspective to assure that creative work demonstrates integrity and ethical use of material with specific cultural origins and context.
The artistic and cultural expressions of Latinx communities have for too long been pushed to the fringes of a mainstream vetting process that does not value the aesthetic excellence in cultural forms, traditions, and context. Changing entrenched evaluation practices is critical. This includes making changes to the composition of review panels. Too often, one panelist of color (maybe two) finds herself having to explain and/or defend the work that arises from the communities that reflect our nation’s diverse demographic majority.
The current evaluation processes have rendered invisible the work of many artists and had the negative effect, particularly on young people, of not knowing about the work of artists from their own communities. According to observations by art historian Dianna Marisol Santillano, reflecting on the book of student narratives The Story in the Art (developed by the artwork of Museo Eduardo Carrillo), “Exposing Latinx youth to the various current artistic practices produced by Latinx artists is imperative to forming a positive identity. Their confidence blossoms with the awareness of diverse artistic and cultural productions with which they can identify.”
The importance of making a connection to the aesthetics and the stories of art for change is a positive step toward understanding that art with meaning does not compromise aesthetics. We need to acknowledge that the evaluation pathway runs both ways and the decisions made to give one dominant expression precedence over others has life changing implications.
The Aesthetic Perspectives framework was developed as a thoughtful endeavor that approaches the obstacles as opportunities to improve and expand evaluation standards which appropriately describe and assess excellence and quality reflected in the cultural expressions of Latinx and other communities, and in artistic practices of arts for change.
As James Baldwin said, “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.”