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Janet Szeto

Communicating Transculturalism in the Art Classroom:
Towards a Contemporary, Critical, and Cultural Art Curriculum

          What are the implications of shifting and intermingling cultural populations? How can the displacement of objects, ideas, and people become a part of a meaningful and contemporary K-12 art curriculum? For my research, I have chosen to focus on the transcultural and migratory experiences of contemporary artists as a basis for a critical multicultural curriculum.

            This study involves facilitating an art classroom experience in which students are asked to think about cultures as fluid and to recognize the roles artists have in the presentation of new cultural expressions. The broader goal is to help students connect their realities to the knowledge that their actions and choices can move them beyond static cultural assumptions and expectations.

            Transculturalism, as I use the term, refers to the idea that cultures are shaped by continual interactions, by overlapping political relationships, and transformed through specific and individual actions. This definition emphasizes the contextual and individual relationships to cultural experiences rather than a static and categorical approach to culture.

            Through the concept of transculturalism, I have sought out artworks and artists which I might introduce in the elementary school setting. During my seven-week student-teaching term at Ravenswood Elementary School, I was able to implement these lessons in the 3rd and 7th grade classrooms. Artworks by contemporary artists Jin Lee and Do-Ho Suh were presented. Their work was introduced in relation to the artists’ autobiographical experiences of traveling and negotiating ‘culture.’  In each classroom, these works created opportunities to engage in discussions about the multiple relationships students have to other people, places, and culture(s). Students also had the opportunity to produce individual and collaborative projects that relate these experiences.

            Transcultural exchanges have become a growing theme of contemporary artists and these exchanges are of fundamental importance to contemporary and global society. The experiences of (cultural) transitions, I have found, are not recognized in other educational curricula in conjunction with original and creative projects.

            In this research I am both a learner and a participant. I also take the role of teacher, facilitator, and researcher. In addition to expanding students’ appreciation for contemporary artworks, I believe that a transcultural art curriculum can help students practice asking critical questions about cultural influence and cultural representation in their everyday lives.


           Janet Szeto received a BA in Visual Arts and Communications with a minor in Anthropology in 2000 from Rutgers College. Janet worked as an ESL teacher at Shanghai University in the People’s Republic of China, and as an activities specialist in an after-school program in Brooklyn, NY. While pursuing her degree at SAIC, Janet worked as an art instructor for the Chinese-American Service League.


Thesis Advisor: Dalida Maria Benfield Assistant Professor, Chair, Art Education

Thesis Reader: Kevin Tavin Assistant Professor, Art Education; Director, MAT Program

Peer Reader: Lexi Coffee MAT Candidate

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