María Acaso – Mediation is everything

In which context are you working as an art educator?

María Acaso: I am currently working in various contexts related to art education: on the one hand, I am part of the art + education research collective Pedagogías Invisibles from where we design and implement mediation projects for different institutions (pedagogiasinvisibles.es). On the other hand, I write about art education and mediation from various areas (like my own blog mariaacaso. es or publications like “What’s Next? Art Education“); I also participate in international meetings and forums where art, education and mediation topics are debated (such as the Ninth Mercosur Biennial) and finally I work training future art educators in the Master of Arts Education in Social and Cultural Institutions of the UCM (Universidad Complutense de Madrid).

With whom do you cooperate?

MA: I basically work with my colleagues in Pédagogías Invisibles. We are a collective formed by 14 people and we embrace the projects we carry out in a horizontal and collaborative way as much as we can. Both my personal work and that which I develop from Pédagogías Invisibles aims to put into practice the paradigm change in education, with a special emphasis on the fields of art+education and, more specifically, in the moments when art+education is developed in cultural institutions such as museums and art institutions, entering in this case the field of mediation.

What is your understanding of art education?

MA: Well, this is a complex issue that is difficult to explain in a few lines. I basically understand art as a strategy for creating critical knowledge and I approach both mediation and art education from this standpoint. I think it is important to point out that this critical knowledge is generated by each of the agents that are related to mediation spaces, i. e., both audiences, educators, artists and curators. This critical knowledge generated by the processes of art+education obviously does not remain there, in the museum or in the school, but extends to social realities, transforming them into a less asymmetrical place.

What is the relationship (for you) between education and art?

MA: The Modernist legacy, which perpetuates the idea of art as an object and the genius artist, has created a social imaginary in which education and art are distinct fields of knowledge and very distant from each other. While a field is socially recognized and extolled, the field of education and that of educators is socially discredited and associated with notions such as infancy, service, expression and misunderstood creativity. My/our work consists in denouncing this separation and proposing other ways of understanding artistic education, which we call art+education and in which we agree absolutely with the artist and educator Luis Camnitzer.

We/I understand art+education as a strategy for the creation of critical knowledge and as a process of cultural production where it is impossible to separate art from education because it is impossible to understand one without the other. Art+education is, in my view, like the third gender in terms of sexuality: a trans discipline that is not defined as either man or woman. From this indefinite and productive position, we propose, as Foucault recommends, alternative forms to traditional artistic education that can be inserted into counterproductivity movements, in this case, of educational counterproductivity.

Why mediate (contemporary) art? / Why educate people about (contemporary) art?

MA: The enormous amount of images related to visual culture that we consume every day, together with the ridiculous presence that contemporary art has in our lives, is paradoxical. While the first group of images takes us in directions related to hyperconsumptionism and false corporality, one of the groups of images that try to make us reflect and look at the world critically is actually contemporary art.

I consider that the approach of contemporary art to social reality is an ethical commitment that we as educators have. If we want people who believe that they are not interested in this kind of images, I think that we are having a kind of struggle to change their minds. I am particularly interested in the relationship of contemporary art with issues such as gender, race and social class and how artists put open issues on the table for viewers to create knowledge (and possibly change their lives) from what artists have precisely selected. When I speak of transforming social reality into a more balanced environment, I believe that contemporary art has a fundamental role to play.

In what kind of relationship do you see the practice of curating and educating?

MA: In the daily reality of many institutions the relationship between curators and educators is one of abuse of the former’s power over the latter. This may be a little strong, but I really believe that this is the case. This abuse of power has many motives, but one of the most important has to do with the social recognition (which artists and curators do not subvert but maintain) that educators and audiences are not the legitimate producers of knowledge in institutions. In the same way as in social life, mediation is perceived in many institutions as a service for the rest of the departments rather than as a department at the same level as the rest. This is precisely what Luis Camnitzer achieved as pedagogical curator of the 6th Mercosur Biennial by understanding and positioning education and mediation as fundamental elements. In any case, we are talking about 2006 and now that the 10th Biennial is coming to an end, the power of the exercise that Luis organized is crumbling, which testifies to the fact that we are going back in many ways. I am very eager to see what will happen in documenta 14 regarding education.

Why is art education important for a museum or an institution?

MA: Well, if we enter into the paradigm of art+education, this question no longer makes sense because when education is conceived as a production of critical knowledge, it is understood as inherent to any of the activities that take place within the museum or institution.

I think that the important thing is to derail the educational imaginary: the educational is not children painting, the educational is not the didactic classroom of the museum filled with boats of colorful watercolors, the educational is not the storyteller on Sunday: The educational system in the institution has to do with the mechanisms that the institution itself establishes to generate critical knowledge, devices that begin with its own architectural structure, or to give an example, the procedures for entering the institution in which visitors can be positioned as delinquents or the opposite. Mediation is everything, or rather, everything is mediation.

Where do we find the (institutional) spaces, in which we can have a discussion about our experiences of art?

MA: This question I think it is interesting that I answer from my position as resident in Spain, and more specifically in Madrid, where Pedagogías Invisibles develops much of its work although I have to say that there are few institutions that I know that are open to the biographical. Specifically, I can talk about the projects that we are carrying out in Matadero Madrid, where the institution is recognised as being open-minded and believes it is necessary to investigate the possibility of creating a new institutional framework so that, from this position, it is promoting lines of work in which personal experience enters combat. Pedagogías Invisibles has just coordinated the exhibition “Ni arte ni educación” in Madrid, a good example of how to put this new institutional framework into practice since we have consciously gone beyond the concept of an exhibition and migrated it towards the concept of school in a very biographical and very personal way.

To what extent can art education and art mediation open up a new sphere of action?

MA: I sincerely believe that contemporary art must be understood as a story from which we can empower ourselves as agents of social change, both for ourselves and for others. I believe that the main function of contemporary art is literally to “put a finger on the eye of the spectator” who will obviously have to approach concrete actions in his life with respect to his experience with art. For example, the feminist art of the 1960s is a good example of this activism that I have just spoken of, or more recently what is known as Latin American Art, whose political demands have direct transfers in societies where certain works are framed.

When do you think art education is successful? When do you think art education is complicated?

MA: I wouldn’t use the term “difficult”, I would rather use the term “complex”. One of the main differences between art and entertainment is that the latter is easier than the former, so it is more complex to mediate art (and especially contemporary) than any other group of images. One of the main mechanisms that contemporary art uses to introduce the spectator into a situation of knowledge (and therefore of learning) is estrangement, that feeling that what you are seeing you have never seen before, that feeling that for part of the public translates into rejection and for another part is translated into curiosity, is wanting to know more. Mediation should take advantage of alienation as a pedagogical tool as well as all the factors that stem from one’s own alienation such as pleasure, the unexpected, improbable connections, remix, humor and the surprised body.

Is there a specific method or strategy you currently work with?

MA: Related to the previous question, more as a methodological strategy with Pedagogías Invisibles we are working on mediation as a cultural production, that is, positioning the creative work of educators at the same level of intellectual recognition as artists and curators (and the public, if given the opportunity).

In this sense, I believe that there is a lot of work to be done because, when mediation is understood from this point of view, we have to visualize this construction by making efforts in two very concrete directions: the recognition of authorship of these processes (in the same way that the authorship of artists and curators is recognized) and also the archiving and memory of pedagogical processes: I consider it very urgent to create catalogues and complex archives in the education departments.

What are you currently working on?

MA: I am currently immersed in the realization of my new book in which I am developing the concept of art+education in connection with Luis Camnitzer’s concept of art thinking. The first book I wrote on the topic “La educación no son manualidades” (Education is not handicraft) is from 2009 and a lot has happened since then, so I am formulating a practical guide for those educators who want to give the push and approach artistic education in connection with the social reality that surrounds us in 2016.

Which books and projects are important for your work and why?

MA: I am increasingly interested in what is outside of pedagogy and, especially, what is outside of art education. I believe that we must take to our fields concepts and ways of thinking that come from psychoanalysis, sociology, philosophy or architecture. I am interested, for example, in Elizabeth Ellsworth‘s work methodology, who transfers the concept of directionality (address) from film studies to education, emphasizing the level of directionality of the programs that an educator designs and implements. In this sense, I find it very interesting, as I do in another of my texts, to take up the idea of the artist Joan Fontcuberta‘s falsification, extend it to the school and propose the teacher’s idea as an intellectual swindler. Elizabeth Ellsworth and Joan Fontcuberta are two people who write books and make projects that inspire me.

Which questions would you like to ask an art educator?

MA: Yes!! How much you get paid and whether your contract is a fair one!!

How do you imagine the future of art education?

MA: I am optimistic. This website (The Art Educator’s Talk) is one proof of this. In particular, however, I am concerned about the connections between art education that we could define as “Latino” and what we could define as “Anglo-Saxon”. The projects that are developed in Latin America and Spain have practically no visualization on the international scene and I think it is important to give them their space. I think it is necessary to remember the number of Spanish-speaking people in the world at the moment and the need to share experiences that have their origin in other contexts and with other languages.

María Acaso (b. 1970) is a professor of Art Education and director of the line of research on education in visual arts museums at the Fine Arts Faculty of the Complutense University of Madrid. Since the beginning of her training at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid she has been convinced that the current education system is outdated and in need of an urgent change of paradigm. She is a member of the group „Invisible Pedagogies“ and director of the „Escuela de Educación Disruptiva“ and author of a number of books such as: „rEDUvolution: hacer la revolución en la educación (2013), „Pedagogías invisibles: El espacio del aula como discurso (2012), „La educación artística no son manualidades (2009), „Esto no son las Torres Gemelas (2006). mariaacaso.es
Her recent text „From Art Education to ArtEducation: Making the Education Revolution into the Visual Arts Teaching Arena.“ will be published very soon at whtsnxt.net.

Interview: Gila Kolb, February 2016.
Image: María Acaso, 2015.



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