'The work is too didactic':

Unspoken Rules Against Didacticism in the Arts & Higher Education

How do we, as art educators, understand, process and engage our students who fall within an ever shifting spectrum of didactic or non-didactic art? How do we teach this awareness of didacticism's utility and aesthetic respectability? How can I teach my students or myself how to use this tool instead of fearing its taboo in art?

There is an implicit bias against didacticism in the arts. Through this examination of the term didactic(ism) and its negative connotation in art, I unpack its meanings loosely related to the levels of information, accessibility, directness and clarity within a work. I then examine our assumptions about the value of an artwork determined by these implicit biases. This thesis analyzes contemporary phobias around didacticism as the unspoken elephant in the room to contest assumptions, rules and stigmas in art/making/education. In this qualitative study, I contextualize the historic construction of didacticism in literature, language, usage and its role in contemporary art.


I question the negative implications of didacticism by recasting it as a fundamental aspect of art making, crucial for effective art education. Where does this attitude about didacticism in art come from? How did we get to our contemporary interpretation of didacticism in contemporary art practices?


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Co-authored by Qais Assali and Jose Luis Benavides
Advised by Drea Howenstein and Salome Chasnoff
Full thesis for Master of Arts in Art Education, available at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Flaxman Library. Link

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