Interdisciplanary Studies: Evolution or Revolution?
Leo Segedin   |  1967-1979 |   Print this essay

A paper presented at the Association for Integrative Studies 1980 Conference
March 4-5, 1980 Washington Hilton Hotel Washington, D.C.

Although inter-disciplinarians argue that traditional academic disciplines divided reality into artificial segments, the results of historical accident and academic politics rather than logic, they are reluctant to confront the intellectual and social issues raised by the possible elimination of these divisions and the creation of new ones. Because they maintain that educational programs based on traditional departmental organization are not responsive to the present needs of society and do not reflect significant contemporary intellectual concerns, inter-disciplinarians tend to see their major challenges as institutional problems to be solved. As a result, they work primarily to break down departmental ‘ethnocentricity’, and to design curricular models which will lead to the integration of what they call "multiple perspectives on reality. I believe, however, that they do not pay sufficient attention to the nature of the intellectual conflicts which do exist both within and between disciplines, nor do they give enough significance to the psychological and social impact of the conceptual transformations which such integration would entail. They do not fully recognize that, because interdisciplinary studies can be iconoclastic, radically revising the content and structure of the disciplines themselves, such studies are more than simply mind-broadening experiences. They can also destroy the integrity of long-standing patterns of thought, and, therefore, threaten stability and predictability in the world. The result of such conceptual transformations can often be felt far beyond the walls of a university. Thus, inter-disciplinarians fail to see that resistance to interdisciplinary studies is not only for reasons of departmental ‘ethnocentricity’, but also because of the great challenges interdisciplinary studies present to certain intellectual assumptions about the structure of reality.

My objective in this paper is to explore the conceptual transformations which occur when the ‘reality’ of one discipline is perceived within the context of another. I will do this by first examining the dynamics of disciplines in terms of paradigms. By paradigms I mean the models which members of a discipline use to structure their ‘segment of reality’. Second, I will illustrate my conception of disciplinary confrontation within the disciplines of art and art history to show how the impact of the social sciences anthropology, archaeology, and cultural history has been, for better or worse depending on our own values, to cause a fundamental revision in the definition of what we call ‘Art’. And third, I will offer several examples of how paradigms derived from sociology and psychology have radically transformed the practice, study, and social functions of art. I will do this to show that what inter-disciplinarians call ‘shifts in perspectives’ are not neutral, academic occurrences, but, rather, can result in disruptive controversies reflecting and affecting events in the non-academic world. I will show that when a new paradigm is accepted by at least some faction within the membership of a discipline, not only are traditional disciplinary problems and solutions re-evaluated, but also that such acceptance can lead to a change in the popular conception of the social value of a discipline and, therefore, cause a revision in public policy.


Underlying most concepts of interdisciplinary education is the notion of a disciplinary perspective. A discipline is supposed to have, in addition to a specific body of knowledge and methodology, a point of view, a particular way of looking at a content area. The special value of this notion to interdisciplinary education is that it can be brought to bear, not only on its own content, but also on the content of other disciplines, and, even more important to inter-disciplinarians, on intellectual and social themes and issues not approachable within any single discipline. Such a concept gives us, for example, not only the subject matter of the humanities and the sciences, but also humanistic and scientific perspectives, and not only sociology, but also the sociology of the arts and the sciences. Most promising of all, this concept offers us the contributions which humanistic and scientific perspectives can make to such interdisciplinary areas of research as American Studies and Women's Studies, and to the understanding and solution of environmental and international problems. This notion of disciplinary perspective as used by inter-disciplinarians implies that we study some aspect of a given, objective reality from a neutral, external point of view. We can thus shift our position in relation to a phenomenon and see another aspect of it. An interdisciplinary curriculum within this context integrates these perspectives according to any one different model, giving us a more complete, multi-dimensional understanding of our subject.

Traditional academic disciplines, however, are more than bodies of knowledge, methodologies, and objective, neutral perspectives which can be applied at will. They do not define an objective, neutral approach. They are in fact matrixes of often unexamined and sometimes incongruent beliefs, traditions, symbols, and rules. Underlying a discipline is a body of assumptions about the nature of reality. These assumptions are what establish the kinds of problems, solutions, and methodologies which the discipline accepts. Thus the nature of a discipline is to structure our experiences by creating paradigms or models which define the kinds of entities we are able to recognize as existing in the world. They also explain why such entities exist, and the ways in which events ‘reasonably’ can occur. Paradigms determine the words and images which we can use to describe these entities and events. They create patterns of expectations that certain phenomena exist and predictably will reoccur. New paradigms not only create new structures of knowledge; they also generate the apprehension of new phenomena, or eliminate them from perception altogether. They can even create the very phenomena we perceive.

An example of a paradigm in art history is the notion of ‘style’. Art historians have defined style as ‘constant form’, as a pattern of relationships, or formal likenesses.1 Ackerman writes, “We can use the concept of style as a way of characterizing relationships among works of art that were made at the same time and/or place by the same person or group”. 2 Such notions of style often appeared to be based on the assumption that when works of art are arranged in chronological order, they will reveal a basic pattern reflecting some dynamic, usually autonomous, evolutionary process thought to be beyond the control of the artist. To the art historian, all works of art must f it into some stylistic slot in time and space.

Historically, the dominant paradigm for stylistic change has been biological. As far back as the sixteenth century, Vasari maintained that style, “like human bodies, has, a birth, a growth, an aging, and a death”.3As long as this paradigm was unchallenged, its assumptions about and explanations of works of art were accepted as being real and true. Visual characteristics which the paradigm required were then seen as existing in the work of art itself. Thus works of art were perceived as generating a new style, of representing its ‘flowering’ or ‘maturation’ or as exhibiting ‘decadent’ qualities. This biological paradigm fit the arts of antiquity and the Renaissance quite well, and as long as one included only such art, the issue of what was art or style was barely raised. Objects which did not fit were simply not considered to be ‘art.’

Later, however, when the interest of art historians shifted to other kinds of art objects, the limitation of the biological paradigm became evident. Although Gothic art could be squeezed into it, the art of non-Western cultures and Modern art could be accommodated only with the greatest strain or not at all. Art historians also found value in the non-classical phases of European art, in art forms which had appeared to them as ‘immature’ or ‘over-ripe’ in terms of the old paradigm. New models were developed based on new assumptions about the nature of art. Objects which were not considered to be art and qualities which were not apparent in the old model became significant in the new. For all practical purposes, the art world took on a new reality.

According to the conception of paradigm which we have been developing, what we see is determined to a great extent by what we think is ‘there’. This assumption can be confirmed by illustrations taken from psychological experiments and the history of science. For example, Thomas Kuhn refers to an experiment conducted by Bruner and Postman in which a series of playing cards were shown, some of which were anomalous, e.g., a red six of spades and a black four of hearts. “The anomalous cards were almost always identified as normal. ..Without any awareness of trouble, it was immediately fitted into one of the conceptual categories prepared by previous experience. One would not even like to say that the subjects had seen something different from what they had identified”.4 The Roman physician, Galen, whose model for human physiology provided the source for all biological ideas for thirteen hundred years, led the Renaissance anatomist, Vasalius, to insist that the inter-ventricular septum of the heart was perforated throughout by little channels even though there was no apparent physical evidence for them because the model for heart function which he accepted required it.5 Even one of the most accurate representational draftsmen, Leonardo da Vinci, made mistakes in drawing the heart because he drew what Galen had led him to expect, but which he could not have seen.6

Perhaps the best metaphor for what happens when we change a paradigm is the famous Gestalt rabbit-duck illusion.7 When we perceive this phenomenon with the assumption that we are looking at the representation of a rabbit, the two protrusions are ears, the eyes are looking in the direction opposite the ears, and the two spots on the side away from the ears are the nose and the mouth. When we shift our assumption so that we are looking at the representation of a duck, the ears become beak, the eyes look in the direction of the beak, and the spots which represented the rabbit's nose and mouth disappear, or at least become insignificant. Each perception utilizes data differently; each transforms some data or eliminates or makes other data insignificant. No amount of integration can maintain the perception of the rabbit and the duck simultaneously

As members of a discipline, we are likely to have adopted its underlying assumptions along with some of its paradigms. They are what we have learned as students and have come to assume to be true, i.e. objective and neutral, without a presumption of bias. They are also what most of our colleagues in our discipline believe to be true. They constitute our disciplinary reality, the rules of a game which we have internalized and employ without consciously considering what we are doing.

Most of us find it difficult to think and visualize about the subject matter of our discipline outside of the meanings which are articulated in its symbols. And because we cannot comprehend phenomena in terms of two overlapping paradigms simultaneously, some of us are likely to resist any pressure to change paradigms as a threat not only to values acceptable to our discipline, i.e. sociology and psychology, but also to our comprehension of reality itself, i.e., society and the human mind. Others will switch to a new paradigm with all the fervor of a religious conversion. We saw this in the acceptance of the Marxist economic paradigm by many social reformers in the 1930's.

Communication among proponents of conflicting paradigms is very difficult. Proponents will try to justify their own perceptions in their own terms, often appearing to "talk through' each other. A good example of such 'perverseness' is the inability of believers in Newtonian physics to accept the Einsteinian paradigm during the first several years of this century. Consider also the conflicting assumptions we make about the nature of human beings and their social relationships. Just how compatible are notions of behavior, as explained in terms of conditioned responses, gestalt patterns, unconscious motivation, genetics, culture, environment, myth, and economic need? And how compatible are the ‘realities’ created by statistical methodologies and subjective experiences? Can human values and aesthetic hierarchies exist within the paradigms of the social sciences? These issues are of more than academic significance.

Paradigm competition both within and between disciplines is not at all an unusual occurrence. The perceptual switches which occur when the ‘reality’ of one discipline is perceived within the paradigms of another and the disciplinary conversions which transform the content of a discipline when it adopts a new paradigm can probably be demonstrated in any area of study. Such confrontations and the resulting transformations, as we have shown certainly occur in the physical sciences, but they are most apparent in the social sciences and the humanities. I would like to illustrate the issue of paradigm confrontation in the disciplines of art and art history.

Since art history as a discipline began during the nineteenth century, it was based on the categories of art acceptable at that time. It emphasized Western art since classical times, and believed that painting and sculpture, included among the Fine Arts, were “the noblest manifestation of a nation's soul.”8 They were assumed to be the highest achievement of culture, the expression of the greatest artists. Art history thus distinguished aesthetic objects from useful ones and attributed stylistic quality only to the former. The Fine Arts had iconographic values as well as formal ones and were studied in these terms by art historians as objects having high intrinsic as well as economic value. Works of Fine Arts were collected avidly by persons with cultural authority and exhibited in museums which exuded much of the aura of religious institutions. All sophisticated persons were expected to recognize and appreciate them. Such appreciation was not accessible to scientific or technical analysis as were other human products, but was, rather, the exclusive province of a cultivated sensibility.

These assumptions about the nature of art form the basis of the art paradigm which has dominated Western culture for over a hundred years. Such assumptions, however, appear radically transformed when perceived within the art paradigms of the social sciences. First,

it is apparent that ,in this new context, the traditional Western art paradigm assumes an absolute, universal hierarchy of art values both as to the status of art objects and the standards of artistic quality not evident in the art of other cultures. This paradigm is in fact actually recognized by a very small number of people among the cultures of mankind. Second, this paradigm assumes that, through history, art developed within social institutions, not only independent of non-aesthetic functions, but also relatively unaffected by economic support systems, class structure, and so forth. Most other historical and non-Western cultures do not “detach aesthetic quality (of works of art) from intellectual, moral, religious and practical function or content, or ...use such aesthetic quality as a standard for grouping the fine arts together, or …(make) them the subject of a comprehensive philosophical interpretation” 9

Many other cultures did not and still do not have Fine Art museums in which special categories of objects are isolated and publicly displayed for aesthetic contemplation. A Balinese has been quoted as saying, “We have no art; we try to do everything as well as we can”10 Objects which cannot be accommodated by nineteenth century canons of form or beauty are valued most highly by other societies. Ancestor and fetish figures, totems, Malanggan ancestor boats and houses, ritual masks and Kachina dolls would be ugly, crude and primitive when perceived according to these criteria. Non-Western societies give high status to objects which would be identified disparagingly as 'crafts' or the ‘Minor Arts’ in the Western hierarchy. Flower arranging and paper cutting are highly sophisticated arts in Japan. Objects do not even have to be man-made to be given artistic status. Chinese connoisseurs placed natural rocks in gardens and contemplated them as we would works of art. Thus, Western assumptions of aesthetic universality and independence cannot be maintained within the cross-cultural paradigms of the social sciences.

Not only were the sacred tribal arts of the Polynesians, Africans, and the American Indians not appreciated by Westerners for aesthetic qualities; they were often destroyed as ‘abominations’, the idols of heathen, uncivilized peoples. The religious paradigms of Cromwell also resulted in the destruction of many beautiful objects in England in the 1600's. When such objects were collected, it was as the spoils of a religious war, or as curiosities or artifacts made by heretics or savages in foreign, exotic places. Such objects were certainly not perceived as works of Fine Art by either the natives or their Western conquerors. As Malraux said, “Before the coming of Modern Art, no one saw a Khymer head, still less a Polynesian sculpture, for the good reason that no one looked at them”.11 Aesthetic qualities were not visible in tribal art until the French artists discovered such ‘characteristics’ at the turn of the century. At that time, tribal art came to be perceived as the powerful, free expression of a people uninhibited by the stifling restrictions of a corrupt, Western academy. The formal characteristics of tribal art were major influences on the early development of the Cubist painters. Similarly, anthropologists had first seen such artifacts primarily as ritual objects, products of religious worship and therefore being controlled in their formal qualities and having little aesthetic significance to the people who used them. Later, they recognized that these people did indeed have aesthetic criteria, quite different than our own, and that they do identify and admire the styles of individual artists. Western perception of prehistoric and ancient art objects have gone through similar transformations.

Even within the Western tradition, cultural historians have shown that until quite recently there was no separation of the Fine Arts as a special categorization of objects. Neither the ancient Greeks nor the people of the Middle Ages differentiated aesthetic qualities from social or cultural contexts nor did they perceive statues or paintings as Fine Art. Medieval peoples did not regard a Classical statue as something worth looking at. According to Malraux, “For a Christian to see a classical statue as a statue and not as a heathen idol, he would have had to begin by seeing a ‘Virgin’ statue before seeing it as the Virgin”.12 In the same way, French connoisseurs of the seventeenth century saw Medieval art as primitive, religious objects with no aesthetic qualities. And even an art form such as Impressionism, which is quite aesthetically acceptable to us today, was rejected at one time because of an inability of some people to see qualities which to us are so ‘obvious’. In 1876, the French art critic, Albert Wolff, described Renoir's paintings of nudes as “a mass of flesh in the process of decomposition with green and violet spots which denote the state of complete putrification of a corpse”13 He apparently perceived the colors which were intended to describe the effects of sunlight as the physical characteristics of the body itself.

Thus, for all practical purposes, the assumptions of an elitist, universal art in recent Western culture are transformed in the paradigms presented by the cultural historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists. The paradigms of the Fine Arts and the social sciences have produced radically different kinds of objects. The same objects in these differing contexts can be perceived as something ugly and crude or as beautiful, well crafted forms suitable for aesthetic contemplation. An object can be employed as a viable, religious object or destroyed as a heathen or heretical abomination. Others are seen as expressions of a free, natural people or as products of an authoritarian society. A painting can be the description of a natural phenomenon or the symptom of the decadence of nineteenth century art. In effect, objects are taken from one paradigm and transferred to another, and this new context, this new reality, gives them another kind of objectivity. These incongruent paradigms compete with each other for acceptance, and their competition undermines the notion of a coherent Western art world.

One result of this paradigm competition has been a major shift in the value hierarchy of Western art. The application of these values is no longer limited to unique, high status paintings and sculpture. All kinds of objects from any culture or historical period have come to be perceived as valuable within the context of a broad, cultural relativity. But, rather than being considered as significant in terms of their original function within their own cultures and judged accordingly, such objects have been converted by Western connoisseurs into aesthetic, Fine Art forms. This consequence of cultural relativity has been what Milton Albrecht calls “cultural myopia, commonly known as ethnocentricism”.14The concept of aesthetics, originally developed to justify nineteenth century Western art judgments, has become globalized into an all encompassing, universal aesthetic quality which could be found in the products of all cultures. What become important are not social or cultural meanings, but rather certain formal relationships, arrangements of line, form and color, what Clive Bell called “significant form”. According to this paradigm, the primitive arts of Africa do indeed have such aesthetic characteristics as much as the masterpieces of Cezanne and Michelangelo. Thus, the assumption that art was a self-sufficient entity separate from utility and social function persisted and re-asserts itself in reaction to but in defiance of the evidence from the different disciplines. All art objects, whatever their original function within the societies which created them, are removed from their original contexts in temples and cathedrals and placed in art museums. Objects designed for use in fertility or burial ceremonies, family totems, even cooking pots and war weapons, become art treasures to be contemplated for their aesthetic values. The masks and fetishes which were crude and ugly in the old paradigm become beautiful, meaningful and valuable in the new. How the African perceived them was quite incidental. A whole range of objects other than traditional paintings and sculpture are collected, stolen and displayed to appeal to the tastes of ‘sophisticated’, connoisseurs. In effect, almost any kind of object can be perceived as a work of art.

Many in the arts are threatened by this aesthetic universality. They feel that this relativistic paradigm is oblivious to the ‘obvious’ superiority of the great works of Western culture. The sculpture of Michelangelo, they would maintain, is far superior to anything produced by a tribal artist. They thus reject any notion that the social sciences can or should have any impact on our perception of the arts. It is apparent, however, as we have seen, that, for better or worse, .paradigms of the social sciences have transformed the realities of the Western art world, albeit without actually having been adopted by it. These paradigms have in fact resulted in a radical redefinition of what we call ‘art’. Art history now includes courses in the arts of non-Western cultures and the study of many kinds of previously excluded objects. A major part of art literature analyzes aesthetic qualities which were ‘non-existent’ or ‘invisible’ just a short time ago. An art historian of the last century would not recognize much of the discipline he helped create.


In a very real sense, then.- what inter-disciplinarians have called “shifts in perspectives” are more than a neutral means of revealing new aspects of a given, objective world. Such ‘shifts’ are often paradigm conflicts, requiring a choice between alternate and often incongruous-realities. What makes such competitions especially disruptive is that they are often a reaction to probably irresolvable controversies in the non-academic world. A good example of such a controversy can be found in the conflict between the traditional assumptions of an absolute, universal art which we have just been discussing and the conceptual structures of sociology. The study of Western Fine Art in terms of cultural hierarchies, institutional structures, conflict theory, statistical surveys of taste preference, etc. may appear to be objective and neutral, but in fact such study can be very threatening to traditional art values. Within these contexts, the ‘noblest achievement of a nation’s soul’ is transformed into products designed to satisfy the social and aesthetic needs of several particular but overlapping taste groups. To many sociologists, the Fine Arts, rather than being universal, reflect the taste of a very small, cultural elite.

Until recently, there was no conflict between traditional art values and the paradigms of the sociologists. The development of the study of Popular Culture has changed all that. Several years ago, Russell Lynes distinguished Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Lowbrow levels of taste in Western society.15 Although since that time, some sociologists have discerned a diffusion of these levels, Herbert Gans still distinguishes a hierarchy of five overlapping taste publics and cultures - high culture, upper middle culture, lower middle culture, low culture and quasi-folk low culture.16 Generally speaking, this culture hierarchy tends to polarize itself into a conflict between the paradigms of traditional high culture Fine Art and Popular or mass culture. High culture sees art as the greatest, longest appreciated achievements of its most creative artists; popular culture sees art as contemporary entertainment which appeals to most people. To high culture, the product of popular culture is ‘kitsch’. Kitsch is sentimental, manipulative, predictable, vulgar, unsophisticated and superficial. To popular culture, the product of high culture is overly intellectual, effeminate, snobbish and superficial. Critics of popular culture such as Dwight Macdonald, Hannah Arendt, and in the arts, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, see popular culture in one way or another as a threat to Western culture itself. They maintain that popular culture is undesirable because it is mass produced by entrepreneurs for profit, that it debases high culture, produces spurious gratifications, is emotionally harmful to its audience, and even that it encourages totalitarianism by creating a passive audience.17 Critics of high culture, such as Gans, David Reisman and Daniel Bell, find that high culture reflects the taste of a very small, upper class, elitist group an Art World. This Art World consists of what Tom Wolfe satirizes as “approximately 10,000 souls - a mere hamlet! -restricted to the beaux mondes of eight cities".18 Within this context, high culture does not reflect ideas or values which are of any importance to the majority of people, and those who enjoy the works of Norman Rockwell and paintings on black velvet have just as much right to their taste as those who enjoy Leonard da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and the Conceptual artists. Supporters of popular culture argue that high culture today is an attempt to restore an outdated, elitist order at the expense of an existing cultural democracy. They see high culture as an elitist distortion of history which is oblivious to the real past and present conditions of workers, peasants and minorities.19

Kitsch critics such as Harold Rosenberg blame the new status of popular culture on the impact of “certain social scientists”. Rosenberg says, “...the chief effect of writings like those of Leites, Reisman, Rolo, and others is to add to kitsch an intellectual dimension”.

One of the grotesqueries of present day American life is the amount of reasoning that goes into displaying the wisdom secreted in bad movies while proving that modern art is meaningless. Yet it is nothing less than the intellectualization of kitsch, in which the universities, foundations, museums play their part, that make the concert of popular media into such a tremendous social force against the individual in this country, as in the Soviet Union. If only popular culture were left to the populace! Certain social scientists have a good deal to answer for in this respect. They have put into practice the notion that a bad work cleverly interpreted according to some obscure method is more rewarding than a masterpiece wrapped in silence. ...Cultural anthropology pays better than literary criticism, even than New Criticism.20

As long as the trend toward democratization and popularization of culture continues in the Western world, it is highly unlikely that this controversy between high and popular culture will be resolved, at least not in terms of the ‘perspectives’ of the present participants. As we have seen, the conflict involves confrontation between incompatible assumptions and beliefs about the value and function of art. These assumptions and beliefs derive from different social traditions, and they appeal to different social groups. In short, although superficially the high and popular culture paradigm appears to be different aspects of the same phenomenon, an entity called ‘art’, they are in fact about quite incongruous realities. It is also apparent that such paradigm conflicts not only involve irresolvable academic controversies; they also reflect intense, ongoing confrontations in the world outside the university.

Another example of the disturbing impact of the sociological paradigm on the operating paradigms of traditional Western art is found in the feminist critique of art and art history which developed in the 1970’s. The feminist critique bases a major part of its argument in terms of a conception of the high culture ‘Art World’ as a social institution. For example, this ‘Art World’ requires that its members have certain skills and perform appropriate functional roles. Artists create products of social value; museum personnel and gallery dealers present such products to the public; art historians, critics, and reviewers evaluate and publicize these products by buying them, contemplating them and reading about them. Art as a social institution consists of technical systems, educational systems, and disposal and reward systems. And the art institution also serves to maintain the cultural values of its particular public.21

The recognition of this institutional paradigm threatens the traditional explanations of the generally low status of women in the history of Western art. The art historian, Linda Nochlin, raises the issue by asking the question, “Why have there been no great women artists?”22 This question has been answered by searching for unappreciated women artists to prove that it really isn’t so, as Germaine Greer has done in her new book, Obstacle Course, or by contending that there is a different sort of greatness for women artists, an unrecognized feminine style which emphasizes traditionally unacceptable forms, materials, and colors or qualities. Some have suggested that women are more inward turning, more delicate, less aggressive, etc. For anti-feminists, the answers may run from an assumed ‘scientifically proven’ demonstration of genetic inferiority (women are supposed to lack that ‘golden nugget’ of creative genius of the great artist), to wonderment that “with all those years of equality, women haven't achieved anything of significance in the arts”23 Such contentions are obviously open to question.

A more reasonable answer to Nochlin's question is offered by the institutional paradigm, Nochlin suggests quite simply that if we study the system for training artists used during the last several hundred years, we would find, for example, that women were not allowed to draw from nude models and that, therefore, they were prevented from developing the skills necessary for high achievement. Within the traditional art history paradigm, the education of the artist was taken for granted and not considered significant enough to study seriously. On the other hand, the education system of the art world becomes a very important component within the feminist institutional paradigm.24

The institutional paradigm reveals other information about women in the Art World which was ‘invisible’ in the traditional paradigm. For example, in the traditional paradigm, the unexamined assumption was that artists were men. In all the literature about art, the artist was a ‘he’. Women were just not expected to play that role. Women were not taken seriously in art schools, as exhibitors in art galleries and museums, nor were they reviewed adequately by art critics. Works attributed to women were considered to be worthless both economically and aesthetically, although the same works attributed to men might be quite valuable. Although there were exceptions, women suffered psychologically from a lack of self-esteem because of such discrimination.

The recognition of the implications of this new information can cause the acceptance of the feminist paradigm or reality with possibly radical results. According to Lisa Vogel, (‘The Art World’) ordinarily assumes that a single human norm exists, one that is universal, ahistorical, and without sex, class, or race identity, although in fact it is quite clearly male, upper class, and white”.25Nochlin writes,

…the white Western male viewpoint, unconsciously accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian, is proving inadequate. At a moment all disciplines are becoming more self conscious - more aware of their presumptions as exhibited in their own languages and structures - the current uncritical acceptance of ‘what is’ as ‘natural’ may be intellectually fatal... A simple question like ... “why have there been no great women artists?” can, if answered adequately, create a chain reaction, expanding to encompass every assumption of the field, and then outward to embrace history and the social sciences or even psychology and literature, and thereby, from the very outset, to challenge traditional divisions of intellectual inquiry.26

Not only can paradigm confrontations and transformations be a response to conflicts in the non-academic world such as those involving the feminist movement. The acceptance of a new paradigm by a discipline, or even a faction within it, can change the whole popular conception of the social value of that discipline sometimes resulting in major revisions of public funding policy. The psychological paradigm in the Art World as an explanation for the creation and appreciation of art had just this sort of impact. The traditional romantic image of the artist, well established by the nineteenth century, already reflected a strong psychological component. According to Longman, “He (the Romantic artist) is eccentric, anti-social, misunderstood,

alienated from society, creature of imagination, temperament, inspiration. He is often melancholy, impassioned, irrational, lyric, escapist.”27 During the next several years, many concepts of art and art style were based on then current psychological assumptions about subjective experience and expression. But although such psychological paradigms continue to play a role in the explanation and justification of art, the last thirty years has seen a major expansion of their influence. The creation of art now is no longer perceived as being neither primarily a function of professional artists nor its appreciation a skill of sophisticated connoisseurs. If one is to give significance to recent events, art has become democratic, a psychological need of all human beings.

Within this new application of the psychological paradigm, art becomes the potential product of any individual's internal process of creativity and expression rather than a cultural achievement. Society, the impact of everyday life, is seen as a constraint on one's self-realization. Everyday life builds up frustrations, causes the accumulation of pent-up energies. We tend to repress our instinctual desires, building up tensions which can be released in socially acceptable ways through art activities. The creative process thus becomes a sort of spontaneous problem-solving, and because we reveal so much of our unconscious selves in our visual expressions, art

can also be a means of personal insight. And along with this universal human need for expression, we also require aesthetic experience, sensitivity to the art of others, and to our environment, to achieve total self-realization.

Thus, within this popularized psychological paradigm, not only great artists and connoisseurs, but all persons have the potential to achieve satisfaction and fulfillment through creative and aesthetic experiences. Artistic activity is good for everyone. It is good for the emotional growth of children, provides relaxation for tired businessmen and escape for housewives and mothers, and fills the time of senior citizens. It can be a diversion, entertainment and therapy. Art is no longer the special province of a high culture elite. It is no longer identified solely with the creation and study of Fine Art. The psychological paradigm has created a new social function for art.

Art has in fact become identified with values previously confined to education and religion. According to Ronald Berman, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, this transformation in the definition of art has resulted in a major change in its constituency. He writes that the arts have now taken on a bureaucratic shape and political identity. Because art is defined as being socially useful, it is now largely funded by public and private bureaucracies. The ideological and political implications of such new patronage are obvious. Art becomes a political commodity. There is assumed a direct connection between the appropriation of funds and the resolution of one or more social problems.28Berman writes:

The social functions of art (under consideration by Congress) were emphasized in their variety, the debates suggesting that art displaced adolescent violence and anomie, encouraged craftsmanship, discouraged crime, and offered new opportunities for employment. Art was an alternate to drug addiction, an auxiliary to prison rehabilitation, and a solution to the problem of old age. Exposure might relieve inner-city tensions and possibly improve the tone of the adversary culture. Most appreciated of all was the effect of art - or the distribution of funds in its name - on regionalism. Hundreds of associations sprung up under the influence of federal support of the arts, and they were necessarily connected with the economic life of congressional districts.29

A result of this definition of art as creation and expression is that any activity can be considered creative. Pie-making, sewing, crocheting, ashtray-making and boat model making achieve the same status as the creation of major works of art because the same kinds of personal experiences seem to be involved. “Art is whatever is done, whether crafts, hobbies, or simply the display of intentions. It is an enabled form of middle-class entertainment.”30 Distinctions

of quality tend to be rejected because they are undemocratic. We are all artists with the right to make our own determination of what we like. Creativity no longer means high achievement or great works. “What it now means is an attitude about the self; and it belongs not to aesthetics but to pop psychology.”31

According to-Berman, another result of this psychological definition of art is that Art becomes the ‘arts’. Public funding makes little distinction between “twenty different activities from dance to folk crafts. It ranges from the-subsidy of the housewife who played piccolo in Leadville, Colorado, immortalized by a Committee on Appropriations as the ultimate object of Federal patronage, to the subsidy of the Metropolitan opera.”32

We have illustrated how the traditional assumptions of the Fine Arts have been radically transformed by paradigms derived from sociology and psychology. We have shown that these transformations occur not only in reaction to issues in the world outside the university, but also can have a profound influence on that world. Conceptual transformations then are not neutral occurrences isolated in an academic world; they are products of dynamic and disturbing confrontations between conflicting 'realities' in the non-academic world as well as

within and between disciplines.


What are the implications of this conception of disciplinary confrontation? First, interdisciplinary education does not imply the elimination of disciplines in favor of some amorphous curriculum reflecting a seamless reality. Some kind of disciplinary structure is necessary, if only because disciplinary paradigms are all that we can accept as being ‘real’. We could in fact have no intellectual knowledge without them. In this sense, each discipline has its own contribution to make to interdisciplinary education. The paradigms of the social sciences can broaden our understanding of the arts, but cannot give us the insights we get when we perceive or create art. For the artist and art historian, psychologist and sociologist, there is no question as to the reality or significance of what they do. In this sense, also, it may be that the study of the Popular arts is as legitimate as the study of the Fine Arts, and programs designed to meet the creative and aesthetic needs of the public are as justifiable as a traditional Fine Arts curriculum. In the same way, courses on women in art are included in Art History sequences. In so far as these kinds of study develop viable concepts, their integrity should be maintained.

Any disciplinary structure, however, creates divisions of reality, and therefore all curricula are artificial. All disciplinary structures tend to be conservative, protecting their own integrity. Although they offer an opportunity for intellectual insight, they also set limits in that they can structure only selected phenomena, and therefore isolate and encapsulate ‘segments of reality’. But the realities of disciplines are not absolute. They change in time, and as we have shown, incongruous realities compete for the same territory, threatening stability and predictability in the world. The danger continues to be that, in such situations, disciplinary and interdisciplinary conflicts are most likely to be resolved, not by conceptual transformation by which various disciplines inform one another, but rather, as usual, by academic politics.

A second implication of this conception of disciplinary confrontation is that although interdisciplinary curricular models can contribute to an understanding of knowledge structures, they are difficult to employ in the solution of problems having to do with the revision of inadequate curricula. The reason for this is that such interdisciplinary models are paradigms in their own right based on assumptions about the disciplines they intend to integrate. As a result, these interdisciplinary models themselves become much like new disciplines, having as their content theoretical constructs of disciplinary perspectives and methodologies. As such, they can serve to discern paradigms which cross traditional boundaries between disciplines, such as those of methodology and content in psychology and sociology, and thus are useful in clarifying the overlapping nature of such disciplines. However, they are likely to be oblivious to the kinds of paradigm conflict which we have been discussing, as well as to their psychological and social impact. For this reason, curricular models cannot be imposed on-faculty as a solution to the problem of disciplinary conflict any more than any other paradigm can. As might be expected, such imposition would probably be perceived as another threat, as a totalitarian force with inscrutable or ulterior intentions.

Thus, interdisciplinary curricular models cannot be instituted without the creation of faculty anxiety and tension. Disciplinary integration can occur only in the minds of individuals. As we have indicated in this paper, such conceptual transformations require the recognition and acceptance of new assumptions and paradigms, a conversion of beliefs about the nature of reality and cannot be forced. Interdisciplinary integration requires not only that we be knowledgeable in our own area of specialization, but also curious about those of others. We must be able to see relationships between the realities presented by disciplines and the reality of our own personal world. We must always remind ourselves that what we do as members of a discipline is really part of a much larger non-academic world. We must be able to accept relativity, incongruity and contradiction, because, as we have shown, they too are obviously a characteristic of our knowledge of the world. Any interdisciplinary curricular model must encourage the clash of paradigms, and therefore be in a constant, ever-changing state of becoming, evolving out of its inner dynamics, rather than because of an imposed external structure. If interdisciplinary integration is to occur, it will be as a result of such open confrontation, and in spite of the limitation of any disciplinary curriculum.


  1. Meyer Shapiro, "Style" in M. Philipson (ed.), Aesthetics Today, Meridian Books, 1961,'p, 81. 
  2. James Ackerman, “Style” in J. Ackerman and R. Carpenter, Art and Archaeology, Prentice Hall, 1963, p.164.
  3. Ibid., p. 170.
  4. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962, pp. 62-63.
  5. Jonathan Miller, The Body in-Question, Random House, 1978, p. 199
  6. E. H. Gombrich, 'Art and Illusion, Pantheon Books, 1961, p. 83.
  7. Ibid., p. 5.
  8. Harold Osborne (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Art, Oxford U. Press, 1970, p. 78.
  9. Paul Oscar Kristeller, "The Modern System of the Arts," quoted in Milton Albrecht, "Art as an Institution," in Albrecht, Barnett, and Griff, The Sociology of Art and Literature, Praeger, 1970, p. 17.
  10. Quoted in Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Flore, The Medium is the Message, Bantam Books, 1967.
  11. Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence, Doubleday, 1953, p. 608.
  12. Ibid., p. 53.
  13. Quoted in French Impressionists, Abrams, 1953.
  14. M. Albrecht, op. cit., p. 17.
  15. Russell Lynes, The Tastemakers, University Libraries, 1954, pp. 310-33
  16. Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture, Basic Books, 1974, pp. 75-94.
  17. Ibid., p. 19.
  18. Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, Bantam Books, 1976, p. 26.
  19. Gans, op. cit., pp. 52-53.
  20. Harold Rosenberg, The Tradition of the New, Evergreen, 1961, pp. 260-61.
  21. M. Albrecht, op. cit., pp. 7-8.
  22. Linda Nochlin, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?", in Art and Sexual Politics, Collier Books, 1973, p.l.
  23. Ibid., pp. 2-4.
  24. Ibid., p. 24.
  25. Lisa Vogel, "Fine Arts and Feminism: The Awakening Consciousness”; Feminist Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1974.
  26. L. Nochlin, op. cit., p. 1.
  27. Lester Longman, Art History Syllabus, University of Iowa, 1948.
  28. Ronald Berman, "Art vs. the Arts," Commentary, Vol. 68, No. 5, Nov., 1979, p. 47
  29. Ibid., p. 47.
  30. Ibid., p. 49.
  31. Ibid., p. 48.
  32. Ibid., p. 50.

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