What is considered new or contemporary art in Iran was not born in a vacuum. To reach a deeper understanding of what new art is, the history of artistic mentalities and institutional training must first be examined.1 This is not because art necessarily reflects received and existing ideas, but rather because one way that new art is created is through the revision of past mentalities: through opposing existing modes of art-making, a new regime of art-making is generated. One such example is what we know today as the “new art,” or honar-e jadid in Farsi. For the most part, the past mentalities to which new artists responded are traceable not through the work of a single artist but by examining the collective practice of a group of artists. In this essay, an interrogation of Seeing Studies, a book presented at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel in 2012, reveals how a new art emerged in Iran through a critical revision of existing approaches to art instruction at Iranian schools.2
The arguments presented in this text move in two parallel directions: In the first, I offer a critical analysis of the strategy employed in Seeing Studies by a cohort of new artists who have analyzed the history of mentalities related to art education in Iran. In the second, I offer an alternative approach to understanding the historical mentalities behind the art textbooks used to instruct school students. Compared to the approach of Seeing Studies, my analysis is more historically contextual and considers the transformation of art textbooks in Iran in over the last forty years. The textbooks that are the subject of both my study and the analyses offered in Seeing Studies were essentially state publications uniformly and centrally produced by the Iranian Ministry of Education as instruction manuals for middle and high school students throughout the country. If we agree that each artwork is a small part of a broader history of contemporary art in Iran, then the two paths presented in this text reveal the latent and hidden impacts that the art textbooks used in schools had on the formation of the mentality of the artists who pioneered new art in Iran in contradistinction to the mentality of those who came before them.
Following the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Ministry of Education did not introduce a single textbook for art instruction in schools. In 1981, the Ministry of Education created a council that was tasked with publishing the first art textbook. In September 1982, almost two years after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), the council published its first art textbook: a book, according to its authors, that aligned with the goals of the Islamic revolution (1979) and Iran’s status in an imposed war. As a person born in 1980, my childhood and teenage years were plagued by the economic crisis caused by the war and international sanctions. During the war and in the years following, there were times when the Ministry of Education was faced with a paper and raw material shortage that prevented the publication of school textbooks. Consequently, the publication of art textbooks became the last priority. Once the school year began, it often took several months before art textbooks were distributed to students, usually months after math and science books had been delivered. These delays, along with teachers’ disregard for art textbooks, strongly conveyed the message to students that art lessons and art books were of little necessity and importance. Hence, students spent their time in art classes playing under the watch of their teachers’ indifferent gaze.3
For this reason, when I saw the book Seeing Studies in Tehran in 2011, the year it was published, I was haunted by the question of why a seemingly unimportant book like an Iranian art textbook would be translated and examined as part of a project presented at dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012. The editors’ goal, mentioned on the book’s back cover, hinted at the answer to this question:
Seeing Studies investigates the ways we learn “to see.” Departing from a schoolbook that — published by the Iranian Ministry of Education to teach art to students in the seventh grade at Iranian public middle schools — this bilingual publication (English/Farsi) embarks on a collaborative journey, visiting different “schools of seeing.” The Institute for Incongruous Translation has invited contributors and interlocutors to make proposals to the problems posed by dissonant visual languages. These proposals take shape as words, pictures, numbers, objects, practices, and concepts — in sum, things “coexisting” in multiple configurations. Tenuous relations are drawn up between things as they take up positions in relation to a problem. Throughout this voyage, seeing is understood as a radical and expanded process of translation. The process applies as much to the visual as to the spoken, heard, or written and involves additions and subtractions, neither congruous nor correct.4
What is interesting about this blurb is that the authors shift the emphasis away from the art textbook itself (and questions such as why they have chosen this particular textbook as the subject of their investigation) and instead prioritize the process of translation. Inspired by an essay by philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” (1923), the editors of Seeing Studies identify their project as “incongruous translation.” Furthermore, by bringing together several contemporary artists from Turkey, Lebanon, South Korea, and Iran, they make it clear that “incongruous translation” is more important to them than the historical specificity of the context in which art textbooks are produced in Iran. However, since the majority of Seeing Studies is based on images of a specific textbook,5 the inherent and, in my opinion, unnoticed problem in the Seeing Studies project is that the participating Iranian artists unwittingly consult one of the less important editions of art textbooks from Iran, while ignoring the historical context in which this particular edition was initially produced. For the Seeing Studies editors, the question of translation is more important than historical specificity. They present this particular art textbook to a group of new artists (the students of yesterday and the artists of today) and ask them to “make proposals to [address] the problems posed by dissonant visual languages.”6 Therefore, the subject of their investigation becomes the manner in which the project’s participating artists “make proposals.” As the outcome of their project testifies, most of these proposals demonstrate that the new artists wholly undermine Iran’s art education system: not only do they ignore the complicated history of art instruction in Iran, they also turn a blind eye to its impact on their own practices.
A close examination of how Iranian artists responded to the Seeing Studies project shows that none of them, unlike their non-Iranian counterparts, express any sort of interest, concern, or even nostalgic sentiment toward the art schoolbook. Each of the Iranian artists convey their apathy and disregard for the textbook in their own way. One of them substitutes new art exercises for those included in the textbook as a kind of revolt;7 another artist covers the textbook’s rosy lessons with pictures of weedy flowers and bushes found in the deserts surrounding Tehran. Instead of concerning himself with the textbook, a third artist completely ignores its existence and describes a recollection of his art teacher, attaching no significance to the textbook whatsoever.8 Another compares her paintings to The Cat and the Canary Cage by Kamal-ol-Molk,9 one of the most famous paintings in Iran, while yet another replaces the traditional motifs printed in the book with her own layouts and motifs.10 The editors combine parts of different books, articles, and images that were collected during the research process with pictures taken from the textbook.11 The textbook’s traditional section is calligraphy, in which there is no room for innovation. Two artists respond to this section, which has not seen any kind of alteration in the last forty years. The first artist expresses his inner feelings by combining typography, calligraphy, and drawing;12 the second has a written conversation with her graphic teacher and calls this work Soliloquy.13
In this manner, the art textbook presents an opportunity for a generation of young Iranian artists to propose critical responses to Iran’s art education system by means of an international event such as documenta in Kassel, Germany. However, a historical analysis of the modifications that have been made to art textbooks over the past forty years reveals that the edition translated in Seeing Studies is significantly different from those published during the war, particularly from an educational perspective. Through examining the historical evolution of art textbooks in Iran, it becomes clear that the invitation for artists to “make [a] proposal” in the Seeing Studies project is very similar to the method used in the war-era art textbooks. While this method was removed from the later, postwar art textbooks, Seeing Studies still follows it as a model. Similarly, Seeing Studies dedicates a chapter called “Spoken and Heard”14 to the experiences of various artists working in film and photography, which is also in accordance with the war-era textbooks. After the war, film and photography lessons were removed from art textbooks; the Art and Textbook Compilation and Production Council explained the decision for this as follows:
In-depth studies show that the basic training and solid foundations of this field, in most countries of the world, is the same as those of visual arts. No attempts to teach and define other fields of art [meaning cinema, theatre, and photography] in the primary stages of education have been made in any of these countries.15
It is not clear which countries the authors refer to and what exactly they mean by “in-depth” studies. However, the fact remains that fundamental changes to art textbooks were determined by the council’s policymakers and their perception of art’s functionality. The modifications went beyond the elimination of the aforementioned lessons. During the war, art textbooks emphasized socially engaged art;16 however, two years before the war ended, the subject matter gradually became restricted to decorative and traditional arts. This is why no trace of socio-politically engaged art is to be found in the translated textbook that appears in Seeing Studies: in this particular textbook, Art Instruction for the First Year of Middle School, published in 201017, art is reduced to ornament, still life painting, and calligraphy. Students were expected to merely imitate the shapes and patterns presented in the textbook, and no regard is shown for the capacity of students to create their own images. This contrasts with the textbooks from the war’s early years, which focused on socially engaged art and aimed to improve students’ ability to make proposals and express their ideas through art.
Two years before the war ended, the collective mentality of the editorial body behind the art textbooks changed. As a result, the textbooks shifted their focus from lesson plans that helped students express their ideas about social issues to lessons on traditional arts, decoration, and imitation drawing. This dramatic change in teaching methods indicates a perception of art as a means of imitation rather than as a means of expression. The Seeing Studies project disregards this shift. If it was of any importance, the project’s objective, as mentioned on the book’s back cover, wouldn’t have been “seeing studies” in a passive way — but it could serve as a prelude to the efforts taken by the new generation of contemporary artists to express their ideas. This is exactly where the contradiction of the Seeing Studies book becomes evident: How is it possible to transition from ways of seeing to ways of expression? The editors offer no solution to this problem, nor any instruction on how artists can deal with it.
Due to the significant changes made to textbooks between 1979 and 2010, Seeing Studies could have historicized art education in Iran by considering various editions of textbooks that have been used in Iran’s schools for the last forty years. In other words, if the research for the Seeing Studies project had been conducted more efficiently, it could have contained not just a single textbook but also a review of forty years of modifications. These textbooks manifest the ideas about art instruction that have influenced the artistic expression of a new generation of Iranian artists. Furthermore, we should note that this influence is not limited to those artists who contributed to the Seeing Studies project. There are many artists who struggled with the mentality that dictated art instruction during the war.18
Two main sources can be utilized when studying the modifications made to art schoolbooks in Iran. One source is The Teacher’s Guide for Instruction of Art, a series of books meant for teachers, which specifies educational objectives. The other source is art schoolbooks produced for students. In the remainder of this essay, I expand upon these sources by reviewing three teacher’s guides and the corresponding student textbooks. The selected guides were published in 1982, four years after the revolution, then revised in 1985 at the climax of the Iran-Iraq war, and then revised again in 1989, one year after the war ended.
In the 1982 edition of The Teacher’s Guide for Instruction of Art, teachers are advised to praise traditional calligraphy as an art that is relevant to daily life, because it is one of the arts that has, “firmly preserved itself in the face of the West’s cultural invasion. This art has managed to survive the improper manipulations that were designed, seemingly under the title of ‘modernism,’ to eradicate our nation’s cultural authenticity.”19
“Improper manipulations” refers to how calligraphy was taught in textbooks pre-1979, before the revolution. In these art schoolbooks, calligraphy training meant that students were taught to create new figures by repeating two words or the conjugation of two letters. Through a combination of calligraphy and painting, these figures turned into something that is called calligraphy-painting in Iran (see figs. 1 and 2). However, in reaction to this method, in post-revolution textbooks, students were directed to look carefully at a word and, by practicing classic principles, simply imitate or represent it. Consequently, “modernism” in calligraphy, as presented in pre-revolution textbooks, was completely removed from calligraphy lesson. In this way, calligraphy, too, came to serve the purpose of discussing social issues (see fig. series 1.3 to 3.3). Even today, art textbooks encourage students to avoid “modernism” in calligraphy. Thus, regarding the method of instruction, the only part that remains unchanged in the years since the revolution is Farsi calligraphy, although we saw how artists responded to this in the Seeing Studies project.
One newly introduced topic in the post-revolution textbooks, which had no place in them previously, was story writing as an art.20 Regarding this lesson, teachers were emphatically reminded that: “art must have a message”21; the aim of teaching art is in fact to teach “the art of living a humane life”22; art’s functionality is none other than depicting “the spiritual levels of man’s soul”23; and its purpose is the “perfection of man’s soul” by the hands of “humanitarian” artists.24 So, all messages conveyed by an artwork had to ultimately reach these aspirations, and a work of art could only be characterized as such if its expression was of these qualities. The 1982 textbook began with photographs and paintings without any kind of descriptive text.25 These images depicted scenes of war and revolution, and in the exercise section, students were asked to look carefully at the pictures and narrate what was happening in them to their classmates (see figs. 4.1 to 4.3). The 1983 schoolbook’s very first lesson was in fact a warm-up exercise intended to lead on to the last lesson, which was unsurprisingly titled “The Message of Art.”26
“Committed art,” described as socially engaged art, was another focus of this textbook. According to the book, committed art in Iran could be traced back to ancient times, while social art was part of modern art history. In this way, the authors of the textbook taught students that artists from centuries ago evidenced their commitment to religion through tile work, which is why this form of art is deemed committed art. In these lessons, Islamic artworks were introduced as the conveyors of “the message of Islamic culture,” and in the same vein, it was concluded that a new art must spread the message of revolution (see figs. 5.1 to 5.17). In this manner, and in accordance with the post-revolution conditions, communicating a message through art and defining the principles of committed art as a noble means of doing so became the new subject matter of art textbooks.
The first book in a second series of guides meant for school teachers and art educators called Art Education Programs Guidance for School Teachers was published in 1985.27 According to this book, teachers were not only supposed to drive home the importance of conveying messages through art but were additionally responsible for paying attention to their students’ awareness of political situations. In a chapter about student assessment, teachers were advised to evaluate students on “whether [they] had any clue about the social, political, cultural, and artistic conditions in their country (or region),”28 in addition to assessing their creations. Surprisingly, no explanation was given as to what a satisfactory degree of political awareness was, which meant that the book was able to distance itself from the dominant education policy of the Islamic Republic government — a distancing that, in retrospect, can be considered as a positive development for this edition of art schoolbooks. Throughout the book, especially in the lessons on posters, collage, and designing tools for modern life, emphasis was put on the students reaching a “new [level of] artistic expression” (see fig. 6). Collage was described as a way of “transferring a message,” while teachers were cautioned that an artwork’s message should not simply be the “expression of beauty” (see fig. 7).29 The lesson on drawing was designed to help children and teenagers become familiar with new tools; the objective was to acquire a better understanding of objects by drawing them, and the example provided was drawing a weapon. The author suggested that teachers, in coordination with military authorities, provide students with the opportunity to have real weapons as models (see fig. 8). The lesson on poster-making focused on teaching students how to use “local-Islamic motifs”30 to convey messages in posters (see fig. 9). The techniques taught in this lesson have been widely practiced by the then new generation of Iranian graphic designers.
In 1985 and 1986, the paradigm of art textbooks was teaching a new form of artistic expression with a very short history: a lesson titled “The Signs in Revolutionary Arts”31 (see fig. 10), aimed to help students understand the meaning of signs in contemporary artworks. The 1986 edition’s reference to new art can be defined as “revolutionary art” that consisted of more than just painting and calligraphy. Students were now encouraged to make their posters with thoughtful consideration of political signs (see fig. 11); this contrasted with the practice of art recommended in the revolution era, in which art preferably had a rapid creation process. The lesson titled “War” described war’s representation in traditional Iranian arts and prompted students to creatively represent the Iran-Iraq War. The only guidance that students were given was in the form of a question: “Is it possible for today’s fighters to go to war and still use ancient weaponry?”32 In response to this question, students were invited to study the picture of a Soviet-made Katyusha rocket launcher (see fig. series 12).
In the years following the revolution, authors of art textbooks reserved a place for a revolutionary mural to demonstrate art’s functionality in contemporary life. This lesson focused on the mural’s importance as an artwork, underlining the fact that the mural had become a new artistic phenomenon following the victory of the Iranian Revolution, and students now had the chance to practice creating murals on their school walls (see figs. 13.1 to 13.3). In addition to choir, the revolutionary mural was a primary method for generating solidarity and encouraging the collective creation of artworks. Students engaged in debates to find a proper subject for their murals and recited poems in harmony to practice their choir lessons. In a teacher’s guide of 1983, the inclusion of choir lessons in the art program was justified as boosting “knighthood” morale.33
According to instructions provided for art teachers, messages conveyed through revolutionary art should be straightforward, without ambiguity, and applicable to all walks of life. Accordingly, a lesson titled “Symbolic Meaning in Revolutionary Art” presents a collection of readymade signs and symbols. However, it is important to note that at the same time, that is, during the Iran-Iraq War, the very same artists who were initially prominent figures in the field of revolutionary and committed art — artists who contributed significantly to the formation of pictorial symbolism in revolutionary and wartime art — were already rejecting their previous practices and deciding that art should not convey a straightforward message. These artists, among whom painter Nosratollah Moslemian is a representative figure, moved away from their earlier revolutionary works and began creating abstract paintings. Their new work, despite appearing to be indifferent to social issues, demonstrated a critical response to the official ideology of violence and warmongering. It did so by substituting revolutionary symbolism with lyrical abstraction, a lyricism that stood against the harsh reality of violent war (see fig. 14.1). Hence, for artists like Moslemian, who had already changed their style of visual expression in this period, wartime art textbooks were passing down the teachings of an already dated art with explicit and straightforward revolutionary ideals.
The objective of these lessons was to train students’ ability to express themselves artistically rather than imitate what they saw, which is why these lessons did not directly reveal what the presented signs meant or how they should be interpreted. However, the meaning and interpretation of these signs had already been imposed on students: all over the streets and throughout daily life, children were exposed to them (see fig. 14.2). Nevertheless, by leaving students room for interpretation, their engagement with socio-political matters was impacted.
For a decade after the revolution, the important issues regarding art education were printed in the introduction of art schoolbooks in the form of a diagram. This diagram, which was based on an octagram, an eight-pointed star — a motif from Islamic art — focused on two elements that had no direct relation to the arts: environmental conservation and art’s role in culture, politics, science, and the professions (see fig. 15). The art textbooks of this period provided methods for contemplating modern life, rather than prioritizing art instruction. As to environmental conservation, the very beginning of the 1985 schoolbook Art Instruction for Fourth and Fifth Grade suggests that one should use disposable materials like old newspapers or cardboard boxes instead of “spend[ing] money on paper,”34 which can additionally be interpreted as a response to pre-revolution consumerism.35 The text goes on to describe a few techniques for making paint, or even a brush, out of materials found in nature (see fig. 16).36
The chapter on theater draws attention to the subject of the environment in addition to the topics of revolution and war (see fig. 17). In this chapter, students were asked to prepare a play in which the characters demonstrated an axe’s antagonism toward a variety of trees and vegetation in a forest. The play was to show a discussion between the axe and the trees about the forest’s destruction. Whenever I look at the picture of the students in the textbook, I am reminded of pseudo-Brechtian plays performed in Iran’s drama colleges. Although the school textbook fails to mention Bertold Brecht’s name, it is clear that in the years following the revolution, the only acceptable knowledge on modern theater was his work. In the referenced picture, the student looking directly at the camera seems to be distancing himself from the photographer overlooking the stage (see fig. 18).
Until approximately ten years after the revolution, the lessons in art textbooks were primarily intended to encourage students to think about and respond to their surroundings. In these lessons, ideological issues were not explicitly referenced. Instead, students were asked to ponder over the historical situation, life in general, and methods for creating artwork. As it was pointed out in these schoolbooks, the art most needed in contemporary times was “the art of living a humane life” while training to be an “artist human being.” In other words, teaching the “ways of becoming an artist” was not prioritized.
Like theater and storytelling, the topic of cinema has been completely omitted from textbooks during the past twenty years. In the textbooks of the 1980s, however, it was presented through a number of images of the war, the revolution, the daily lives of rural people, and natural landscapes. In various lessons, students were invited to think about and interpret these pictures in creative ways. In one exercise, students were asked to study select images and describe them in story format; however, while they were instructed to narrate Iran’s contemporary history by juxtaposing these images, the images themselves lacked any kind of explanation. The lesson provided a sort of instruction on assembling a montage of concepts as a modern artistic expression. Given that director Sergei Eisenstein’s films were repeatedly screened and his books were readily available in Iran’s post-revolution climate in the 1980s, this cinema lesson seems to be an attempt to teach students Eisenstein’s method of montage (see figs. 19.1 to 19.8).
These lessons were undoubtedly inseparable from the ideological propaganda that was being spread in a revolutionary country involved in war, but could anyone have possibly predicted the results they would have? Here, prediction refers to how well students’ responses to the pictures and their juxtapositions of the cinematic images aligned with the ruling ideology. The insistence, traced above, on finding new visual expressions, with an emphasis on interpreting texts and images, was solely based on a belief in the ideologically pre-formed minds of children. Lessons and exercises of this kind in wartime schoolbooks invited students to participate in a free discussion of the presented images. But there was no guarantee that students would regurgitate the government’s desired interpretation of the war or the revolution. It was very possible that a student’s understanding of this assignment could result in them expressing a strong disagreement with the war instead of sanctifying it, which was the lesson’s main objective.
However, students being able to light-heartedly reflect, interpret, and explore art textbooks did not last long. A year after the war’s end, a newly published teacher’s guide announced a vastly different policy. In The Method for Teaching Art: Exclusively for Art Teachers, published in 1989, the following description characterized art as a mechanism used to tame students’ inner beast:
For students aged between 12 and 14 years, when boys experience rapid physical growth and girls undergo a physical transformation, we witness significant behavioral dissimilarities that, if neglected, may lead to a variety of outbursts. Generally speaking, students at this age are fond of movement and mobility, they like to be acknowledged for social tasks, and enjoy it when adults respect their “personalities.” At this age, they are well aware of responsibilities and look for opportunities in which they can display their “selves.” Therefore, their work must be patiently examined. Encourage them increasingly and warn them gently and kindly that their work should be tamed in a way that defies description … . Dear colleagues, pay attention to the fact that most teenagers on the verge of puberty lack equilibrium and a sense of realism. Despite being highly ambitious and enjoying a boldly heroic character, they expect ceaseless admiration and compliments from adults; they can hardly tolerate guidance and criticism and are extremely irritable.37
These words might sound meaningless if not read in the context of the historical evolution of art textbooks in Iran, and could be interpreted as the scribblings of a bored, unhappy teacher to their colleagues. On the other hand, when we refer to them in the historical context of art education, it becomes clear that they should not be ignored as superficial phrases. In the postwar era, there was no longer a need to push students to interpret pictures or to uplift their heroic sentiments. In the books published after the war, the topics that were once based on interpreting contemporary life and aimed at advancing students’ artistic expression were reduced to “displaying the self.” This shift implies that postwar art education methods were intimidated by, if not afraid of, the results induced by wartime pedagogy. With the war over, students were tasked with simply observing and imitating their surroundings instead of using their brains, creating artworks on school walls, improving their teamwork skills, painting and making collages using disposable materials, designing posters, or improvising plays.
In the 2007 textbook that was translated for Seeing Studies, there is no longer any emphasis on thinking, interpreting the surrounding world, juxtaposing images, and other techniques that enabled new outlets for expression. Importantly, these modifications were applied to the textbook some ten years prior to the publication of Seeing Studies. The postwar era is known in Iran as the time of “construction,” which describes reconstruction efforts and the implementation of a program of economic development after the ruins of war. During this time, art as a subject was not linked to thinking about the world and analyzing it, nor was it open to criticism or inclined to create environments where students could express their opinions freely.
The method that the Seeing Studies book follows, of inviting contributions from contemporary Iranian artists based on an emphasis on the free expression of ideas, is similar to the one employed in the wartime art textbooks and the lessons that were later removed from them. Both provide artists with a platform for sharing their ideas. As mentioned above, while art textbooks insisted on explicitly using art for the purpose of communicating a message, or even sloganeering, some artists turned to the creation of abstract works instead of those with directly revolutionary connotations. This shift can be understood as a critical response to the status quo and the propaganda art that was favored by the art education policymakers (see figs. 20 and 21).
Moreover, it must be said that the artists who participated in the Seeing Studies project were mostly unfamiliar with the wartime textbooks. Some of these artists were subconsciously drawn to the same methods that were taught in the earlier textbooks, while others linked their artistic participation to socio-political issues by choosing a style of expression or strategy that was the absolute negation of the translated textbook.
We can refer to the strategies used by two artists in the Seeing Studies book to evidence this claim. Firstly, the seventeen lessons by Homayoun Askari Sirizi, presented in the chapter “Remedial Exercises,” four of which are as follows:
Now that you have learned to draw geometrical shapes … try to draw images of shells, bombs, and rockets. …
Paint the difference between a landscape of cut-down trees and a landscape without trees. …
To become better acquainted with Islamic art, ask your teacher. …
You can use one of the slogans of the Islamic Revolution, but pay attention: it should be written in reverse and afterwards printed.38
These remedial exercises may appear as a kind of mockery of the textbook if taken out of the context of the historical evolution of art schoolbooks during the last forty years. But when examined in the context of the mentalities that dictated art education in Iran, it appears as though we are faced with a desire or will to critically revise the war-era textbook, the same one that influenced the artist’s childhood years. The irony of Sirizi’s exercises is that they are simultaneously apathetic toward the postwar textbook and offer a parody of the wartime textbooks. In his proposal, the artist asks hypothetical students to go against the textbook’s logic by drawing the absence of a thing. How can you draw a picture of trees you don’t see? Figures 17 and 18 reveal the answers. By adopting this strategy, neither the wartime textbooks nor the postwar textbook are endorsed, and this may be the most conspicuous objection to methods of art instruction in schools.
A second example of the absolute negation of the art textbook is seen in Mahmoud Bakhshi’s response. He recounts a memory of his schoolteacher — a teacher who was herself a painting student at university and paid no attention to the schoolbook because, as it reads in Seeing Studies, she believed in creation and not imitation in art. In fact, his teacher was of the conviction that the wartime book’s method was much better than that of the postwar one.39 (Actually, if the teacher was a painting student in the 1980s, she would have been familiar with the books mentioned in this article.) This is why she encourages her student, Bakhshi, an artist-to-be, instead of imitating, imagining the moment when Sohrab Sepehri, the apolitical so-called modernist painter and poet, bought ice cream for all the kids on his block. Tracking Bakhshi’s work following the Seeing Studies project, we see that his reflections on the textbook’s teachings become discernible in his work, including the very speech bubble and the sentence, “art means blowing the soul of commitment into human flesh,” which used to sit at the top of the textbook’s opening page until the 2000s (see fig. 3.2), when a memoir took its place (see fig. 22). Incredibly, this same sentence, which was written on city walls by amateur artists during the war years (see fig. 23), was now placed in a garden next to Tehran’s National Museum of Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense in the form of a work by Bakhshi called Talk Cloud (2013) (see fig. 24).
By comparing the art textbooks from two periods of fundamental change in Iran, the conclusion can be drawn that new or contemporary art is always a threat to the country’s art education system. This threat has caused policymakers to engage in a continuous process of revising the methods of art instruction. The Seeing Studies project compiled a number of proposals made by contemporary Iranian artists and presented its findings at dOCUMENTA (13). Despite the book’s similarity to war-era art textbooks in the way it encouraged artists to make proposals, it provides an opportunity to examine new art’s perpetual threat to art instruction in Iran. The outcome of this examination shows that the interrelation between new art and the education system is at times unpredictable. New art is often ambiguous, occasionally suspicious, and periodically obscure. This is why speaking in riddles, unlike in revolutionary art, became the primary form of expression in new art.
Translated from Farsi.
1 The history of mentalities is historical research aimed at describing and analyzing the ways in which people think about and interact with the mentalities of a given period. It helps us to consider the attitudes of ordinary people, not just professional artists, toward art and its function in everyday life. See Peter Burke, “Strengths and Weaknesses of the History of Mentalities,” in History of European Ideas 7, no. 5 (1986): 439–51.
3 The archive of art textbooks that I managed to collect during my research for this essay were found mostly at centers where papers and books were brought to be recycled. Some of these books were completely intact and in mint condition. Compiling a complete archive of art textbooks has not been a priority for any national collection, even for the National Library of Iran. Some of the books I found are not included in any library catalogue.
4 Haghighian and Sepahvand, Seeing Studies, back cover.
5 Ibid., 9–94.
6 Ibid., back cover.
7 Ibid., 100–3.
8 Ibid., 119.
9 Ibid., 142–47.
10 Ibid., 110–13.
11 Ibid., 124–35.
12 Ibid., 136–39.
13 Ibid., 159–68.
14 Ibid., 264–87.
15 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., آموزش هنر اول راهنمائی [Art Instruction for the First Year of Middle School] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1370), 7.
16 The fact that socially engaged art was taught has been credited to artist Hadi Hazavei’s membership to the Ministry of Education’s Council for Writing Art Textbooks. Following his departure from the council, the art textbook drastically changed. An account of his influence on art education in Iran demands further research.
17 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., آموزش هنر اول راهنمائی [Art Instruction for the First Year of Middle School] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1389).
19 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., تدریس هنر برای معلمان [The Teacher’s Guide for Instruction of Art] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1362), 6.
20 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., آموزش هنر برای چهارم و پنجم دبستان [Art Instruction for Fourth and Fifth Grade] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1362), 82–91.
21 Ibid., 144.
22 Ibid., 178.
25 Ibid., 5–8.
26 Ibid., 144–79.
27 Hadi Hazavei, برنامههای آموزش هنر برای معلمان [Art Education Programs Guidance for School Teachers] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1364).
28 Ibid., 50.
29 Ibid., 112.
30 Ibid., 193.
31 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., آموزش هنر پنجم دبستان [Art Instruction for Fifth Grade] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1365), 103–7.
32 Ibid., 123–24.
33 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., روش تدریس هنر: ویژه معلمان هنر [Teacher’s Guide for the Instruction of Art] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1362), 34.
34 “Method for Making Tools,” in آموزش هنر برای چهارم و پنجم دبستان [Art Instruction for Fourth and Fifth Grade], ed. Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1365), 13.
35 Ibid., 5.
36 Ibid., 15-30.
37 Art Textbook Compilation and Production Council, eds., روش تدریس هنر: ویژه معلمان هنر [The Method of Teaching Art: Specifically for Art Teachers] (Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1368), 5.
38 Homayoun Askari Sirizi, in Haghighian and Sepahvand, Seeing Studies, 101–3.
39 Ibid., 117.
Ali Gholipour, “Training the Eye. New Art Against the Instruction of Art,” in Honar-e Jadid: A New Art in Iran, ed. Hannah Jacobi (Berlin: mohit.art, 2022); published on www.mohit.art, December 10, 2021.