Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Deborah Smith-Shank
Deborah Smith-Shank

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

September 27, 2006

Art professors from NIU, Pennsylvania launch
online peer-reviewed journal
of visual culture, gender

DeKalb — Northern Illinois University is the force behind “Visual Culture & Gender,” a new, online-only academic journal that debuted Sept. 15.

Each fall’s multimedia posting at will encourage and promote an understanding of how visual culture puts gender into context alongside age, class, race, sexuality and social units.

The brainchild of Deborah Smith-Shank, head of the School of Art’s art education division, and Karen Keifer-Boyd, professor of art education at Pennsylvania State University, also will make the most of its technological origins through embedding full-color images and even films inside the articles.

“Our primary objective is to facilitate the use of color imagery in scholarly publications,” Smith-Shank said. “This online journal is not as evolved as it will be, but we haven’t seen any other journal out there that does what we’re doing with 'VCG' right now. We really wanted to include visual essays because, although we realize that text is important, there are other ways of communicating, especially for artists.”

Smith-Shank approached Adrian Tió, director of the School of Art, and Harold Kafer, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, for support in the development of this journal. Tió and Kafer “were generous in letting me use graduate student support to make this happen,” she said.

“Karen and I are very interested in the notion of making a journal available of this quality – the quality of a very serious juried journal that doesn’t cost money to print or to access. We realize how many people have limited budgets at this time,” Smith-Shank said. “The beauty of this journal is that nobody has to pay for it. Anyone who has access to the Internet can access it.”

Visual culture is a growing movement in the art education community.

Going beyond the traditional creation of art projects, visual culture education in art facilitates students’ critical interpretation of the visual culture surrounding them. Art teachers involved strive to educate “critically responsive citizens in a democratic society capable of integrating with visual imagery both critically and comfortably.”

Visual culture includes traditional art forms such as drawing, painting and sculpture, but also encompasses television, movies, video games, toys, comic books, clothes, posters, furniture, advertising and, of course, the Internet.

“Visual culture is everywhere. It’s part of who we are as global citizens. We have immediate access to information and imagery from all over the world,” Smith-Shank said. “Our journal gives readers an opportunity to interrogate that type of visual culture within the context of gender, which is probably one of the most significant identifiers we have – and it’s under-researched.”

The significance of gender for art educators, meanwhile, involves issues of equity and social justice in the learning, teaching and practice of art.

Despite decades of feminism, Smith-Shank said, the art curriculum at many schools still avoids women artists and their angst and triumphs. Artworks by gays, lesbians and transgender people are similarly excluded, she said.

“Apparently,” Smith-Shank wrote in an editorial for the first journal, “inclusive discussion of women artists, artists of color, artists who are disabled, or who do not fit within a heterosexual and privileged discourse, is still outside mainstream academic and cultural discourse. And certainly outside most K-12 public school practices.”

Smith-Shank and Keifer-Boyd advertised for submissions through listservs and in other academic journals “that would be tangential in visual culture and gender issues, such as women’s studies and queer studies.”

Some articles in the 2006 issue include:

  • “A Korean Female Artist, the Pioneer Hae-Seok Rah”
  • “How ‘The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944’ (GI Bill) Impacted Women Artists’ Career Opportunities”
  • “Survival and Rebellion: Recovering Ula Stöckl’s Feminist Film Strategies”
  • “Thank Heaven for Little Girls: Girls’ Drawings as Representations of Self”
  • Book review: “Judy Chicago’s ‘Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours’ ”

The article on Stöckl has a film embedded in the PDF; the review of “Kitty City” is packed with art by Judy Chicago from the book.

“The imagery in this journal is so rich. While a journal on art is necessarily scholarly, it should also be visually engaging,” she said. “We don’t know where the technology is going to be next year, but we’re going to be at the forefront. We’re trying to be a leader in the ways we present scholarship.”

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