Children’s Ethnoaesthetic Responses to a Turkish Carpet: A Cross-cultural Study in Three Cultures…Turkey, Japan, and the Navajo Reservation

Dr. Mary Stokrocki. Arizona State University

Published (2001). Children’s ethno-aesthetic responses to a Turkish carpet: “A cross-cultural comparison Study in three cultures,” Journal of Art and Design Education (JADE), 20(3), 320-331 {Published in England].


Through exploratory art criticism, children learn to focus their vision, develop new viewpoints, and exchange ideas. I encouraged children in Turkey, Japan, and on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona, United States to explore dimensions of my Turkish carpet. I discovered similarities and differences in their ethnoaesthetic responses, a group's beliefs and ideas on art and how and why they respond the way they do. The exercise in art criticism began with description, analysis and interpretation questions that served as a springboard for sharing technical information, symbolism, and cultural stories. The paper ends with generated insights not generalized conclusions about changing ethnoaesthetic meanings and values in traditional cultures.

Anderson [1995] advocates a cross-cultural approach to art criticism for focusing vision and ideas, developing several viewpoints, and building bridges for exchanging contextual meanings and values. Art criticism is a process of systematically discussing a work of art in order to understand it more fully {Feldman, 1970]. I add the term ‘exploratory’ because many children have never participated in an art criticism discussion and their experience is one of intense looking and sharing of discoveries. Smith [1973] uses the term ‘exploratory criticism’ as ‘those techniques and procedures that are helpful in realizing the aesthetic value of works of art’ [p. 40]. His procedure includes description, analysis, characterization, and interpretation, but I left out the characterization part due to lack of time. Although I avoided the category of judgment, the children raised related issues. Anderson [1995] suggests that we use whatever approach is comfortable.

During art criticism, many contextual and ethnoaesthetic insights emerge. Ethnoaesthetic insights those that show how different people view an artwork [Hamblen, 1990]. Contextualism is the belief that the meaning and worth of art is determined by the social context in which it is made and used. Anderson [1995] argues that contextual examination is the most significant part of cross-cultural criticism. In ethnoaesthetics, ‘art is studied as being integral to the value systems and meanings ascribed by the creators and users of art’ [Hamblen, 1990, p. 224]. A group grounds its aesthetic ideas in the cultural context in which it makes is choices and designations. Hamblen [1990] adds, ‘Such inquiry need not include the dimension of critical consciousness [p. 225]. Through art criticism, I further explore and compare the children’s ideas and ethnoaesthetic values, a group's beliefs and ideas on art and how and why they respond the way they do [Johnson, 1978].

Theoretical or Methodological Framework

I chose these sample contexts for comparison because of their long textile cultural traditions. The Turks and Navajo are famous for their woven rugs and the Japanese for their embroidered kimonos. All three contexts still practice weaving. Throughout the paper, I have linked the imagery to the respective culture’s symbol system; for example the Navajo cosmos of the weaving process—“the horizontal yarns represented land, the vertical yarns meant rain, the zigzag ones denoted lightning, and the beater tool symbolized thunder” [Reichard, 1934].

The method behind the research is qualitative, specifically participant observation, a systematic process of data collection, content analysis, and comparative analysis that is interpretive and internally consistent (Stokrocki, 1997, Stokrocki, 1991). For data collection, I recorded student responses by hand and audiotape during 50-minute art sessions in these contexts. The teachers served as translators except the Navajo context because students could speak English.
During the content analysis, I searched for frequent students’ answers by coding them on a spreadsheet to chart similarities and differences. The focus is on the verbal account and not the numbers. Some answers, such as their story interpretations were so unique that they have emotional or symbolic signification—the Navajo weaving cosmos. Mason [1991] presents as qualitative research as one of understanding the meanings that humans attribute to their actions and the many meaning that may exist within the social setting

Next, I compared responses to the review of the literature from previous ethnographic studies, such as Turkish students [Stokrocki, 1999] and Navajo students [Stokrocki, 1994]. I uncovered additional student meanings with the help of translators, to point out contextual factors that we may have forgotten, didn’t know, or overlooked [Stokrocki [1997]. The interpretive process is one of logical questioning, followed by good conjectures and refutations of incorrect meanings (Stokrocki, 1997). Finally, I sent the study of the three groups to colleagues and other experts for comments. Because the research is highly interpretive and limited to these classes, other researchers and/or readers may deduce different meanings. However, the research generates theory, not generalizes about it, broadens our insights, and presents rich sociocultural meanings that are valued for themselves (Stokrocki, 1997, p. 34).


The Turkish context was Ankara, Turkey in which I worked for a national education development project in 1996. Together with my colleague, Olcay Kirisoglu, Head of the Art Department at Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya, we experimented with trial lessons in the schools She chose a school and class with which she had close contacts. The class consisted of 28 fourth graders, 17 boys and 11 girls, at a private, comprehensive, well-to-do school. She taught the trial lesson and simultaneously translated children’s responses. Teachers rarely ask students their opinions in Turkey, because the lecture method is the dominant instructional mode in Turkey.

In 1998 I conducted the second exploration with a class of 25 fifth graders in Many Farms, Arizona, which is a Navajo public rural school. Students in this context have had art since first grade and have had some art criticism discussions with their art teacher, Isabel White. I led the art criticism session and Isabel encouraged students to tell more about their own cultural ways.
Colleagues encouraged me to conduct this exploration with students from other cultures. Since the Japanese had a long textile tradition, I decided to try art criticism at the 1998 InSEA conference in Tokyo. I e-mailed World Councilor Norihisa Nakase and his assistant Keisuke Ohtsubo for help in selection of a school. They chose a class of ten fifth students [6 female and 4 males] from Aoyama Gakuin Elementary School [a private Christian School]. While Mineko Kashimura, an English teacher, translated the questions and responses, their art teacher, Keisuke Ikeda, photographed and encouraged students. The Japanese middle school curriculum is mostly studio-oriented; ‘two-thirds of the teachers offer art history, but only 20 per cent offer art criticism’ [Davenport, 1998, p. 8].
Both Turkish and Navajo peoples had a nomadic life style. Both traditionally rode horses, raised sheep, and wove textiles. The Turkoman traveled across parts of Asia and settled in the country now called Turkey. Many other tribes also settled in the region [Yoruks, Kurds, Baluks, to name a few]. Some people still migrate; others settled into agricultural life; still others moved into the cities. The Navajo originated from Northwest Canada and settled in the Southwest section of the United States to lives of husbandry. They learned more about weaving from the Spanish, who acquired special weaving techniques from Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey [Kluckhohn & Leighton, 1962]. Both groups valued clothing, horses, sheep, tools for weaving, and ceremonial things.

The Japanese, on the other hand, protected by the sea, tended toward isolationism. Buddhist tradition slowly infiltrated Japan. After World War II, commercial influences from the USA increased and Japan became more aggressive in world trade. They still value their old traditions, especially embroidered kimonos, while incorporating new ones, such as punk fashions.

Descriptive Findings

Each art criticism lesson began with a class discussion led by guiding questions and some alternative answers. In order for students to have a valuable experience [looking at the artwork], they need to know what to look for [Mittler, 1980]. In all classes, I introduced the art criticism experience as ‘a treasure hunt’ [Hewett & Rush, 1987]. My intention was to model the art criticism method for teachers as well as to document results. I told students that we needed their help to interpret clues and find treasure hidden in the carpet. We used my traditional kilim, a handmade, tribal, sumak carpet, made by a double warp method of weaving that consisted of silk, cotton and wool yarn from Diyarbakir, East Turkey [Figure 1]. Akilim has a flat weave rather than a knotted or raised pile. I used this type of Turkish carpet for art criticism because it is portable, does not require a copyright, and is a traditional art form.

Turkish students were very eager. When asked to describe the carpet, one student immediately declared that it was ‘cok guzel,’ meaning very good or beautiful. They jumped into the judgment stage, so we thanked them and wrote that comment on the board for later discussion. Navajo students in contrast seemed more shy, especially the girls, but participated with insightful responses. Initial shyness shows respect for elders. Japanese children spent more time looking at the carpet details and waited for clues than the other groups did.

When asked, ‘What do they see’ all students described generic animals: four-legged creatures, birds, and insects. Turkish children specifically described swans, camel, and sheep. Navajo children, being mostly rural people, found a chicken, turkey, horse, and cat. They also discovered a familiar Navajo animal--the coyote, which was not on the carpet. Japanese children also mentioned birds and added their familiar wild animals, such as a hawk, deer, and fox. All groups identified ‘peacock images,’ probably because of their distinctive feathers [Figure 2].

Turkish and Japanese students described diagonal lines and geometric shapes as frequent, while Navajo children found spider and sun shapes. Navajo children named the all-over repetitive pattern as ‘stars,’ while Japanese children pointed out the same repetitive block pattern as a ‘five pointed dice.’ Turkish and Navajo children analyzed the carpet’s design as a ‘cross’ pattern. In the Turkish class, Olcay asked students ‘What do you call this shape or letter that overlaps it?’ and she traced its outline. One student answered, ‘an ‘X’ shape.’ ‘Yes,’ she praised and gave another clue, ‘Where do the lines turn?’ At first, no one could find this secret path. One boy then went up to the carpet and showed us how the inner line moves in a right diagonal, then a left, followed by another right, at the bottom. He then drew a zigzag pattern on the board. The Navajo student in contrast identified a sun and spider design. The sun and spider are two of the Navajo’s most important cultural symbols [Reichard, 1934]. Japanese children also reacted to symmetrical design but their most insightful answer was ‘turtle-shaped design.’ Mineko explained, ‘Japanese children love them as a symbol of longevity and effort from the tale of the rabbit and turtle.’

Turkish and Navajo children described the carpet’s sensory delights, namely the texture as ‘wool and bumpy’ [Figure 5]. I directed them to touch the carpet and its ‘raised’ surface that is made by wrapping yarn around threads on the top layer, similar to embroidery. I then told them to touch the white background areas and students found it ‘smooth.’ I told them that those yarns were made of silk. The Turkish students knew nothing of silk and worms that are cultured in Bursa, Turkey. I then gave one student in each of the groups a magnifying glass to look closer at the fibers. They were surprised to see so many different yarns. When we asked them to smell the carpet, the Navajo children recognized the‘musky’ animal odor. The Japanese children at first felt a ‘smooth’ surface and one boy explained that ‘the way you run your hand across the carpet makes a difference’--a perceptive distinction. The carpet can feel smooth or rough depending on stroke direction.
Colour attractions were mostly literal. Turkish students immediately noticed and then announced the literal colours of red and white, which are in the Turkish flag. Japanese children pointed to the carpet’s three central medallions as ‘red suns.’ Turkish children also interpreted the color blue as water. Navajo children named the major colours as red, white, and blue, which are the colours of the United States flag. Japanese children found red, navy blue, and white as basic colours. Mineko suggested that children associate ‘navy’ blue with the colour of their school uniforms. All children felt colours were ‘heatlike.’

When I asked to interpret the meaning of the carpet or the story behind it, a few children in all three cultures immediately identified it as Noah’s Ark , which anthropologists allege was discovered on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. Even though Turkish children are mostly Muslim and Noah was Jewish, children know about this legend of an earlier cultural heritage. One Turkish boy mentioned that the ark served to protect the animals during the great flood. One Navajo boy also knew about the story from his Bible lessons. Some Navajo children are Catholic, Presbyterian, and even Mormon. The Japanese children, surprising to me, were from a Christian school and learned about Noah from their religious studies. One Japanese student also told the story of Aesop and the sly fox. The interpreter added that the children also knew the story of Aladdin and his Magic Carpet.
When students identified symbols, they revealed the most ethnoaesthetic insights. Olcay asked Turkish children, for example, to tell her about the symbols and what they meant. She said, ‘Symbols were images that stood for something else--very special.’ She asked what the centre symbols in the rug meant and students answered, ‘a famous temple, a jewel, a confusing street [pattern], and a puzzle.’ One student announced, ‘It's a yin-yang symbol.’ Such answers are typical for most students at this level, but knowledge of the ‘yin-yang’ symbol shows that this Turkish student has been exposed to Asian cultures.

Navajo children interpreted carpet forms as their own special protection symbols, such as mountains and Yei gods. Japanese children answered ‘magical spell, phoenix-bird of fire, chess sign, and the Egyptian sun god Ra.’ Answers revealed their own important cultural signs and exposure to other cultures, such as Egypt and China. Children generally did not understand colour symbolism. Only the Navajo children mentioned that ‘yellow represented corn pollen for protection.’

When asked for the carpet’s purpose, all groups referred to the function of the carpet as a form of protection. One Turkish student mentioned that a carpet protects the floor. The Navajo children, who used the word ‘protection’ at least five times, revealed that the carpet protects people inside their homes from the cold. Traditionally they hung the carpet in the doorway, a method also used by the Turkish Yoruk people. Japanese children only mentioned ‘to put by fireplace.’ When I asked why there were so many borders, they responded ‘to protect the animals.’

Students also immediately identified symbols in the carpet’s border for protection. Turkish students knew that the hooked-shaped sheep horns were protection signs [Figure 3]. The hook image meant ‘connection’ to the Japanese children at first and then they mentioned seeing shields-- positive/negative medallions. Japanese children identified other border symbols, such as a wall, ax, haystack or teepee design. Navajo children called crossing diagonal forms, ‘butterflies.’
All groups were surprised to hear that the other major border symbols were hair ties [not butterflies] for a young girl about to be married. A row of hair tie symbols is located between the hook borders [Figure 3]. Navajo girls, for example, knew that traditionally a maiden’s hair is tied back as she marries, but they failed to make the connection here. We told students that in its own culture the carpet also promoted fertility as well as protection. Following this explanation, Japanese children interpreted the major carpet medallions as the wife, husband, and priest in the middle.

The Weaving Process

Turkish and Japanese students were unfamiliar with the weaving process but Navajo children knew the steps, dyes and meaning. Turkish and Japanese children didn’t know how to weave when asked. Olcay demonstrated the process by drawing the simple warp and weft and woven [over and under] lines on the blackboard. When asked how to weave, some Japanese children mentioned ‘a needle’ and ‘from the bottom up.’ They had to be coached through the yarn directions. Evidently, urban students are not aware of their earlier weaving traditions.
The Navajo children in contrast listed all the weaving steps and named sources of natural dyes: onion, yucca, and blueberry. When encouraged by Isabel, they explained the Symbolic Navajo weaving cosmos: the horizontal yarns represented land, the vertical yarns meant rain, the zigzag ones denoted lightning, and the beater tool symbolized thunder. They learned all this from their native heritage culture teacher. Japanese children also knew some natural sources of dyes: fruit seeds, strawberry, cherry, red pepper, eggplant, grape, and prune. They also mentioned oxblood, an important colour used in mixing glazes as well.

All groups seemed fascinated with new technical and natural knowledge; for example, the colour blue came from the indigo plant--one dye source of their blue jeans. The idea of a dye that comes from a dead bug, called cochineal, raised some boys’ curiosity. The cochineal is an American insect that thrives on cacti. A brilliant red dye is released from their bodies that become scarlet when pulverized and dried. Fortunately, the Navajo have a great respect for insects. Carpet traders exchanged cochineal and Chico blue dyes with Middle Eastern countries [Reichard, 1934].
Since one Turkish student initially judged the carpet as beautiful, I later asked, ‘Why is it beautiful?’ Turkish and Navajo students responded to the multiple patterns and fine hand-made quality. The Japanese and The Navajo students mentioned ‘multicoloured’ as important. Keisuke Ohtsubo also explained the significance of peacock beauty to the Japanese child. He stated, ‘This bird is one of the most popular animal in a zoo. It is easy that little children look at it, and they are interested in its spread tail. They call, ‘How beautiful’ whenever they look at its colours. It is safe to say that most of the children agreed with the Turkish student’s assumption that the carpet is beautiful and no student disagreed.

One Japanese child added, ‘If the carpet is old, it wouldn’t be here.’ He understood the value of age. Another child said it looked ‘expensive’ [no reason given]. I informed them that carpets with the most knots per inch [indicating density and tightness] were worth more. Students then began counting the knots through a magnifying glass. After five minutes, they gave up because they couldn’t find the fine knots as well. I encouraged students to look for errors. They pointed out mismatched stripes, animals without legs, or too many colour changes within a pattern. Children learned that the fine knots and mistakes in the carpet [added to the carpet’s value, namely its authenticity. Similar to the Muslim, The Navajo also deliberately add mistakes because only the Great Spirit can create perfection [Personal correspondence with Navajo art teacher, Alan Jim, 11/7/98].

All groups responded well to the idea of a ‘treasure hunt.’ The Japanese children immediately responded to finding gold, the hidden treasure in the carpet. Turkish students responded to the ‘golden’ yellow colour later. The dye was made with ‘goldenrod’ flower. Navajo children responded to the yellow or golden colour as ‘sacred corn pollen,’ another protection symbol. We told students that the colours change in the day or evening light. In some Turkish tribal carpets, a maiden will actually weave some golden threads as part of her dowry. Finally, I asked students to look along the edges for something that was not yarn. Turkish students immediately found the glass eye treasure, called a nazarlik, a protection symbol [Figure 5]. A predominant Turkish custom is to attach these on gifts, on children’s clothes, on cars, and over house entrances. The idea of the glass eye as protection left Navajo children curious. The Navajo were familiar with the Mexican symbol of ‘god’s-eye.’ The Japanese children called it a ‘jewel made of glass.’ All students learned that it was a protection charm to ward off evil spirits, especially the evil eye of envy. Some children, however, were afraid of the eye.

One symbolic treasure that evolved seemed so special. One little Navajo girl pointed out her own treasure in the carpet and called it, ‘the tiny stars that light up the sky.’ The Navajo value stars as a natural treasure, especially at night and when one is lost. Her cultural treasure topped mine.
When I asked students what they learned, they had many things to say about symbols, colours, and stories. In all contexts, children mentioned the ‘bug and indigo colours.’ Students also formally announced that they were thankful for this experience. Many said that they ignored carpets before, but now will look more closely.

Deeper Significance

First encounters with exploratory art criticism can be successful treasure hunts with the involvement of local art teachers as translators, who interpret and encourage revelation of changing contextual values. Similar to Stout [1995], who used older children, our elementary school students were attracted to subject matter [animals and birds-peacock], theme [stories-Noah’s Ark], formal elements [literal colours and cross, ‘x-shape,’ and radial designs], and symbols [dice, phoenix, coyote, weaving cosmos]. Students discussed qualities that I overlooked [for example, running your hand in different directions over the carpet produces different textural feelings.
Cross-culturally all children are very fond of stories about animals. The value of symbolic protection, as in the story of Noah’s Ark, was dominant in all three cultures. In their testing of Navajo children nearly five decades ago, Leighton and Kluckhohn [1947] reported the frequency of such related subject matter in the Navajo children's free drawings. These subjects included ‘landscapes [38 per cent], dwellings [17per cent], and animals [11per cent],’ especially horses and eagles. In contrast, not all children in Turkey know about Noah’s Ark because some Islamic fundamentalist regions of Turkey may withhold this information.

The significance of certain colours is also cross-cultural phenomenon. For example, yellow or gold seems to be nearly a universal value. Gombrich [1963] explained that gold is a perceptual attraction in that it gleams and provides light, similar to the sun. He finds it spiritual, ‘a metaphor for the divine, almost universal in religious art’ [p. 16]. Keisuke elaborated upon its importance, as seen in the red-gold phoenix. He explained, ‘A phoenix is the imaginary bird whose image was imported from China in ancient time. It has the meaning of the eternal life and good news. In Japan, it is usual that its gold coloured form is printed on a letter of commendation.’
The colour ‘red’ also seems to also be cherished and frequently used. Keisuke Ohtsubo interpreted, ‘The red sun is the motif of our Japanese national flag. Many Japanese children [especially children who are 3-10-years-old] are apt to draw the red sun in their landscape.’ Mineko also reminded, ‘Japan is the country of the rising sun.’ The Turkish people also use red, an important flag colour, symbolizing revolution from their Ottoman rulers. People in the United States take-for-granted their patriotic colours and flag. Not till we step into another culture and look through their eyes, do we understand the value of meanings, hidden in such symbols. Garth, Ikedo & Langdon [1931] earlier discovered that Japanese children preferred the colour red, then blue and green, and least of all yellow. The red colour has patriotic and heraldic significance that is rooted in a history of bloodshed [oxblood] for Japanese and Turkish children alike.

Other cultural meanings evolved after correspondence with teachers. When Japanese children initially pointed out dice in the carpet, I regarded the symbol as obvious but not significant. Later, Keisuke Ohtsubo explained the importance of dice to Japanese children. She said, ‘The traditional dice game namedSugoroku is very popular among Japanese children. Dice is the familiar tool of playing for them.’ The symbolic importance of dice also denotes chance and good fortune.
Children across cultures seem also respond to radial forms, such as spiders or the mandala. The mandala is the first form that they master after the scribble. The radial form presents harmony. For example, Native Americans find circular or radial designs highly significant organizational structures [Stokrocki, 1996]. Douglas [1935] wrote, ‘Indian art . . . is based on the three great foundation stones of rhythm, balance, and harmony’ [p. 397]. Although radial designs are too difficult for children to construct in weaving, Navajo women supposively borrowed the ‘eye-dazzler,’ diamond-shaped designs, from the Turks [Witherspoon, 1997/1981.
Some results also may reveal cultural stereotypes; for example, when a Turkish child named a triangular design as ‘teepee,’ one of the dominant stereotypes foreigners associate with Native Americans in the United States. Olcay also felt that copying Turkish traditional patterns only inhibited the development of creative motifs. She insisted that traditional Turkish motives are a springboard to more contemporary solutions. Furthermore, certain Navajo stories, such as [coyote legends, are seasonal and only discussed only in the wintertime. The Navajo are just as curious as others to borrow what they find beneficial, such as techniques are and images are [Gilprin, 1968]. The young adapt to new ways, many with eagerness, choosing occupations sympathetic to their inclinations, while others prefer to continue their traditional way of life [Stokrocki, 1994].
Perhaps it is not fair to compare the responses of urban and rural students, but I find that urban students may be unaware of rural traditions and vice versa. Mineko clarified this problem. She explained that such carpets in Japan would be expensive and the Japanese don’t know how to make them, but they enjoyed learning about other’s traditions. In their quest to modernize, cultures may be losing their traditions. In addition, by investigation differing ethnoaesthetic traditions, I can develop richer questions to broaden our understanding.


Cross cultural comparison of children’s ethnoaesthetic meanings through art criticism offers descriptive insights about the scope, level, and limits of children’s understanding of their own and other aesthetic traditions. They may initially respond literally and experientially, but their understanding can become cross-cultural; for example, when they share similar meanings about symbols and stories. Significant is their association of animals with Bible stories and fables. Children seem fascinated with such new discoveries as bug & indigo dyes, authentic mismatched designs, the glass bad-eye treasure. They also tend to appreciate what other children have to say, for example, the Navajo explanation of the weaving cosmos. Thus, ‘kids teach kids.’ Videotaping is a more direct way of cultural communication, but equipment may not be available, broken, forbidden, or uncomfortable for both teachers and students.
Teachers also may encourage students to compare the carpet’s stylistic differences, such as realistic versus abstract quality and animal imagery [Barrett, 1997]. Teachers also need to include art historical evidence as well [Erickson, 1994]. Turkey is now documenting carpet makers to preserve their historical meanings [Glassie, 1993].
Through art criticism, children explore their own and other ethnoaesthetic ideas that they may not have known or have forgotten. Art criticism can be a springboard for the discussion of different art historical and aesthetic ideas. These brief encounters weave past ethnoaesthetic ideas with present cross-cultural ones in a small way. In such discussions, everyone learns. Alasuutari [1995] points out that the meanings of artistic endeavors reach out beyond their original contexts and demonstrate ethnoaesthetic relationships between aspects of the phenomenon. We can also use such everyday art forms to teach cultural tolerance and to consider the divergent opinions of others. White [1998] may question whether such teaching is related to neopragmatic aesthetics, that is, that we study artworks historically and live it [art criticism] conversationally’ [p. 20]. Even though beautiful things, such as carpets, may surround us, they will lose their value if we don’t bother to explore them carefully or share their meanings with others. Art forms, such as carpets, may protect our floors, beautify our houses, but they also nurture our souls.

Biogaphical note
Mary Stokrocki, Professor of Art Education at Arizona State University, received her EdD from Pennsylvania State University and MS from Massachusetts College of Art, Boston. She is a re-elected World Councilor for InSEA and former President of USSEA, the United States Society for Education through Art. She won the following NAEA Awards: Manual Barkan Award (1995), the Women's Caucus Award (1992) for outstanding performance in research, teaching, and leadership, and the Pacific Region Higher Education Award (2000). She spent a year as a curriculum consultant in Turkey for their National Higher Education Development Project, sponsored by the World Bank and managed by the British Council. Correspondence address: Arizona State University, School of Art, Box 871505, Tempe, AZ 85287-1505 USA; E-Mail#


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List of Figures

We used a traditional kilim, a handmade, tribal, sumak carpet [a double warp method of weaving] made of silk and cotton and wool from Diyarbakir, East Turkey].
All groups identified ‘peacock images,’ as this Japanese girl did, probably because of their distinctive feathers.
A Turkish student knew that the hooked-shaped sheep horns were protection signs Turkish students knew that the hooked-shaped sheep horns were protection signs.

Navajo children described the carpet’s texture as ‘wool and bumpy.’

Turkish students immediately found the glass eye treasure, called a nazarlik, a protection symbol.

Notes and References

I uncovered student meanings with the help of translators, to point out contextual factors that we may have forgotten, didn’t know, or overlooked through microethnographic methods [Stokrocki, [1997]. .I recorded student responses by hand and audiotape during 50-minute art sessions in three different contexts. Conversations evolved from a systematic method of exploratory art criticism: description, analysis, and interpretation [Mittler, 1980; Smith, 1973; Feldman, 1970]. Anderson [1995] suggests that we use whatever approach is comfortable. Since this was the students’ first art criticism experience and they did not know the researchers, we used a loose, evolving approach to questioning. I then coded student responses of the three groups of students, Turkish, Japanese, and Navajo on a spreadsheet to chart similarities and differences. Next, I compared responses to the review of the literature from my previous ethnographic study of Turkish students [Stokrocki, 1999] and Navajo students [Stokrocki, 1994]. Finally, I sent the study of the three groups to colleagues and other experts for comments.

I offer special thanks to participating students, teachers, and reviewers for suggestions.