Obituary: Vincent Lanier, 1920-1997

Obituary: Vincent Lanier, 1920-1997

MacGregor, Ronald N

Vincent Lanier is no longer with us, and we are all the poorer for it. As news of his death on August 31 spread throughout the art education community, many of those huge numbers who had known him personally, as well as those who were acquainted only with his writings, must have paused in whatever they were doing, to recall individually what he had meant to them, and to the field. Had one been able to bring those individual memories together in a composite image, it would have shown Vincent as a man in whom content and style achieved a particularly effective synthesis.

Vincent Lanier was one of the first generation of post-World War II art educators, that now legendary group who shaped the field as we know it today. After wartime service in the U. S. Army, he completed masters’ and doctoral degrees at New York University. He taught for a time in and around New York, then moved to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in 1954. He spent 12 years there, leaving to take a position at the University of Oregon. As professor and for a time, Head of Department there, he took an active role in building up the graduate program during the ’60s and ’70s. Then, in 1982, came the final move of his professional career, to the University of Arizona. He retired in 1988.

In the course of his career, Vincent contributed significantly to several dimensions of art education research and scholarly activity, and acquired an impressive number of honors and distinctions. He was Director of the Uses of Newer Media in Art Education Project, one of the early contracts awarded by the U. S. Office of Education in the 1960s, and a harbinger of the expanding interest since taken by the field in film, video, and ultimately, computer technology. His 1969 article, “The Teaching of Art as Social Revolution,” anticipated by more than a decade the postmodern direction of attention to those whose voices are ignored in the dominant culture. He was a keynote speaker at the 1980 NAEA convention in Atlanta; the third person to present a Studies in Art Education lecture; a winner of the Manuel Barkan Award for excellence in scholarly writing. He was a reviewer for Studies, and editor of “Commentary,” that portion of Studies given over to debate in print. In 1991, he was awarded the rare opportunity, by the National Art Education Association, of collecting some of his ideas in a monograph which, with characteristic humor, he chose to call The World of Art Education According to Lanier.

Those who knew Vincent, however, will hardly be satisfied with a catalogue of his accomplishments, for it fails completely to capture the spirit in which these events were conducted. Vincent’s often-expressed dread that art education might one day sink under the weight of its own complacency, led him to write a stream of provocative articles designed to stir things up: “One Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures” (1969); “The Misdirected Eye”(1978), “A Plague on all your Houses: The Tragedy of Art Education” (1975). The insistence on moral accountability on the part of the profession which is explicit in these articles, and the flurry of dissent that they often produced among teachers and academics alike, led Vincent at times to think of himself not only as a maverick, but as someone marginalized by the field. That this was clearly not the case could be documented at any NAEA convention, where he would install himself in a chair in the lobby, and a steady stream of friends, admirers, and critics too, would stop by to chat and exchange greetings. The success of a convention hotel was, for Vincent, proportional to the comfort and quality of its foyer armchairs.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to be graduate students at Oregon recall the warmth, kindness, and hospitality that Vincent and Dee extended at any and all times. The martinis were literally breathtaking, the conversation was always animated, and not always fixed on art education. Vincent loved British detective fiction, and continental movies; though, to be truthful, the poster of Sophia Loren that hung on his office door for years was there for reasons as much aesthetic as cinematic.

Vincent’s immediate family includes his wife Dee; their children, John, Peggy, and James; and two grandchildren, Renee and William, who will miss their grandfather’s ability to carve masonite animals for them on demand. His influence extends internationally, and he is cited, quoted or referred to whenever issues about the field are raised. So though it’s time to say goodbye, Vincent, you live on in some way in all of us. You once said that it isn’t enough to be human; one must become humane. In this, as in so much, you led by example.

Copyright National Art Education Association Winter 1998

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