Critical pedagogy and visual culture art education in a cosplay-based curriculum

Connor Dyer

University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, Illinois, United States

[0.1] AbstractAlthough cosplay may be defined simply as the act of dressing up as a popular culture character, this definition fails to convey the criticality, identity exploration, and craft involved. Critical pedagogy and visual culture art education can together form the bases of a cosplay curriculum designed to promote critical thinking about interaction with popular culture and fandom, to explore the construction of identity, and to use cosplay as a form of artistic practice.

[0.2] KeywordsCostuming; Craft; Fandom; Popular culture; Studio art

Dyer, Connor. 2021. "Critical Pedagogy and Visual Culture Art Education in a Cosplay-Based Curriculum." In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35.

1. Introduction

[1.1] "It just sounds like a preteen lusting after posters of Luke Skywalker in her bedroom." Heat rose in my cheeks at this comment, and I frantically looked around for support among the crowd of my peers and professors in attendance at my critique. It was not going well before this particular comment. At the time of my fourth semester in graduate school, my work consisted of heavy and, admittedly, dated necklaces that were intended to be artifacts from a world I was creating as an expression of my interest in fantasy and science fiction fandom. The narrative I presented during the critique was in progress, and at one point I attempted to describe this world as having a "Star Wars vibe," meaning, futuristic yet old. Rather than adding clarity, my offhand comment resulted in my work and narrative being relegated to the stereotypical conception of the oversexualized, obsessed fan girl making out with posters of Luke Skywalker. Embarrassed and disheartened I abandoned this particular narrative not long after.

[1.2] The experience I described would not be the last time I encountered resistance to my fan-based art among my professors and peers. In the following semester I continued to explore the concept of fandom and cosplay through the creation of masks and hoods that combined my academic identity and my fan identity. I was often told these pieces were more interesting when I did not talk about the fandom influence integral to my work. I felt frustrated and alienated but persisted in my insistence that the fandom aspect of my work was as important as the formal qualities. My experiences brought to light a lack of acknowledgment of fan art and cosplay within the academic art world. I often felt that fan art was viewed as juvenile, boring, and derivative.

[1.3] Historically, popular or mass culture, of which fandom is a part, was regarded as a form of low culture that the proletariat engaged in because of a lack of aesthetics and taste. Fine arts, on the other hand, was a form of high culture that the bourgeoise engaged in because of its perceived originality and cultural value (Sturken and Cartwright 2018). However, the line between high culture and low culture has often been challenged. Within fine art, artists have used comics, images of celebrities, and even kitsch to redefine and challenge the aesthetics and taste of high culture. Similarly, within the discipline of art education, scholars have championed Visual Culture Art Education (VCAE), which focuses on aspects of visual and popular culture in the arts classroom. In these cases, popular culture is accepted as a meaningful form of artistic expression.

[1.4] Despite the acceptance of visual culture as a pedagogy in art education, forms of popular culture such as fan art and cosplay are relatively unexplored as art and as a methodology for teaching. My experience during an art critique shows that there are still misconceptions and dismissal of fan culture within higher art education. My purpose here is to explore the potential of cosplay as a means of student engagement in the college level arts classroom through critical pedagogy and VCAE. Using critical pedagogy and VCAE as a foundation, this curriculum will theoretically allow students to critically explore their own experiences with popular culture and how it may have helped shape their identities.

2. Cosplay as artistic practice

[2.1] Cosplay, a combination of the words costume and play, was coined in 1983 by Nobuyuki Takahashi (Crawford and Hancock 2019; Winge 2019). In simplest terms, cosplay can be defined as the act of dressing up as a character from popular culture. However, "defining what cosplay is, who cosplayers are, and understanding its history and contemporary context is far from straightforward" (Crawford and Hancock 2019, 17). Cosplay is a complex fan practice that combines the act of making and performing in a manner that is unique to each cosplayer. For most cosplayers, the act of cosplay does not begin when they first don their costume and enter the convention space. Rather, cosplay often entails first choosing and researching a character. Then the cosplayer engages in the time-consuming act of crafting the costume, which can involve learning new skills and working with new materials to fully realize a costume. During the act of wearing the costume, cosplayers negotiate and combine their identity with their interpretation of the character's identity (Winge 2019).

[2.2] In order to develop a studio art curriculum that centers on the craft and performance of cosplay, it is useful to describe cosplay in terms of studio art practice. Cosplay is undertheorized as a form of studio art in both fan studies and art history. Crawford and Hancock's book Cosplay and the Art of Play (2019) comes the closest to discussing cosplay in terms of fine art by relating the act of cosplay to the act of painting. Cosplay is described as being similar to painting because both are "performative and slow processes; developed overtime, usually by a solitary individual, but ultimately designed to be consumed by an audience" (Crawford and Hancock 2019, 72). Relating cosplay to a legitimized form of studio art practice reveals the potential to begin to see cosplay as a form of legitimate studio art practice. To do so, the act of cosplay can be related to studio art through craft practice and performance art, which entail acts of labor to create objects or moments. Similarly, cosplay is also an act of labor that produces objects (the costume) for the purpose of creating moments during fan conventions.

[2.3] Craft practice and cosplay share similar processes in terms of designing and crafting a finished product. Constructing costumes and props for cosplay is a labor-intensive act of creation and craft that is as technical and time consuming as the creation of a professional theater costume (Hansen 2018). Hansen (2018) points out that both cosplay and theater costuming engage in "research, swatch, choose materials, pattern, build a mockup, and do fittings" (38). However, unlike the costume designer or theater technician, the cosplayer has full creative freedom over all aspects of the project, including choice of character. After determining the character to be portrayed, the cosplayer designs a costume that mimics the character's appearance, including the clothing, hair, and props such as weapons, wings, or other objects.

[2.4] Once a costume has been designed, the cosplayer selects the materials best suited to realizing the costume. This is usually determined by the type of costume (e.g., armor, style of dress, types of props) and the budget of the cosplayer. Cosplayers use a variety of innovative materials such as ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, leather, a variety of fabrics, spray foam, and silicon to craft highly detailed costumes. In order to create the costumes, cosplayers learn skills like sewing, prop making, leather working, and design. In the same way jewelers, sculptors, and painters learn the skills of their trades, cosplayers devote time to learning different skills to suit their needs. Cosplayers create their costumes out of a "love for sewing as an activity and their passion for learning new skills," (Lamerichs 2015, 111). Passion for the act of making is integral for most professional artists—people rarely choose an arts-based career unless they have a desire for making and creation. Similarly, "a Cosplayer demonstrates creativity when she selects a character, designs the costume," and "problem solves to construct the costume," (Winge 2019, 85). The labor, materials, and time necessary for crafting a single costume can be as intense as a studio artist creating a painting or sculpture.

[2.5] Along with the artistic act of crafting, cosplay can also be seen as "a performance art in which the participant masquerades as a character" (Gn 2011, 583). The performative aspect of cosplay is intimately intertwined with the identity of the character being represented and the cosplayer. As stated by Nicole Lamerichs (2011), cosplay "is a form of fan appropriation that transforms, performs, and actualizes an existing story in close connection to the fan's own identity" (¶ 1.2). Cosplayers often choose a character because they identify with some aspect of that character. Some cosplayers even attempt to fully emulate the identity of the character. However, because the identity of the character is not only artificial but also constructed by someone else, the cosplayer must infer aspects of the character's identity by supplementing it with their own. Winge (2019) notes, "The character's identity is fantastic and ephemeral, which is intimately enmeshed in the Cosplayer's identity" (56). Therefore, the character becomes a blend of known personality traits and inferences combined with the cosplayer's identity. Instead of hiding the cosplayer's identity, that identity combined with the character's creates a unique, one-of-a-kind character.

[2.6] Cosplay's ability to engage a person in the act of making, performing, and identity exploring are paramount in my decision to use it as the focus for fan practices in a curriculum. As Lamerichs (2011) explained, "Through the acts of constructing and wearing a costume, the fan constructs his or her identity in relation to fictions and enacts it" (¶ 3.1). Asking students to engage in the process of cosplay through character choice, costume design and crafting, and performance can enable them to explore a character in relation to their identities. However, for most cosplayers the negotiation of identity is a subconscious act, whereas the purpose of this curriculum is to engage students in the conscious act of identity construction through popular culture and fandom. As such, critical pedagogy and VCAE provide a useful framework for encouraging critical thought in the cosplay process.

3. Critical pedagogy

[3.1] Critical pedagogy has been written about by a number of philosophers, educators, and scholars, which makes an exhaustive account of all text, forms, and practical applications of critical pedagogy difficult, if not impossible. Similarly, reducing critical pedagogy to a single definition is equally challenging, but there are key aspects that unify each iteration of the pedagogy. First is the recognition that knowledge is political (Giroux 2011; Monchinski 2008; Jacobs 1997; Freire [1970] 2014). Second is that it uses a democratic structure (Giroux 2011; Monchinski 2008; Tavin 2003a). Third, it seeks to implement change and social justice (Monchinski 2008; Tavin 2003a; Freire [1970] 2014). Fourth and last, it recognizes lived experiences as a focal point of education (Giroux 2011; Monchinski 2008; Tavin 2003a). As such, critical pedagogy is "rooted in a democratic ethos that attends to the practice of teaching and learning and focuses on lived experiences with the intention to disrupt, contest, and transform systems of oppression" (Tavin 2003b, 198). In the context of this discussion, lived experiences refers to student interactions with popular culture through fan practices—specifically, cosplay.

[3.2] Paulo Freire's book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed ([1970] 2014) is a logical starting point for a discussion of important texts in the formation of a critical pedagogy framework. In his book, Freire outlines a model for what he terms "problem-posing education" (79). Problem-posing education disrupts the hierarchy of education that consists of the teacher as the head or leader of the classroom whose purpose is to impart their knowledge and wisdom into their students. In the teacher as the head of the classroom model, the students are passive receivers of the teacher's knowledge, often with no voice of their own. Freire described this type of education as "banking," saying "instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits…a student then receives and memorizes" (72). As a result, the classroom becomes a dictatorship rather than a democracy. In contrast, problem-posing education places the teacher on equal terms with their students. Freire described this as, "the teacher-of-the-student and the student-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges; teacher-student with student-teacher" (80). Thus, the teacher and students both become the imparters and receivers of knowledge.

[3.3] Through this model, the teacher and student communicate as equals and take part in critical dialogue. However, as Jacobs (1997) notes in his thesis, "Freire stresses that educators should not attempt to solve students' problems for them, but rather by beginning with students' specific contexts, educators can engage students in dialogue about problems within their own worlds and help students to come up with their own solutions" (6).

[3.4] Although teachers should avoid ownership of knowledge they also should not simply provide students with the answer. Rather, problem-posing education suggests that teachers "pose problems that arise from students' realities so that students can come to be more critical thinkers about their own situation" (Jacobs 1997, 7). Students become critical thinkers who do not passively absorb information but instead consider it carefully and skeptically.

[3.5] Henry Giroux has used Freire's problem-posing education model to explore popular culture. In 1994, Henry Giroux's book, Disturbing Pleasures, attempted to apply critical theory to popular culture in the classroom. Giroux (1994) suggests that teachers ask students to critique cultural texts such as the United Colors of Benetton ads, Disney, popular films, and photographs. Although Giroux (1994) does acknowledge popular culture as a site "where struggle over knowledge, power, and authority translate into a broader battle over the meaning of pleasure, self-formation, and national identity" (x), he often portrays popular culture in a negative manner. For example, Giroux (2016) describes Disney as a "corporate assault on kids" (236) that is "eager and ready to transform them into full-fledged members of consumer society" (234). His portrayal of popular culture is problematic because it fails to recognize that students are not only consumers of popular culture but also producers, capable of transforming and recontextualizing popular culture to suit their creative needs.

4. Critical pedagogy and fandom

[4.1] Fans are the opposite of the passive learners Freire describes in banking education. Kristina Busse (2017) in her book, Framing Fanfiction, indicates that "rather than being passive consumers, these television viewers engage critically and creatively." Through fan practices such as fan art and fan fiction they "not only critically analyze the texts but also actively write back, creating their own narratives to fill in the plots, characters, and emotions they find lacking in the source text" (7). While this engagement is born out of the pleasure derived from the fan object and is therefore often positive in nature, fans are not uncritical of their fandoms. Fan discourse often critically analyzes the motives, actions, and the believability of characters and plotlines. This is shown through blog posts, fan fiction, and fan art that is created to reflect the fan's interpretation of the fan object.

[4.2] The active and critical participation of fans can be related to the basic tenants of critical pedagogy. First, just as critical pedagogy recognizes knowledge as political, fan practices are also political. For example, slash fan fiction (fan writings that involve the romantic paring of two same-sex characters, denoted by the / [slash] between their names) can be seen through numerous political lenses such as masculinity, misogyny, and sexuality (Green, Jenkins, and Jenkins 1998). Second, democracy in fandoms is a complex topic. On the surface, fandoms can appear as sites of "equality, tolerance, and community" (MacDonald 1998, 136) but in actuality they operate within a complex hierarchical structure. The positions within this hierarchy are "constantly contested and never fixed" (Chin 2018, 249), thus leading to democratic debate, dissemination of new ideas, and the production of fan texts. Finally, fandom can seek to implement social justice and change. Fandoms such as the Harry Potter fandom promote progressive ideologies such as tolerance and equality. In particular The Harry Potter Alliance is a nonprofit charity organization run by Harry Potter fans who "use the power of story and popular culture to make activism accessible and sustainable" (Harry Potter Alliance 2019, under "What We Do"). Each of these examples demonstrates fandom as a critical pedagogy.

[4.3] Critical thinking has been used by fan scholars and educators such as Paul Booth. In his article "Waves of Fandom in the Fan Studies Classroom" Booth (2018) states "it's important for them [students] to recognize the place of fandom in the media environment and the way fandom has become more visible and more mainstream today" (114). He suggests that even students who do not identify as fans are participating in fan activities when they "post GIFs, and memes on Tumblr" and "talk about and critique the media texts they love" (113). In order to encourage students to actively and critically consider their fan identities in relationship to their everyday lives, Booth asks his students to engage in fan practices such as writing fan fiction and creating fan vids. It is important to note that Booth is asking his students to engage critically with media texts that students have a connection with. Ashlyn Keefe (2018), a student who participated in Booth's class, states "this was taking a critical eye and playing with a media text that was near and dear to me" which pushed her to have a greater engagement with fan activities and created an enjoyable experience. Booth shows that it is not enough to simply ask students to critically engage with a fan practice. In order to create a connection between fandom and their daily lives, educators may find it more effective to ask students to choose their own texts to engage with.

5. VCAE and fan art

[5.1] As shown, critical pedagogy is a useful teaching method for encouraging students to analyze their lived experiences in relationship to fandom. However, the majority of the scholars thus far do not use critical pedagogy in combination with art education. Furthermore, fandom itself is traditionally studied within the context of media and cultural studies rather than art. However, fans are producers and consumers of art, as such, art education should explore fan art as a means of engagement with students. Laura Hetrick (2018) writes in her article "Reading Fan Art as Complex Texts," "the value in this type of artwork is not necessarily about technical skills…rather it is more about the cleverness of intertextuality, appropriation, juxtaposition, and recontextualizing" (61). One way to approach fan art in art education is through a critical pedagogy lens.

[5.2] The exploration of popular culture within art education has been implemented by several art educators such as Paul Duncum, Kevin Tavin, Laura Hetrick, Jin-Shiow Chen, and Marjorie Cohee Manifold. Duncum's work over the last two decades focused on VCAE. VCAE explores "critical understanding and empowerment" (Duncum 2002, 6) through the exploration of popular culture. Similarly, Tavin (2003a) concentrated on critical pedagogy in relationship to popular culture within the fine arts. Both of these educators provide a framework for the analysis of inclusion of popular culture within art education. Hetrick, Chen, and Manifold on the other hand, transition from popular culture to fandom as a means of student engagement. While popular culture and fandom are related they should not be used interchangeably. Popular culture is a complicated and multifaceted word that has been defined in a multitude of ways but in this case I use the definition put forth by Duffet (2013), "popular culture…tends to be seen as the fraction of commercial culture that the audience takes to their hearts, usually because it contains aspects that resonate with their own world or attitude" (62). In other words, popular culture is the what audiences forms a connect with. Fandom, on the other hand, relates to the rituals and behaviors that audiences engage in to express that connect they feel with popular culture.

[5.3] Critical pedagogy within art education is often used for student engagement with popular culture through art. Critical pedagogy within art education should not focus solely on teaching students technical skills. Instead, a critical pedagogy approach to teaching art education "recognizes the critical and political power of visual imagery and then channels that power to reveal worlds and ideas that are sometimes hidden from view" (Yokely 1999, 20). A critical pedagogy-based art education recognizes the inherently political position art inhabits. VCAE does this through critical examination of imagery. Duncum (2001) explains the term visual culture as "an interest in the social conditions in which the artifacts (visual imagery) have their being, including their production, distribution and use" (106–107). Visual culture, then, is a critical examination of the visual objects produced by culture. This broad and overarching definition allows for VCAE to be inclusive of both fine arts or elite culture and popular culture within an arts curriculum. VCAE focuses on the "social worlds of visual imagery as they are constitutive of attitudes, beliefs, and values" (107). Through VCAE, popular culture is critically examined and engaged with by students. By allowing popular culture to exist in the same space as fine arts, Duncum (2003) believes that VCAE will help "students to ground studio activities in an understanding of a wider context" (24).

[5.4] Similarly, Tavin also examines using critical pedagogy through a VCAE lens to bring popular culture into the arts classroom. In Tavin's (2003a) dissertation, A Critical Pedagogy of Visual Culture as Art Education: Toward a Performative Inter/Hypertextual Practice, his research "reveals that critical pedagogy, visual culture, and hypertextuality enabled both students in the study to change their perceptions about art, art education, and the pedagogical power of popular culture" (iii). Pushing further than Duncum, Tavin indicates that popular culture should be explored for both its critical place in mass culture and its role in the construction of student identities:

[5.5] When art educators focus solely on art from the museum realm they ignore these profound changes in culture and discount the pedagogical power of popular images. They continue to rely on high cultural artifacts to teach from while their students are constructing their very identities and subjectivities through visual culture. When art educators place high art at the center of their curriculum they act as if their students are unified beings, unaffected by visual culture, living in a modernist sanctuary. (40–41)

[5.6] By acknowledging the role of popular culture in the creation of student identity, Tavin acknowledges each student's voice and lived experiences. The complexities of meaning and pleasure created by popular culture affect each student's everyday life. Thus, by using critical pedagogy to examine popular culture "students are encouraged to critique popular culture texts in order to reconstruct meaning and develop agency" (Tavin 2003a, 71). As such, the use of VCAE allows students to develop their own agency and identity utilizing aspects of popular culture.

[5.7] Jin-Shiow Chen (2007) conducted early research into fan culture with a specific focus on anime/manga fan art and cosplay in Taiwan. The resulting article, "A Study of Fan Culture: Adolescent Experiences with Animé/manga Doujinshi and Cosplay in Taiwan," details Chen's research methods and results. Chen interviewed six female cosplayers and fan artist attendees at Taiwan's ComicWorld conventions. After interviewing the participants and performing a content analysis, Chen found that most fan artists are "active cultural producers who are engaged in the reproduction of the materials they consume and in the manipulation of ideas, meanings, and cultural references that they can perceive" (21). Fan artists often seek out new techniques to further the development of their artistic practice. According to Chen, if art educators can engage students using fandom as a means of focus within visual culture, students would be enabled to "find their [students] sociocultural meanings and values" (22). Chen recommends using fan art as a lens for studying specific artistic techniques of expression and for exploring the meaning of the texts from which students are consuming and producing.

[5.8] Chen's study provides groundwork for critical use of fan art within art education, but the study lacks diversity because of its small number of participants, all of whom are female and Taiwanese. A later study, conducted by Marjorie Cohee Manifold (2009), has a larger participant pool of 69 subjects, although the majority were also female. In the resulting article, "Fanart as Craft and the Creation of Culture," Manifold found that most fan artists began their artistic practice out of a desire to connect to a specific character. Furthermore, most learned to draw by "incessantly copying the commercially-made models of their favorite characters," not through techniques learned in an art class (10). Thus, most fan artist skills and practices are self-taught, implying that fan artists are self-motivated and engaged with their artistic practice. However, copying is only the beginning for most fan artists, once confident in their own artistic ability many fan artists develop their own unique style. Often, this style is influenced by the fan artist's own community, history, and culture. Manifold describes this as "a transcultural exchange of styles—an invigorating mix of imagery and ideas" (15). Manifold advocates for an art education that centers on students as culture participants and producers. Allowing students to engage in self-motivation through fandom will "empower them to become contributors to and crafters of culture" (19).

[5.9] Like Chen and Manifold, a recent article by Laura Hetrick advocates for the use of fandom in art education. Hetrick's (2018) article, "Reading Fan Art as Complex Texts," points to the self-motivating and active participation that fan art entails. Through personal experience, Hetrick notes that when she stopped viewing her students' Pokémon drawings as distractions, "everything changed—my students were engaged, shared their homemade artwork with me, and chatted to me about their popular interests" (57). By acknowledging the students' interests and incorporating them into the classroom curriculum, the students became more engaged with the classwork and teacher. From this experience, Hetrick encourages art educators to investigate student fan art as complex and meaningful text which can be a site for critical thought.

6. Curriculum and cosplay

[6.1] The scholars in the previous section use popular culture images and fan art as a site of student construction and reconstruction of identity through critical pedagogy and VCAE. The same pedagogy can be applied to a cosplay-based curriculum. To do so, I propose a semester project where students craft a cosplay that combines aspects of the student's identity with that of a popular culture character. The project would require students to choose a character and then transform the character by exaggerating, transforming, omitting, juxtaposing, and/or adding to aspects of the character in order to highlight the parts that they see or want to see in their own identity. The purpose of this project is to introduce students to new skills through basic cosplay construction, to critically engage with a character from popular culture in terms of identity formation and construction, and to participate in critical dialogue with other students in regard to cosplay, fandom, popular culture, and identity.

[6.2] When introducing this project, educators should emphasize that students need to critically consider their choice of character in relationship to their identity. Crawford and Hancock (2019) suggest "cosplayers are not simply trying to be the character they dress as, but rather they are using this [cosplay] to create and play with different identities" (135). Cosplayers often choose characters that they see aspects of themselves in, either in personality or physical characteristics (Crawford and Hancock 2019; Winge 2019). However, educators should be cognizant that not all students will be fans or possess the in-depth knowledge of popular culture characters often need to craft a cosplay. It would be helpful to suggest students create a list of the first five to ten popular culture characters they think of. Once students have created the list, recommend they choose three that elicit the strongest emotions for initial research in order to determine their final choice.

[6.3] Once a character is chosen, students can begin to explore the "intimate and complex relationship between fan and the character" (Lamerichs 2018, 210) through research and in-class discussions. Students can conduct in-depth character research by watching or reading the source the character originates from, reading fan blogs and websites, and viewing images. Students should look for behaviors and/or physical appearance that they have a strong response to in order to begin making connections between their own identity and the character's. The educator can then use Freire's problem-solving education theory to facilitate dialogue between students to share their research with one another through a series of prompts or icebreakers. Encourage students to use these discussions as a way of verbalizing their thoughts and gaining outside perspective on the relationship between fandom and identity.

[6.4] Character research and class discussions are critical to the development of the relationship between student and character needed for crafting a transformative, identity-based cosplay. Connections students make between their identity and the character's through research and dialogue should serve as inspiration during the process of designing and crafting their cosplay. The process of crafting a cosplay will require the students to carefully consider the necessary skills and materials needed in order to realize their vision. Bainbridge and Norris (2013) note that "the authenticity of the costume very much depends on the craft that goes into its making" (¶ 9); as such, cosplayers spend time learning and improving crafting skills including but not limited to, sewing and patternmaking, prop construction, and leatherwork. Many of these skills are self-taught "through the assistance of online forums, cosplaying sites (for example and other peer communities" (Bainbridge and Norris 2013, ¶ 9).

[6.5] Given the wide variety of popular culture characters and seemingly endless range of techniques used by cosplayers, it is not possible for an instructor to either know or teach every skill needed for each student's cosplay. Thus, it is recommended that educators focus on teaching basic skills such as sewing, patternmaking, and EVA foam construction. For specialized or in-depth tutorials, encourage students to use online cosplay tutorials and forums. Not only will this stimulate students to participate in the larger cosplay community, it is also an opportunity for the educator to enact critical pedagogy in a twofold manner. First, the educator is guiding the student to their own creative solution rather than solving the problem for them (Freire [1970] 2014; Jacobs 1997). Second, the educator learns from the student and vice versa (Freire [1970] 2014) because both are engaged in learning an unfamiliar skill.

[6.6] At the conclusion of the project, a day can be set aside for students to wear their costumes and perform as their character. Cosplay is typically a site-specific act that is intimately tied to the fan convention space (Lamerichs 2015; Winge 2019). Fan conventions such as Comic-Con, Naka-Kon, and Dragon Con can act as a temporary setting for cosplayers to perform and interact with one another. Although it would be difficult to achieve the atmosphere of a fan convention (which often features merchandise vendors, famous guest presenters, and cosplaying activities) in a classroom setting, students can interact with one another on a level similar to cosplayers interacting with each other at a fan convention. Suggest to students that they attempt to stay in-character as they interact with their classmates. Finally, allow students to reflect, either through in-class discussion or a brief written statement, on how their mannerisms and sense of self and identity changed throughout the course of the project.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] I have attempted to show the potential for student fan exploration of identity through the creation of a cosplay-based curriculum. Currently, the curriculum I have outlined is theoretical. The next step is to implement the curriculum in the arts classroom. Although there are many pedagogical lenses this curriculum could be based on, I believe that critical pedagogy and VCAE will allow students to engage with cosplay, fandom, and identity in a thoughtful, critical, and holistic manner. Through critical pedagogy and VCAE, students can begin to explore the way popular culture influences and construct their identities. Cosplay is uniquely suited to the endeavor because as students construct their costumes they will begin to consider their own connections to the character.

[7.2] In the introduction I described the skepticism and rejection I experienced while attempting to share my cosplay-based art with my professors and peers during a graduate school critique. The experience was disheartening, but it led me to consider the possibilities of cosplay and fandom within the greater art education context. Cosplay has the potential to allow students to explore their identities, to critically analyze popular culture, and to engage in an activity that is labor intensive, craft oriented, and enjoyable.

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