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Within art education postmodern recognition of the constructed nature of identity has shifted the search for meaning in art from relations within forms, formalism, to the socio-cultural circumstances determining them. This contextualist slant has exposed modernist formalism’s culturally myopic universalism. Though postmodern contextualism recognizes differences and plurality, its linguistic origins exaggerates socio-cultural subordination, tending to trap people and products in cultural enclaves. Both contextualism’ relativism and formalism’s blind universalism are based on flawed dualism. Relieved of their dualism each is part of a more comprehensive framework of relating form, content, and context. Umberto Eco’s revised semiotics and Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism offer the necessary correctives. Particularly Bhaskar’s concepts of non-identity and referential detachment, connected to the distinctions he makes between the real, actual, and empirical, acknowledge cultural relativity and fluidity without compromising objectivity. Within a critical realist framework Kantian ‘disinterestedness’ can be transformed from a duplicitous or conflicted figure of self-interest, to one that achieves disinterestedness in the ego-transcending practice of committed self-giving. This creates community through embodied integrity rather than rhetorical representation, which is unquestionably a better basis for art education theory and practice.