Accountability has particular significance for teachers in the visual arts. There is a bias in our culture which suggests that to draw well, one must be born with a special talent. This bias is revealed by cliches surrounding art ranging from the cynical art historical axiom that art is anything you can get away with, to the simple belief that art is in the eye of the beholder. Such cliches are often followed by the statement: "I don't know what art is, but I know art when I see it." It is little wonder that the art instructor may find it difficult to convince administrators that art is a discipline that can be effectively evaluated.
Getting Past Subject Matter
Art is a rather recent entry into the academic world. The original justification for bringing art into the academic community was that it was an attempt to deal with truth and, thereby, moral. Recently, administrators and the public are questioning that truth. Form is rarely discussed, but subject matter is treated like a moral imperative. It is clear that subject matter, like content, is subjective to at least some degree. But form in the visual arts, like form in literature and music, can be evaluated if we accept the premise that certain common denominators which we can agree upon are capable of being taught and learned.
While an assessment necessary to accountability is a difficult process in many areas of art, a number of simple direct visual concepts can be isolated and applied to drawing in order to demonstrate comprehension. The process of drawing can be tied to the product of drawing through pre-testing and post-testing.
The famous nineteenth century French artist Edgar Degas suggested excitedly to the French poet Mallarme that he had a great number of ideas for poems. Mallarme reportedly looked at Degas and asserted: "Poems are not made with ideas. Poems are made with words." Most everyone can hear, but anyone trying to learn to play the guitar ordinarily starts by learning the chords. Most everyone can also see, but there appears to be an unfounded assumption that one can translate visual perception in a three-dimensional world to a two-dimensional surface with little or no training. This assumption derives some validity from the fact that there are a few gifted individuals who can accomplish this feat.
As in writing and music, it is very helpful to have a fundamental basis to serve as a common denominator for developing visual principles based on perception in the three-dimensional world. These principles can be related to illusion on a two-dimensional surface through drawing.
A Solution for Assessment
The solution …