Improving the Teaching of Art

Article excerpt

Several art educators and advocates of art education across the United States welcomed the recent federal government's declaration of art as a core curriculum subject with a feeling of vindication; that is, vindication from past criticism of art as a less essential subject in the curriculum. Along with the elevated status of art in the school curriculum comes certain expectations in the domain, such as increased funding for supplies and equipment, more professional development opportunities for art teachers, and availability of art classes in every American school. As a result of the federal government's pronouncement, advocates of school art could further support their position that all American children should be able to receive education in art, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages of the location of a child's school.

These expectations seem realistic in view of the federal government's "No Child Left Behind" initiative and the improved status of art in the curriculum. However, the enactment of this new law may not result in the reversal of widespread perception of art as a less beneficial subject in the schools. In short, the federal government's pronouncement of art as a subject of equal importance to reading, writing, and mathematics in the curriculum may not resonate with some students, school administrators, and curriculum observers within society. I propose that a more effective way to establish the import of art in the curriculum is by facilitating experience-based accounts of its contributions to students' educational development in the schools.

Facilitating Understanding of Art

For students, administrators, and observers of school art to fully appreciate the significance of art in the curriculum, art teachers must find ways to define the unique contributions of art to the school experience, and to make the subject more relevant to the educational needs and aspirations of each student. But how can art teachers achieve these goals?

A good place to start is to facilitate students' understanding of the nature of the discipline, and its contributions to the development of society. Such knowledge would predispose them to meaningful engagement in learning about art. In this article, I will discuss various ways in which teachers can enhance students' understanding of art in the schools and beyond.

For decades, art educators have suggested various ways to improve teaching and learning about art. In the past, some have suggested a child-centered art curriculum with focus on the creative and mental health of students (Lowenfeld, 1957), and Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) (Eisner, 1990). More recently, others have advocated socially responsive approaches, such as community-based art education (Adejumo, 2000), multicultural art education (Stuhr, Petrovich-Mwaniki, & Wasson, 1992), visual culture art education (Duncum, 2001), and environmentally conscious art education (Ulbricht, 1998). In spite of their diverse opinions about which curriculum approach would benefit students the most, art educators agree that school art should orientate students on how art functions in society and prepare them for patronage of art in the community. Art educators are at a consensus on the need for school art to provide students with the opportunity to develop their artistic skills for vocational or avocational purposes.

Despite all that has been said about the benefits of art in children's educational, social, and cultural development, some school administrators and students continue to perceive art as a dispensable subject in the curriculum, especially when confronted with budget cuts or choosing between art and other subjects in the school curriculum. Art teachers can reverse this widespread ambivalence towards art by: (1) talking to students about the nature and benefits of art; (2) encouraging student participation in art through decentralized instruction; and (3) familiarizing students with the applications of art in society. …