Critical Thinking Dispositions as an Outcome of Art Education

Article excerpt

This article discusses findings of a study that investigated the variance in critical thinking dispositions between arts and non-arts undergraduates. A consensus of findings in research literature on education and critical thinking indicates that an inquiry-based curriculum positively influences gains in critical thinking. Research shows, as well, that learning in the arts is largely inquiry-based. The synthesis of those findings and the results of this study indicate that exposure to learning in the arts positively influences students' disposition to think critically. The study reported in this article utilized quantitative data from the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI), a survey instrument. Data were collected from a sample of 141 undergraduates at a large, urban, public university on the U.S. east coast. The sample consisted of two discipline groups: arts and non-arts undergraduates; and two class rank groups; freshmen and juniors/seniors. As would be expected, when the class rank groups were compared, the juniors/seniors showed a significantly higher mean overall score on the CCTDI and were also found to have significantly higher scores on several of the subscales. Comparison of the two discipline groups showed no significant difference in overall mean CCTDI scores between arts and non-arts students, but the arts students were found to have significantly higher mean scores on several of the subscales within the research instrument: truth-seeking, maturity, and open-mindedness. These results suggest that learning in the arts builds strengths in several critical thinking dispositions and offers evidence that the arts do indeed enhance the disposition to think critically.

Critical thinking skills and dispositions are generally considered desirable outcomes of the educational process. Roots of the construct of critical thinking can be traced back 2500 years, to the teaching practice of Socrates, who developed a probing method of questioning the claims made by others (Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997). Contemporary scholars have defined the construct of critical thinking as reflective thinking focused on the evaluation of various alternatives (Ennis, 2002; Jones et al., 1995; Paul et al., 1997; Perry, 1999). Dispositions are described as inclinations to use existing skills (Facione, Giancarlo, Facione, & Gainen, 1995; Perkins, Jay, & Tishman, 1993). Students who develop critical thinking dispositions are inclined to employ critical, reflective thinking when engaged in problem solving and analysis across various domains (Giancarlo & Facione, 2001).

Because art students practice reflective thinking and aesthetic inquiry when they create artwork, as well as when they discuss their work and the work of others, existing literature is rich with theory that such activities positively impact art students' ability to think critically. In Art Criticism and Education, Geahigan (1997) explains how he believes art stimulates critical, reflective thinking: "Reflection, in turn, begins when students confront what John Dewey called a problematic situation. Works of art are potentially problematic because they can be understood and evaluated in different ways" (p. 146).

As Geahigan explains, works of art pose problems that can be resolved in many ways, so critiquing and interpreting works of art in a classroom engages students in thoughtfully considering the multiple perspectives of fellow students on art content. Reflecting on multiple interpretations of subject matter is an aspect of critical thinking, so it stands to reason that engagement in critical and aesthetic inquiry fosters in art students a disposition to think critically. This line of reasoning is prevalent in theoretical discussions on art education (Dorn, 1999; Eisner, 1998; Geahigan, 1997; Perkins, 1994; Stout, 1999; Winner & Hetland, 2001), but few empirical studies have tested the theory. However, one study by Burton, Horowitz, and Abeles (2000) which did test the premise found that students with high arts exposure showed clear evidence of an understanding of "multiple or alternative vantage points" (p. …