Art Experiences and Attitude toward Art Education: A Descriptive Study of Missouri Public School Principals

Article excerpt

Because of their positions as educational leaders, principals' art experiences and attitudes toward art education are of interest for art education advocacy. Through use of a survey questionnaire and interviews, data were gathered to provide descriptive information and to look for relationships between Missouri principals' art experiences and attitudes toward art education. A 79% return rate (n = 225) was achieved. Attitudes toward art education were found to be generally positive. Those with elementary teaching certification had significantly higher attitude scores when compared with other certifications groups. Qualitative descriptions of art experiences as well as positive correlation with attitude scale scores suggested the following as important educative art experiences: influence of the family, college art classes; visits to art museums; and influence of art teacher/colleagues. Single events that resemble crystallizing experiences (museum visit or use specific art media), as well as longerterm continuity of experience (classes or a series of experiences) characterized the descriptions. Interviews revealed cases of combined home and school influences, as well as cases where school art experiences alone appeared to foster positive attitudes.

Arthur Efland writes, "what people believe about art and its value is likely to affect whether it is taught or not" (1995, p. 25). A principal's beliefs about the value of art and art education have the potential to affect the status of visual art within the school. As pedagogical leader, the principal fills a key role in regard to the implementation of visual art education within the school. In a variety of implicit and explicit ways the principal establishes educational priorities, sending messages to the school and community about the relative importance of art education as a part of the school curriculum. Through the management of the school district funds allocated to the school, the principal has a degree of control over the funding of the art program. She or he makes important decisions about class scheduling, class size, and facility use, and often has a strong voice in the hiring of teachers for the building. The principal also evaluates the performance of the art teacher, monitoring the planning and teaching of lessons. Other than the teacher who teaches visual art, the principal is the most important figure for the delivery of art instruction in the school (National Art Education Association, 1992; National Art Education Association, n. d.).

Cooperation between the art teacher and the principal is essential if art education is to flourish and grow. Miller (1980) found that Missouri art teachers underestimated principals' attitudes toward art when asked to respond in the way they thought their principal would to items on an attitude scale.

In an examination of school art programs that were attempting to implement comprehensive art education reforms, Wilson (1997) found that, "art specialists and classroom teachers working without the active support of a building administrator have little success in implementing a school-wide arts education program" (Wilson, 1997, p. 130). The nature of principals' attitudes toward art and art education and an interest in how these attitudes are formed become important considerations for the art teacher and others who advocate for visual art in the school.

There is general agreement that attitudes are in large part formed and shaped by experiences and that these attitudes, in turn, provide motivation for behavior (Morris & Stuckhardt, 1977). Dewey (1938/1959) reflected on the relationships among experience, attitude, and behavior, writing, "every experience affects for better or worse the attitudes which help decide the quality of further experiences, by setting up certain preference and aversion, and making it easier or harder to act for this or that end" (p.29-30). Furthermore, in discussing the educational qualities of experience, Dewey introduced and Eisner (1994) restated the idea that experiences can be educative, noneducative, or miseducative. …