Readings in Discipline-Based Art Education: A Literature of Educational Reform

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Readings in Discipline-based Art Education: A Literature of Educational Reform Ralph A. Smith, Editor (2000). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. 429 pages. ISBN 1-890160-12-1.

When I began reading Ralph Smith's compilation, I was struck by a strong sense of nostalgia, as well as by the comprehensiveness of his anthology. Readings in Discipline-based Art Education is a book that art educators should own as a reference for intellectual history of art education in the late 20th century. The book is organized into seven sections: (1) interpretations of DBAE, (2) the disciplines of DBAE as contexts of understanding, (3) curriculum issues, subdivided into chapters on teaching and learning and chapters on implementation and evaluation, (4) artistic and aesthetic development, (5) professional development, (6) issues facing DBAE including the artist-teacher, elitism, feminist criticism of DBAE, and postmodernism (one chapter each), and (7) art museums and museum education. Each section includes a list of recommended readings to supplement the authors' reference lists; thus, this book is valuable as a guide to DBAE literature. Readers should, however, be aware of two issues: first, the power of an editor to shape what is available as the defining literature of the field; and, second, Smith's belief in the specialness of art and its privileged status outside of politics.

Smith's major contributions to aesthetic education have included his ability to summarize sophisticated philosophical arguments and explain their relevance to art education. One can regard this edited collection as a capstone to Smith's career. Although many art educators seem, like weathervanes, to shift rationales with each change in the educational winds, Smith has been a steady compass needle consistently pointing toward what he believes is true north. This anthology shows us Smith's perspective on the northern exposure of DBAE, chilly perhaps to those raised in the sunny south of creativity and self-expression, but bracing. As a compass needle, Smith provides not only a guide for those heading due north, but also a point of comparison for those steering in other directions.

Autobiographical Context1

My personal involvement with Discipline-based Art Education (DBAE) began in the spring of 1984. I attended a presentation by Leilani Lattin Duke, Director of the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, a branch of the J. Paul Getty Trust, at the National Art Education Association annual conference in Miami. In a hotel meeting room packed to standing room only with other art educators, all murmuring about the fact that a wealthy foundation was taking an interest in the status and condition of our professional field, I listened to Duke's description of plans to support "a new, more comprehensive approach" to art education (Duke, p. 17). During the conference the late Vincent Lanier introduced me to Dwaine Greer (pp. 207-214), who invited me to Los Angeles to observe the second summer of the Los Angeles Getty Institute. As my week of observations drew to a close, Ron Silverman interviewed me regarding my impressions and what I had learned from talking with the elementary classroom teacher participants. In the course of our conversation, he asked if I thought I could teach what I had observed. With the hubris of youth, I responded that, although my own university classes were small, I thought I could lecture as I had been watching Harry Broudy (pp. 20-26, 188-192), Michael Day (pp. 195-206, 323-331, 351-356) and Mary Erickson (pp. 162-170), among others, do during the Institute.

In January 1985, I was invited to a Texas meeting where artists, art critics, art historians, and philosophers of art discussed how their disciplines could contribute to art education as part of K-12 general education. George Geahigan (pp. 171-179) and I were among the art educators asked to facilitate discussion among the discipline experts and to listen to their emerging ideas. …