Substantive Art Integration = Exemplary Art Education

By Marshall, Julia | Art Education, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Substantive Art Integration = Exemplary Art Education


Marshall, Julia, Art Education


It is time for new ideas and models for art education. Current developments in contemporary art, learning theory and in art education itself demand new approaches and provide inspiration and guidance for change. Each area brings particular components to the table but they all have one primary element in common: a call for an art education that is better connected to the concepts and ideas behind art and art practice, and to areas of inquiry outside of art. I propose an art education that is built on these broad and deep connections. I call it substantive art integration and believe it to be a core principle of an exemplary art education. Here is a summary of the foundations of this approach, an explanation of substantive integration and a sample project that demonstrates how it plays out in practice.

Contemporary Art

Contemporary postmodern art offers new ways for understanding and making art. Current art is eclectic, taking many forms, styles and approaches. It often quotes images and styles from visual culture and global visual traditions, as well as from Western art history (Efland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996). It is conceptually based, and it emphasizes ideas (Freedman, 2003a). It also frequently uses irony and humor created through surprising juxtapositions and incongruous combinations. It finds new forms, processes and content in areas outside the domain of art (Marshall, 2005).Above all, contemporary art is focused not on pure form or aesthetic pleasure but on making meaning or reinterpreting meaning (FJland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996).

Therefore, contemporary art practice promotes an art education that: (1) foregrounds thinking and conceptualization, building conceptual and technical skills simultaneously; (2) utilizes current art strategies; (3) appropriates or quotes images from visual culture and art; (4) looks at art in an anthropological way-examining how art expresses cultural values and meanings; (5) teaches a myriad of techniques, materials, forms and art genres, including experimental and interdisciplinary genres; and (6) has meaningmaking as its primary objective. Because current art focuses on content from all areas of life, it also calls for curriculum integration.

Cognitive Theory: Constructivism, Connections and Imagination

Constructivism had its origins in the early 20th century in the pragmatist theories of John Dewey (2001), and was shaped by two seminal figures: Jean Piaget (1963) who explained learning in terms of an individual acting autonomously, and LevVygotsky (1978) who understood learning as a process influenced by culture and dependent on interactions with others (Efland, 2002, Freedman, 2003b, Noddings, 1995).The two major branches of constructivism, the cognitive-developmental approach (Piaget) and socioculturel theory (Vygotsky), share some core tenets and are at the center of current learning theory (connectionism) (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, Eds., 2000). Its basic principles are: (1) learning is a connection-making process, where the learner links new experience to prior experience in order to acquire new information and to make sense of it; (2) the learner constructs his or her knowledge; (3) learning is an active process of interaction and experimentation; (4) knowledge is built through successive steps that build upon one another; and (5) we learn most often from others.

Understanding is the ultimate goal of learning (Bransford et al., 2000), and a good way to build understanding of information is to use or apply it (Dewey, 2001). This is where art comes in. An art lesson calls for students to translate information into visual images or to take that information further and to apply it in imaginative ways. Imaginative applications build understandings of the information. Making imaginative projections leads to learning that is personal and meaningful because the learner plays with the information and construes it in his or her own way. …

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