Five Ways to Improve the Teaching and Understanding of Art in the Schools

By Adejumo, Christopher O. | Art Education, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Five Ways to Improve the Teaching and Understanding of Art in the Schools


Adejumo, Christopher O., Art Education


Recommendations on how to improve the teaching and understanding of art in the schools have ranged from focusing on the creative and mental health of students (Lowenfeld, 1957) to Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) arkan, 1966; Eisner, 1990), and social reconstruction through art (Stuhr, 1994; Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001). In spite of all that has been proposed, art education remains widely perceived as anon-essential subject in the school curriculum. More disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that many schools do not even offer art classes at al This article addresses these concerns by providing suggestions to enhance art educatio in the curriculum.

Contemporary Trends

Many art educators have suggested alternatives to current art educational practices. For example, some advocate a multicultural art curriculum (Stuhr, Petrovich-Mwaniki, & Wasson, 1992; Sabol, 2000), while others recommend an environmentally sensitive curriculum (Ulbricht, 1998), the adoption of interdisciplinary approaches (Jacobs, 1989), and focus on visual culture (Duncum, 2001,2002). Despite their divaricating opinions, most art educators agree that the art curriculum should facilitate students' development in art perception, appreciation, production, and evaluation. These competencies are reflected in the National Standards for Arts Education (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994) and the art curriculum frameworks of numerous school districts across the United States, and their anticipated benefits are that students would:

* Understand the nature and functions of art in society.

* Participate in the arts in society.

* Develop art production skills.

* Become discerning viewers of art.

In spite of the significance of these pragmatic objectives, some students still perceive art as a less-important subject in the school curriculum. For example, a sixth-grade student chose not to participate in an art lesson that I taught in an inner-city school because she would rather do her "real work," which happened to be her homework assignment in mathematics. The concept of art as a core curriculum area would be hard to sell to a sixth grader who is constantly reminded by teachers, parents, and peers that his or her academic success is determined by achievements in reading, writing, and mathematics. It would be just as difficult to impress the same notion on upon a school principal whose job evaluation includes students' test scores in subjects that do not include art. To convince others of art's importance, art teachers need to show how art relates to the real lives of students and the concerns of society. This article identifies and expands upon five approaches to art instruction that until now have only been partially employed by teachers. The implementation of these approaches could result in major transformations in the teaching and understanding of art. They are:

* Talking about the nature and content of art with students.

* Promoting the transfer of implicit knowledge through decentralized instruction.

* Exposing students to experts as role models in the visual arts.

* Facilitating direct observation of artists and their works in society.

* Seeking the support of art professionals and organizations through partnerships.

Talking About Art

The shift from a child-development and studio-focused art curriculum to a Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) in the 1960s had resulted in widespread integration of instructional content in studio, aesthetics, art history, and art criticism. Among the most widely used models in art criticism are those suggested by Feldman (1987) and Mittler (1973), whose recommended procedures include the description, interpretation, evaluation, and judgment of artworks. This linear and logical sequencing of critical practice enhances students' appreciation and understanding of art by restraining them from rushing to judgment. …

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