Social Perspectives on Art Education in the U.S.: Teaching Visual Culture in a Democracy

By Freedman, Kerry | Studies in Art Education, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Social Perspectives on Art Education in the U.S.: Teaching Visual Culture in a Democracy


Freedman, Kerry, Studies in Art Education


This article is an overview of social perspectives on art education. These perspectives include a concern with issues and interactions of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, special ability, and other body identities and cultures; socioeconomics, political conditions, communities, and natural and humanly-made environments, including virtual environments. I focus here on the common ground among these perspectives which is based on the conviction that the visual arts are vital to all societies and that representations of art in education should seek to reveal its complexity, diversity, and integral cultural location. These perspectives represent the lived meanings of as and arts communities through, for example, change in curriculum, collaborative instructional methods, and community action. Social reconstructionist versions of these perspectives are also founded on the belief that art education can make a difference in student understanding of and action in the world and chats that difference can enrich and improve social life.

This article presents social perspectives on art education. It is not a critique, but neither can it be neutral. Rather, it is a sympathetic description of what I believe to be some of the important conditions, characteristics, and purposes of these perspectives in and of the field.

It is difficult to describe these perspectives because there are so many of them. They include, but are not limited to, a concern with issues and interactions of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, special ability, and other body identities and cultures; socioeconomics, political conditions, communities, and natural and humanly-made environments, including virtual environments. Their common ground is based on the conviction that the visual arts are vital to all societies and that representations of art in education should seek to reveal its complexity, diversity, and integral cultural location. These perspectives represent the lived meanings of art and arts communities through, for example, change in curriculum, collaborative instructional methods, and community action. Social reconstructionist versions of these perspectives are founded on the belief that art education can make a difference in student understanding of and action in the world and that, that difference can enrich and improve social life.

I do not claim to speak for the many art educators who approach art and art education as a social endeavor and I cannot do justice to each of these perspectives. It is not my intention to devise categories of perspectives or delineate distinctions between them. Rather, I am concerned with the task of understanding what they have in common and why art educators maintain social perspectives. So, I will simply try to describe some general characteristics and explain why I believe that social perspectives of art education are just good art education. This article has three parts. First, I will summarize what I believe to be influential theoretical foundations of these perspectives. Second, I will briefly discuss related historical and recent developments in the. field. Third, I will reflect on some of the recent changes in visual culture that led me to my social perspective. Democratic Art Education: Some Theoretical Foundations The visual arts help to make life worth living. They enable us to create,

force us to think, provide us with new possibilities and allow us to revisit old ideas. It is artistic Freedom-that is the freedom to create and have access to those mind-expanding ideas and objects-that perhaps best illustrates democratic thought. At a time when democracy is being challenged by even our own policy-makers, the protection of art and an education in social institutions is increasingly important.

One of the most quoted statements ever written by an American is the following:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life> Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. …

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