Defining Art Appreciation
Seabolt, Betty Oliver, Art Education
Students are introduced to the study of art in a course called Art Appreciation, but there is little agreement on what "art appreciation" is or what the goals of a such a course should be. Is it a chronological study of masterpieces or the ability to know the difference between good and bad art? Is it a skill or a state of mind? Is it cognitive knowledge or affective involvement or both? Is the goal to produce student connoisseurs of great works of art or to teach cultured conversational skills? There is much confusion of art appreciation with art history, art aesthetics, and art criticism, but each of these areas is distinctly different, and each has different goals. This article attempts to clarify the differences and explore the changing definition of art appreciation.
The National Committee for Standards in the Arts (1994) defines aesthetics as "a branch of philosophy that focuses on the nature of beauty, the nature and value of art, and the inquiry processes and human responses associated with those topics" (p. 82). Lankford (1992) describes aesthetics as "concepts and methods in the philosophy of art, including inquiry aimed at describing and comprehending aesthetic experience as it is related to artistic processes and products" (p.5). More simply, aesthetics is a general body of knowledge and inquiry about the nature of art. Art history, as defined by the National Committee for Standards in the Arts (1994), is "a record of the visual arts, incorporating information, interpretations, and judgments about art objects, artists, and conceptual influences on developments in the visual arts" (p. 28). According to Ralph Smith (1993), art history is the study of the continuity and changes of art from caves to present. like studio art, art criticism is a skill that can be learned and must be practiced, states Tom Anderson (1991). An observer enters into a direct personal encounter with a work of art to seek its meaning, resulting in an interpretation and possibly an evaluation and judgment of the work (Anderson). Feldman's (1994) definition is "spoken or written 'talk' about art" (p. 1). In short, aesthetics is defined as a body of knowledge and inquiry about the nature of art.
Art history is a body of knowledge and study of specific works of arts and their relationship to other works and to the chronological period and cultural milieu in which they were created. Art criticism is the activity of talking about art. On the other hand, appreciation of art is both an act and a state of understanding and enjoying art, according to Harold Osborne (1970), who borrows the definition from Thomas Munro. Art appreciation, both affective and cognitive, engages emotions and feelings about art while knowing and understanding develop. Appreciation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), is "perception; recognition; intelligent notice... perception of delicate impressions or distinctions" (p. 581). Johnson (1989) cites several other definitions: Clive Bell's (1913) definition as "sensitive and emotionally-tinged percipience," John Dewey's (1934) definition as "aesthetic perception," and Thomas Munro's (1941) as "understanding and enjoying" (Johnson, p. 24). This simple and direct description of Munro seems most appropriate for defining the activity of appreciation.
Historically, art appreciation has not always been defined as understanding and enjoying art and consequently has not been taught with those goals in mind. Michael (1991) describes the history of art in public school education as alternating between a student-centered nature approach, emphasizing the student's participation in creative experiences, and a subject-centered nurture approach, emphasizing the teacher's role in imparting certain information. These nature and nurture categories offer a useful means of comparing and contrasting early methods of teaching art appreciation with current methodology while exploring the changing roles of teacher and student. …