Art Education: A World View

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Art education: a world view

LAST SUMMER I WAS FORTUNATE enough to lead forty-five art teachers to the People's Republic of China on a study tour and this summer I will take another group to Mongolia and Tibet. As in past trips, we will visit classrooms to observe art teachers in action. We will also talk to administrators, teachers and artists, and, somewhere along the line, I will teach a class of youngsters myself. I have done this in Armenia, Cyprus, Korea, Hungary, Australia, Quatar, Iran, Israel, and I hope to continue this practice until I am no longer able to find my way to an airport.

What is it that draws me to the classrooms of the world? I have always been curious about the kinds of interactions that take place when one is at the center of that magnetic trio of players--the teacher, the subject (art) and the student. In my years of travel I have yet to encounter one class that did not eagerly respond to what must appear as a stranger from another part of the planet mouthing indecipherable sounds. Our attention is riveted upon each other as the lesson progresses and some problem in art begins to shape itself into visual form. I am hooked on it, and so are they. The power of art takes over as the boundaries of age, language and culture disappear.

When I observe their teachers and study the curriculum of a school or district, my attention shifts to a more academic level, but one that is no less interesting to me. It is here that I begin to find some answers to those perennial and universal questions that bedevil art teachers in every society on the face of the earth. What are we teaching? How do we teach? How do we justify the time, effort and expense that is required of any art program? Sometimes, as in the case of established programs (China, Korea, the USSR), the answers are readily available (providing interpreters are on hand). Other times, one has to do a lot of inferring from scattered bits of evidence.

I have learned much in my visits to the classrooms of the world. Some of it came as no surprise and in other cases, what I witnessed provided pleasures of an unexpected sort. Here are some impressions that may pique your curiosity: . …