The History of American Art Education: Learning about Art in American Schools

The History of American Art Education: Learning about Art in American Schools

The History of American Art Education: Learning about Art in American Schools

The History of American Art Education: Learning about Art in American Schools

Synopsis

The ideas, people, and events that developed art education are described and analyzed so that art educators and educators in general will have a better understanding of what has happened (and is happening) to visual art in the schools. Peter Smith raises the issue of art education's inordinate emphasis on Eurocentric art. He challenges the often expressed notion that the field of education is the cause of art education's problems and proposes that confused conceptions within the art world are just as much a root of the difficulty. No other book in art education history gives such close and analytical attention to the careers of women in the field. The materials on Germanic cultural and historical influences are unequaled as is the scholarly treatment of Viktor Lowenfeld, probably the most influential single figure in 20th-century American art education.

Excerpt

A history of American art education must begin by narrowing down what is to be discussed, but what might go into a definition of art education is not a simple matter, the field as it now exists in the schools having grown from various and scattered roots. What it is now has little resemblance to practices at the time of Horace Mann, or even the early work of Henry Turner Bailey, the long time editor of School Arts. It was a peculiar approach of early twentieth-century education historians to trace the origins of the public schools to Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal era institutions and educational efforts that had no real relationship to later forms of public schooling (Bailyn, 1960). Art, education writers have sometimes followed suit and have neglected to note education in the visual arts has always existed in the Americas, even in pre- and post-Columbian times when no schools existed. Education about visual art did and does exist outside schools. It was not created at the same time as public schools, yet writers have discussed art being "introduced" in the schools and gone on to explain the "growth" of art in American schools as if education in the visual arts and schooling were in a necessarily symbiotic relationship. They rarely refer to the art education found in American extra-school society. Since art is a universal human behavior, to say that visual art education existed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America--to say nothing about indigenous American cultures--is to merely restate a truism.

Despite my contention that there is little to be learned about Americans' attempts to gain knowledge about the visual arts in the seventeenth-, eighteenth- and very early nineteenth-century schools, some consideration of the days before Walter Smith "introduced" school art (the 1870s) must be undertaken because the later forms art education assumed are thus shown to be choices made by humans, not the inescapable results of imagined faceless zeitgeist, or products of inevitable economic forces, even though all choices are affected by a mental climate, a pervasive attitude in certain periods or societies. At the . . .

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