Teaching Art

Teaching art is not only about creative expression. Besides learning in the field of arts, art education helps students develop various skills and increase their knowledge in other areas.

A study from the early 1990s showed that arts education also teaches better school attendance and boosts the student's motivation to learn. It also helps students improve their marks and develops multicultural understanding and creativity. Teaching art in schools can also help students gain problem-solving abilities and higher-order thinking skills.

In the 17th century, the elementary school curriculum included drawing, reading, writing, singing and playing an instrument. Originally, art teaching referred to drawing, which remained a basic part of education throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, art was largely considered from a utilitarian point of view. Later other types of art, such as painting and plastic arts, were included in art teaching.

In the 20th century, art teaching was marked by a transition from utilitarian to creative expression philosophy, which put the emphasis on personal development. With the outbreak of World War II and the successive Cold War between the East and the West, however, the significance of art education was diminished. Teaching art lost its priority to science and mathematics in school programs. In the United Sates, art programs would fall victims amid a national energy and demographic crisis.

Yet in the 1970s, educators engaged in art teaching made a lot of effort to re-establish the authority and significance of art education. The U.S. discipline-based art education (DBAE) program, launched at the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, was aimed at developing students' abilities to understand and appreciate art. The program considered art "an essential component of general education," and "a foundation for specialized art study." It also suggested that the so called "studio art," should be upgraded with knowledge from art history and criticism, and aesthetics.

Such efforts materialized in the U.S. federal Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which also established the standards for art education. According to the national standards, students should be able to:

  • understand and implement art media and processes
  • apply visual arts structures and functions
  • select and evaluate a variety of subject matter, symbols and ideas
  • understand art with regard to history and cultures
  • contemplate and assess their own work and that of others
  • link art to other disciplines

    During the 20th century art teaching was influenced by several theoretical movements.

    First the theory of constructivism, supported by researchers such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, replaced behaviorism as a main educational principle. It is based on the idea that learners build their own knowledge and teachers are only assisting this process.

    Postmodern theory in turn replaced modernism and focused on multiculturalism and the absence of cultural dominance.

    According to the multiple intelligences theory of Howard Gardner, thinking and learning depend on individual intellectual abilities. Gardner distinguished seven types of intelligence:

    • musical
    • bodily-kinesthetic
    • logical-mathematical
    • linguistic
    • spatial
    • interpersonal
    • intrapersonal

    Such theories, which refer to education and teaching in general, also determined the approaches to art teaching. Students are thus left to reach their own knowledge for making artistic decisions.

    Children perform art from a very young age using objects from their everyday environment. Growing up, children start to imply views and values in their artworks. In elementary schools children are encouraged to develop and enhance their artistic abilities and creativity. In the United States, elementary art specialists often play the role of art teachers with an emphasis on art making. Sometimes art specialists and classroom teachers work together with students. The role of art specialists is to help classroom teachers integrate art in other subjects in order to broaden the students' perspective. Many U.S. middle schools also support the incorporation of art as a core subject in the curriculum, applying a team-teaching method for class scheduling to back art education.

    Art is an elective subject in most U.S. secondary schools and some high schools even offer 30-40 separate art classes. Art-oriented education was supported by the U.S. educational reform from the 1980s and 1990s. Art is seen as a tool which students can use to study themselves and the world. In some schools art is taught with another subject to provide comprehensive learning in a specific area, for example photography is coupled with journalism.

    Computer technologies and the Internet have provided art teaching with innovative resources for both art creation and for the application of visual arts in other subjects.

Teaching Art: Selected full-text books and articles

Telling Pieces: Art as Literacy in Middle School Classes By Peggy Albers; Sharon Murphy Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Computer Hypertextual "Uncovering" in Art Education By Taylor, Pamela G.; Carpenter, B. Stephen, II Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2005
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