Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Critical Thinking Dispositions as an Outcome of Art Education

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Critical Thinking Dispositions as an Outcome of Art Education

Article excerpt

Critical thinking skills and dispositions are generally considered desirable outcomes of the educational process. Roots of the construct of critical thinking can be traced back 2500 years, to the teaching practice of Socrates, who developed a probing method of questioning the claims made by others (Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997). Contemporary scholars have defined the construct of critical thinking as reflective thinking focused on the evaluation of various alternatives (Ennis, 2002; Jones et al., 1995; Paul et al., 1997; Perry, 1999). Dispositions are described as inclinations to use existing skills (Facione, Giancarlo, Facione, & Gainen, 1995; Perkins, Jay, & Tishman, 1993). Students who develop critical thinking dispositions are inclined to employ critical, reflective thinking when engaged in problem solving and analysis across various domains (Giancarlo & Facione, 2001).

Because art students practice reflective thinking and aesthetic inquiry when they create artwork, as well as when they discuss their work and the work of others, existing literature is rich with theory that such activities positively impact art students' ability to think critically. In Art Criticism and Education, Geahigan (1997) explains how he believes art stimulates critical, reflective thinking: "Reflection, in turn, begins when students confront what John Dewey called a problematic situation. Works of art are potentially problematic because they can be understood and evaluated in different ways" (p. 146).

As Geahigan explains, works of art pose problems that can be resolved in many ways, so critiquing and interpreting works of art in a classroom engages students in thoughtfully considering the multiple perspectives of fellow students on art content. Reflecting on multiple interpretations of subject matter is an aspect of critical thinking, so it stands to reason that engagement in critical and aesthetic inquiry fosters in art students a disposition to think critically. This line of reasoning is prevalent in theoretical discussions on art education (Dorn, 1999; Eisner, 1998; Geahigan, 1997; Perkins, 1994; Stout, 1999; Winner & Hetland, 2001), but few empirical studies have tested the theory. However, one study by Burton, Horowitz, and Abeles (2000) which did test the premise found that students with high arts exposure showed clear evidence of an understanding of "multiple or alternative vantage points" (p. 246). The researchers refer to the competencies they identified in high arts exposure students as '"habits of mind' rather than higher order thinking" (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 1999, p. 43), but many of the cognitive competencies Burton et al. identified in high arts exposure students, such as an understanding of multiple vantage points, are closely aligned with critical thinking competencies and dispositions as they are described in many of the construct models (Ennis, 2002; Facione et al., 1995; Jones et al., 1995; King, 1994; Paul et al., 1997; Perkins, Jay & Tishman, 1993; Perry, 1999).

In her research on the social psychology of creativity, Amabile (1996) describes creativity as "a novel, appropriate response to a heuristic (or open-ended) task" (p. 38). She explains that heuristic tasks are the direct contrast of algorithmic tasks: "those for which the path to the solution is clear and straightforward-tasks for which an algorithm exists" (p. 35). Notably, Amabile's description of heuristic, open-ended tasks parallels Geahigan's (1997) description of works of art as "potentially problematic because they can be understood and evaluated in different ways" (p. 146).

Art educators and researchers are familiar with the many ways that learning in the creative arts is flush with open-ended, heuristic problem solving. In art production, students seek solutions for how to convey meaning with visual imagery; and in critiquing art they seek answers on interpreting the work of others. Neither type of inquiry is clear nor straightforward; rather, it is ill structured, and requires as Dorn (1999) explains, that students "pay attention to particular details of individual cases and develop case-by-case interpretations" (p. …

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