Enhancing Art Education

By Adams, Dennis; Hamm, Mary | School Arts, April 1994 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Art Education


Adams, Dennis, Hamm, Mary, School Arts


Educational decision-makers in the US have generally not paid much attention to arts education. At best, it is found on the fringes of the curriculum. Still, amidst dire warnings, there are glimmers of optimism--a vague feeling that the arts can open new horizons and enrich the spirit.

There is a tendency to view the arts as an emotional extension, rather than a discipline with a knowledge base, complete with social, historical and philosophical roots. In this country, the arts are not associated with wage-earning occupations. An arts education program is usually more vulnerable to budget cuts than other programs, and while money doesn't solve all education problems, it can make a critical difference in making the arts a vital universe for thought and action.

In many countries, it is widely believed that the arts aid children in becoming better citizens and more productive workers. The notion is that the world is poorer without the arts, and that a country's richness of knowledge, enlightenment and enduring resources for research benefit from artistic endeavor. From Asia to Europe, art education is a central features of the school curriculum.

Building a future for art education means expanding and strengthening links within the arts and education communities. There is a visual world out there that youngsters must explore if they are to be broadly educated and develop critical-thinking, problem-solving and imagination skills. All of these qualities can be taught and reinforced, helping children integrate the skills of producing critiques and reflecting on aesthetic concerns.

The social forces surrounding a field of study and individual talent are prime factors in generating creativity. This means the art education movement must legitimize its goals by becoming an active force in the school reform movement, assume a more aggressive role with at-risk students, and focus on the arts' potential to foster thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.

To foster creativity in the arts and sciences requires a conviction that creative expression is more than a frill; it goes beyond classroom recreation to be recognized as a serious subject.

Interdisciplinary Notions

Creativity is deeply rooted in how a child's early symbolic products convey the meaning of their world. Very young children can describe, interpret and evaluate their visual perceptions. Adult creativity often draws on these early efforts. In America, we do not have a tradition of prizing artistic expression in children, and artistic capabilities are often neglected in standard classrooms.

When students have the chance to express themselves, they experience the excitement of conveying personal experience in their own way. They are capable of using figurative language (metaphors, similes, etc.) in writing and symbolism in painting. Children can be involved in artistic interdisciplinary projects ranging from illustrating their own books to producing videos with camcorders.

Standardized tests don't accurately measure student creativity or achievement--therefore teachers turn to portfolios and projects to measure students' work. Portfolios can include everything from videos and tapes to writing and graphic art. Teachers are also experimenting with peer editing, group criticism and active learning teams (particularly important in dealing with new media).

Production is an important and element, but the historical and critical dimensions of art education are just as important. To understand literature, children must function as critics --the same is true for art. Viewing the arts as a cognitive activity that connects the various dimensions of the subject is most important. The creative effect of questioning, challenging and reflecting contribute to good creative habits. Creativity rarely reaches across all subjects; it most often occurs within a domain of knowledge.

Artistic production, particularly for younger children, plays a central role in education as students gain experience in different media. …

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