Art Experiences and Attitude toward Art Education: A Descriptive Study of Missouri Public School Principals

By Luehrman, Mick | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Art Experiences and Attitude toward Art Education: A Descriptive Study of Missouri Public School Principals


Luehrman, Mick, Studies in Art Education


Arthur Efland writes, "what people believe about art and its value is likely to affect whether it is taught or not" (1995, p. 25). A principal's beliefs about the value of art and art education have the potential to affect the status of visual art within the school. As pedagogical leader, the principal fills a key role in regard to the implementation of visual art education within the school. In a variety of implicit and explicit ways the principal establishes educational priorities, sending messages to the school and community about the relative importance of art education as a part of the school curriculum. Through the management of the school district funds allocated to the school, the principal has a degree of control over the funding of the art program. She or he makes important decisions about class scheduling, class size, and facility use, and often has a strong voice in the hiring of teachers for the building. The principal also evaluates the performance of the art teacher, monitoring the planning and teaching of lessons. Other than the teacher who teaches visual art, the principal is the most important figure for the delivery of art instruction in the school (National Art Education Association, 1992; National Art Education Association, n. d.).

Cooperation between the art teacher and the principal is essential if art education is to flourish and grow. Miller (1980) found that Missouri art teachers underestimated principals' attitudes toward art when asked to respond in the way they thought their principal would to items on an attitude scale.

In an examination of school art programs that were attempting to implement comprehensive art education reforms, Wilson (1997) found that, "art specialists and classroom teachers working without the active support of a building administrator have little success in implementing a school-wide arts education program" (Wilson, 1997, p. 130). The nature of principals' attitudes toward art and art education and an interest in how these attitudes are formed become important considerations for the art teacher and others who advocate for visual art in the school.

There is general agreement that attitudes are in large part formed and shaped by experiences and that these attitudes, in turn, provide motivation for behavior (Morris & Stuckhardt, 1977). Dewey (1938/1959) reflected on the relationships among experience, attitude, and behavior, writing, "every experience affects for better or worse the attitudes which help decide the quality of further experiences, by setting up certain preference and aversion, and making it easier or harder to act for this or that end" (p.29-30). Furthermore, in discussing the educational qualities of experience, Dewey introduced and Eisner (1994) restated the idea that experiences can be educative, noneducative, or miseducative. Experiences would be considered educative if they enable further growth and expansion for the individual within a domain of learning. On the other hand experiences would be miseducative if they limit the individual's possibilities for further growth, or noneducative if they have essentially no impact on growth. If the principal's art and art education experiences have been trivial, negative, or nonexistent, it should not be surprising if he or she is predisposed to think of art education in these same terms. On the other hand, following Dewey's logic, we might expect to find a history of educative art experiences in the background of those principals who place a higher value on art education.

Gardner (1983) and Walters & Gardner (1984) investigated the idea that a particularly meaningful experience within a domain of learning can have a strong dramatic impact on an individual's self-image in relation to that domain of learning. The lasting consequences of this experience and the meaning that is attached to it in retrospect are important aspects of this concept that Gardner calls the crystallizing experience (Gardner, 1983). …

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