Holistic Art Education: A Transformative Approach to Teaching Art

By Campbell, Laurel H. | Art Education, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Holistic Art Education: A Transformative Approach to Teaching Art


Campbell, Laurel H., Art Education


Education in recent years has tended increasingly to narrow its focus, zeroing in on only those academic skills tested in high-stake assessments while ignoring many other aspects of children's development. Opposing this trend is an alternative movement, holistic education, which is concerned with cultivating and balancing all dimensions of the individual, including physical/sensory, emotional, and cognitive aspects, as well as social, moral, and spiritual attributes (Simmons & Campbell, 2008). I will discuss possible implications of the holistic paradigm for the future direction of visual arts education, beginning with some of the key features of contemporary holistic education, especially as they relate to a transformative approach to teaching art.

Introduction to Holistic Education

The principles underlying holistic education were framed centuries ago by philosophers such as Plato and Rousseau, each of whom argued that education had to address multiple dimensions of the individual while relating the person to society. In the early years of the 20th century, holistic ideas were brought into the modern era through John Dewey and the Progressive moment. Current proponents have reframed the approach within a postmodern understanding of education (Forbes, 2003; J. P. Miller, 2005: R. Miller, 2000; Shapiro & Purpel, 2005; Shapiro, 2006). Starting with Dewey's notion of education as social integration, today's version also addresses the relationship of education to personal transformation and self-transcendence, resulting in students who work and live for the common good rather than simply advancing their own individualistic concerns (R. Miller, 2000).

According to J. P. Miller (2007), the key principles that define contemporary holistic education are balance, inclusion, and connection. Balance refers to the correct relationship between each aspect of the person and the whole person, while inclusion means linking together various educational orientations for authentic learning. Connection results from focusing on the relationships between all dimensions of experience, as well as those between humans and all other living things. These principles have far-reaching practical implications for educators who create holistic curricula and the students who benefit from the approach. At the same time, they also reflect the most controversial aspect of holistic education: the spiritual.

Spirituality in Holistic Education

According to most contemporary holistic theorists, spirituality is distinguished from religion, and viewed as an awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. This awareness is presented in the context of holistic education as a route toward personal transformation as well as an impetus for social change (R. Miller, 2000; Purpel, 1998; Shapiro & Purpel, 2005). Perhaps surprisingly, recent understandings of spirituality have often been derived, not from theology or even the humanities, but from the sciences, in particular the deep ecology movement (Bowers, 2005; Capra & ApffelMarglin, 2002; Laszlo & Seidel, 2006), which identifies a sense of profound spiritual connectedness between human beings and nature as the means by which we can address the environmental crisis. Similarly psychologists and sociologists have increasingly recognized the importance of developing empathy, the sense of interpersonal connectedness. These avenues of research, among others, provide scholarly grounding for holistic approaches to education that seek transformative experiences based on spiritual awareness. Building upon this research, holistic educators argue that personal transformation and social change should first occur within teachers, and then their students. In both cases, the starting point is examining ones relational self in connection to the outer world (Taggart, 2001).

Controversy Regarding Holistic Education

Despite what has been said above, there are some serious controversies surrounding holistic education in general, and the spiritual aspect in particular. …

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