New School Art Styles: Project the of Art Education

By Gude, Olivia | Art Education, January 2013 | Go to article overview

New School Art Styles: Project the of Art Education


Gude, Olivia, Art Education


Though the field of art education increasingly advocates for the importance of having clear criteria for judging the quality of a student's arts learning, we have notyet been as thorough and rigorous with ourselves in articulating the necessary qualities of the basic building block of visual arts curriculum - the art project. Perhaps the assumption that visual arts education will be project-based (unfortunately often translated in actual practice as product-based) has been so dominant and unquestioned, the field has not adequately theorized the structures, uses, varieties, and sequencing of these projects as an educational form.

In 1976, Arthur Efland published "The School Art Style: a Functional Analysis," in which he pointed out that there were distinct styles of art made in schools that were unlike art made in other settings. He argued that these school art styles did not actually create possibilities for free expression for youth, but instead served the symbolic purpose of representing to others that there were opportunities for creativity and free play in otherwise regimented school systems. Looking at the actual work produced based on a given project, Efland noted the lack of meaningful variation in the "art" that was created and famously concluded, "The selfsame creative activities may not be as free as they [initially] looked" (p. 41).

Drawing on characteristics identified by Brent Wilson, Efland described school art as "game-like, conventional, ritualistic, and rule-governed." He also observed that "the school art style does not seem to be a pedagogical tool for teaching children about art in the world beyond the school, though this is its manifest function" (1976, pp. 38-39). Efland's conclusions that many of the art activities in schools do not actually support creative self-expression and that they are not effective in teaching students about methods of artmaking outside of school contexts, echoes in the literature of art education over the ensuing decades. Almost 40 years later there is lingering uneasiness among thoughtful scholars and teachers as they continue to observe and analyze the everyday practices of art education and as they question whether art projects made in schools can provide opportunities for students to truly explore personally meaningful subjects while supporting clear learning objectives about art content.

Many art educators and art education historians have grappled with questions of the appropriate philosophy, content, theory, scope, and sequence of visual arts education (Efland, 1990; Eisner & Day, 2004; Stankiewicz, 2001). What's striking is that whether the dominant or proposed paradigm is Discipline-Based Art Education, creativity enhancement, visual culture, or another formulation, the range of projects that are actually taught in most schools has remained strikingly similar for several decades.1 When I scan the suggested projects in popular project-sharing art education magazines and websites, I see that many of the projects are eerily similar to those I saw in magazines as a young teacher in the 1970s, despite the many dramatic changes in the styles, materials, and methods of making meaning in contemporary art practices (Foster, 1983; Gude, 2004; Harrison 8c Wood, 1992; Riemschneider & Grosenick, 1999; Wallis, 1984). The fact that suggested projects in such magazines are now routinely paired with a national art standard seems to have done little to encourage careful analysis by authors or editors of whether the instructions or resulting projects are actually in sync with the stated standard.2

We cannot envision and manifest new styles of art education without examining and reconsidering art education curriculum as it is currently taught. We must be willing to let go of some of the old familiar projects (and their myriad variations) in order to make room for other sorts of projects and other kinds of art experiences.

Sometimes it is suggested that school art rooms don't need projects at all, that students should be given the freedom to pursue their own creative agendas (Douglas & Jaquith, 2009). …

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