Interdisciplinary Art Education Reconsidered

By Ulbricht, J. | Art Education, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Interdisciplinary Art Education Reconsidered


Ulbricht, J., Art Education


As if it had just been invented, the notion of interdisciplinary education is motivating some parents, teachers, and curriculum designers to reconsider current educational practice. To support the trend, several publishers are busy developing and testing prospective state-adopted art texts with an interdisciplinary focus. Increasingly, many schools are developing and implementing a variety of interdisciplinary projects, units, courses, degrees, and conferences.

Factors that have led to a renewed interest in interdisciplinary education include: globalization, postmodernism, and various educational initiatives. From a global perspective the world is becoming more interdependent As economies, technologies, and populations of the world expand, new problems are created that require multidisciplinary solutions.

Historically, art developed in concert with evolving scientific discoveries and social concerns. After World War II, as the disciplines of knowledge became increasingly specialized, modern art seemed to distance itself from previous art styles and common everyday problems. Today, one can see in postmodern art strong interdisciplinary connections to personal, community, cultural, historical, and scientific events. Thus, the discipline of art is becoming more interdisciplinary.

With increasing specialization in each discipline, and the decontextualization of knowledge, the need for an interdisciplinary educational perspective has reemerged. New educational initiatives such as Goals 2000 (1994) and the National Standards for Arts Education (CNAEA, 1994) contain interdisciplinary components. Educators such as Jacobs (1989), Beane (1995), and Panaritis (1995) have given additional support by presenting concepts for the creation and implementation of interdisciplinary school programs.

Unfortunately for some, the notion of interdisciplinary teaching is potentially problematic. Many art teachers are asking themselves questions such as: What is interdisciplinary art education? What new skills will I need to learn to teach in an interdisciplinary manner? How does interdisciplinary education differ from discipline-centered education? Why would I change anything about my teaching if art is already an interdisciplinary subject? Will interdisciplinary teaching result in a serious study of art or a watered-down version of each interrelated subject? These and other questions are worth contemplating before one completely embraces any single approach to interdisciplinary art education.

Although some teachers have experimented with interdisciplinary lessons and feel secure with their current teaching practice, it is the purpose of this paper to take a closer look at interdisciplinary education from a historical perspective and to present guidelines for the future. With the following overview, art teachers will be better informed when designing and implementing current and future interdisciplinary programs and projects.

One basic definition was presented by Brent Wilson (1995) who said that interdisciplinary education can be defined as "making connections." On the surface, Wilson's definition seems inspiring and liberating, however, connections can be made among a number of factors, by a variety of individuals, leading to confusion and hesitation among some teachers.

According to Fogarty (1991), connections can be made with one or more of the following teaching methods: (a) sequential integration within the discipline through time as one lesson relates to the next, (b) across several disciplines via sequential and thematic comparisons and connections, and (c) within and across learners through relating personal experiences and points of view to course content. One can find a form of interdisciplinary education in any curriculum whether it be child-, discipline-, or society centered.

Throughout history, interdisciplinary education has been described with a variety of terms including integrated, related, and correlated. …

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