Art Education: Epistemologies of Art

By Freedman, Kerry | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Art Education: Epistemologies of Art


Freedman, Kerry, Studies in Art Education


Epistemology means to understand; it is the philosophical investigation of the nature and origin of knowledge. Art education, in all its various forms, is not only the practice of coming to know about art, but also the study of the character of this knowledge and the ways in which we come know it. Research and theory in art education involve investigations into the natures and origins of art knowledge.

In a sense, the nature of art knowledge is the nature of ourselves, both as individuals and as human beings. The production of art is a form of inquiry about and through our perceptual systems and we use it to study our individual identities as artists and members of audiences. Art is also an investigation of our many group identities. Art is by people for people and mediates between people. As people have changed historically, the ways we have defined knowledge, and even conceived of the process of gaining knowledge, has changed. For example, Plato considered knowledge absolute, universal and independent of the mind. Now, we tend to think of knowledge as constructed by individuals and groups in ways that improve our adaptation to ever changing environments.

In order to enable investigations of the nature and origin of art knowledge, not just reproduce what has been represented as art knowledge in curriculum of the past, we need to undertake several discussions as a professional field. To promote the study of knowledge among art education professionals and develop art knowledge among students, we need to determine what constitutes art knowledge now, what practices best promote the construction of knowledge, and which policies need to be put in place in order to support those practices.

We learn about the characteristics of art through investigations of media techniques and formal processes. But, we also learn about them through visual investigations of complex ideas, such as, righteousness, environment, exploitation, beauty, democracy, and violence. The question is how best can we learn about knowledge connected to the visual arts? It is not by limiting our ideas of what art is or narrowing instruction to formal qualities and technical skills. Quite the contrary, best practices will be diverse and enable students to learn about the production and range of uses of art, such as collection, exhibition, critique, communication, illustration, and decoration. It is only through the experience of the diversity and complexity of art that we can develop knowledge about it.

Knowledge about art is dependent upon the interpretive and interactive character of making and viewing. Students' interpretations of visual culture influence art-related experiences and other ways in which they see the world. In order to make meaning and promote the development of interpretive skills, it is important for students to have opportunities to study visual representations of their topics of interest. …

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