The Yellow Brick Road of Art Education

By Metcalf, Suesi; Smith-Shank, Deborah L. | Art Education, September 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Yellow Brick Road of Art Education


Metcalf, Suesi, Smith-Shank, Deborah L., Art Education


L. Frank Baum wrote the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. The edition we found was printed in 1956 to celebrate the author's 100th birthday, and as you can see from the quote written above "to the readers of this book," our culture has changed a lot since then. We find Baum's motive for writing the tale very interesting.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out" (Baum, 1956).

Keeping both of these quotations in mind, it seems appropriate on the hundredth anniversary of the book to consider Baum's fantastic tale in relationship to art education practices and pre-service elementary teachers.

Good art education practices facilitate growth through experience in art in much the same ways that Dorothy and her companions grew in courage, kindness, wisdom, and tenacity as they experienced on their journey to Oz. Like Baum, we believe that wonderment is an essential ingredient in any tale-art education or Oz-and that heartaches and nightmares ought to be left out of education altogether. Unfortunately, nightmares and heartaches are frequently the result of poor judgments by art teachers who inadvertently cause their students to experience art anxiety (Smith-Shank, 1993).

When children begin making marks upon their world, they are delighted with what they have accomplished, but when they enter school, all too often something changes. The creation of art is no longer self-directed, but teacher-directed, and the chance of praise from significant adults diminishes significantly. Negative responses to children's art create nightmares and heartaches. The joy of artmaking is replaced with fear of failure. Children have learned that, in the eyes of their teachers, there is a right and a wrong way to make art Some children who receive negative responses to their art grow up with fear to show their artwork, to experiment with unfamiliar media, and to explore new ideas. Sometimes these children do continue to make art, but they have learned that home-not school-is the safe place to make art.

When Dorothy went on her quest for the Great Oz, she met three odd companions. One lacked a brain, one a heart, and one courage. The four of them, along with the dog Toto, journeyed to find the wise and wonderful Wizard who, they believed, would give them what they lacked. Of course we all know the end of the story. Each of them already had what they wanted. But they didn't know it any more than our students who suffer from anxiety because negative experiences have taken away their belief that they can learn about art and their courage to try.

The Study

Art anxiety is common among pre-service elementary students. We have found that along the road of art education, something often happens that encourages self-doubt and insecurity about art. After a discussion about our respective students and their fears and discomfort with art, we decided to find out more about how our students feel about art and deal with their negative emotions. Student journals and exit surveys during the Fall 1999 semester were collected with permission from students enrolled in the two authors' courses entitled "Teaching Art at the Elementary School." They provide the data for this study. Art anxiety was much more prevalent than we had suspected. One student reflected:

Walking into that room on the first day was sheer terror. I talked to a few girls in the class, and we all said we hated art and having to produce it. We had been teased as a child or had a bad experience with art and teachers. None of us felt we had any artistic ability, and we hoped the class focused more on teaching art to children than on making it ourselves.

Although both of us were experienced teaching this course and working with students who were intimidated by art, we were surprised to note that 34 out of the 72 students, reported feelings such as "discomfort," "fear," "terror," "nervousness," or "inferiority," and two even used the term "art anxiety. …

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