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Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Notes from: Brandt, Ron. "On Discipline-Based Art Education: A Conversation with Elliot Eisner." In EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP.

On Discipline-Based
Art Education

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An eminent scholar and researcher in both the arts and education, Elliot Eisner has long taken an art critic's view of schooling. With the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, he has influenced a new structure for art curriculums. Eisner is currently on leave from Stanford University as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto, California.


Four-part approach to Disciplined Based Art Education

" . . . . If the teacher shifts material too frequently --on a weekly basis, for example --the chances that children will learn to use that material with a sense of control and imagination are diminished . . . . There would be no continuity in the program, hence no competence, no mastery, and no possibility of using the instrument as a vehicle for artistic expression.

"Unlike mathematics, the arts have too often suffered from being without goals, without structure, without any sense of continuity and development . . . . the arts need more purpose and continuity.

"More specifically . . . . A youngster is introduced to the use of the coil method of constructing a clay pot. That activity provides opportunities for the teacher to help the youngster develop an awareness of things like proportion and technique and the expressive character of a vessel. That is, the shapes of different pots generate different kinds of feelings in viewers: pots can be delicate, they can be strong, they can be clumsy or graceful. The pot a youngster makes can be related to pots made in other cultures by other artists. The Greeks and the Aztecs made pots; the French, the Japanese, the Chinese make pots. So there are many opportunities to establish connections, to significantly broaden the kinds of things a youngster learns from the simple act of making a pot.

"There is a difference between aesthetics in learning and the learning of aesthetics. Aesthetics in learning is the feeling of satisfaction one gets from making a beautiful object, for example, or in doing a scientific experiment, for that matter. The learning of aesthetics is introducing children and adolescents to a set of ideas that have been around for along time: questions that have never been adequately resolved. For example, do works of art need to be beautiful . . . . Can something that is fictional tell the truth? Do you need to understand the intention of an artist to evaluate the adequacy of his or her work? . . . . Raising those kinds of questions, particularly with adolescents, opens up the artistic world in a way that the making of images does not.


"And how does criticism enter in?"

" . . . . when the teacher has the child look at that object and talk about what he or she sees --how the form is organized, how the image makes the child feel, what the child likes best about it, how it compares with other things that were made, the child begins to do art criticism . . . . when a teacher puts on display 20 paintings of let's say, still life or imaginative drawing that have been made by members of the class and helps the class recognize the special qualities of each of the drawings so that youngsters begin to learn that even in school not everybody has to have the same answer in order to do excellent work. Criticism pertains to growth in perception."


"And you're saying that the four disciplines are not necessarily taught separately, but that the teacher must pay conscious attention to each of them?"

"Yes. It's also possible to relate some of the things that children are learning in art to some of the things they're learning in the social studies or other curriculum areas. As you know, one of the great needs, particularly in our secondary schools, is the construction of conceptual bridges across subject matters."

"There are three basic ways to handle the teaching of the arts in a classroom. 1) way is to teach each of the arts as a subject with its own particular characteristics, its own continuity and development. A particular block of time during the week is assigned to teaching the arts, and each of the arts is treated in terms of its own aesthetic or artistic features. 2) way, sometimes used with younger children, is to provide spaces in the classroom for youngster to pick up on their own individual work at various times during the week --but that approach tends to be fairly ad hoc in character. 3) Ideally, the arts should be taught in relation to other subjects. In the best of all possible worlds, each of the arts would be taught in a way that allows for parity between subjects. What is aesthetic or artistic about each of the arts would not be neglected. If it were possible to teach the arts in an integrated way without sacrificing their integrity, I would endorse it . . . . "

"Secondary art teachers have developed professional commitments and routines that heavily emphasize the productive aspect of the arts. They regard themselves --and rightly so --as specialists, as artists with a particular body of knowledge and set of techniques, a particular style of teaching. Just beginning to work with them to encourage them to expand their view of appropriate content so that there will be greater curricular balance than at present."

"The Getty Project is only about three years old . . . . "

"Problem can reside in the way it is implemented. I have no doubt that the provision of continuity and sequence in learning is appropriate for art teaching . . . . we need both structure and magic in art education."

"Ideas are changed by the schools . . . . "


If discipline-based art education succeeds, what results do you expect?

"If a sound art education program were implemented effectively in schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, youngsters finishing school would be more artistically literate. They would be able to respond to works of visual art in museums and galleries, and they would have developed the dispositions and abilities to attend to and experience the visual world at large . . . . would understand something about the relationship between culture and the content and form of art . . . . would understand this connection between belief systems and expressive form and technique, they would understand that the images that characterize a culture come out of a tradition, a set of ideas. Youngster would be able to provide reasons for the judgments they made about works of art. Their judgments would not be simply a matter of personal taste; they would be a matter of grounded preference, of reasoning. Their conceptions of what art is, what the mind is, and what knowledge is would be more sophisticated. The world of art and the visual environment in which they live would be a major resource for enriching their lives. [Expanding art education and approaching the issue of its great consequence in a person''s education to make connections, to make a synthesis, to judge, to make choices and decision . . . . The role of the mind in the development of art must not, however, be overestimated in terms of the total engagement in art work of persons with diverse intentions. Many an art critic has created a verbal masterpiece based upon another totally different artistic experience . . . . "

[Notes from: Brandt, Ron. "On Discipline-Based Art Education: A Conversation with Elliot Eisner." In EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP.]




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