History of American Art Education
These belief systems have resulted in an even larger gap between fine arts and everyday life. When there is a strong connection between art and craft, there is a broader definition of art. This typically results in a more positive feeling towards art, because art is viewed as being more practical in this realm.
The philosophies concerning art education in early America definitely had an impact on later beliefs. As the United States moved into the Industrial Revolution, once again, there was a shift in lifestyle and attitude. Efland cites many of the changes that took place during this time period. First and foremost, the machine gradually began to replace the human worker. In terms of art, this meant a few things. First, it reiterated the idea that visual art was not crucial, because the skilled artisan became expendable. As a result, the artistic quality of goods decreased. This phenomenon was similar to what went on in earlier times in American History, in that the economic climate of the time took precedence over the importance of visual art and art education.
Romanticism developed partly in response to the Industrial Revolution, and as a result, attitudes about art and art education took another shift. This time there were increases in art consumers and collectors, and therefore, art became thought of as more of a commodity than before (Efland, 1990, p. 51). According to Efland, Britain created two levels of art education, one that trained the fine artist, and one that trained the artisan in a design school, which resulted in further separation of the classes (1990, p. 60). In the United States, the Romantic period indicated a difference in beliefs about art than in the time before the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, art education dealt more with realistic application, and how it could benefit society practically. Because the Industrial Revolution drastically changed lifestyles, art and art education became their own entities, which really had not happened yet in the United States. The growth of academies in Europe marked more positive attitudes towards art and the artist. Artists were trained very rigorously, and according to Efland, figure drawing was emphasized because there was a common belief within the art world at the time, that if a student could draw the figure, they could, in a sense, draw anything (1990, p. 55). If today’s schools adopted this philosophy once again, art students would no doubt have better artistic skills. Educational practice, on the other hand, is in many ways a product of the students it services. Therefore, rote and systematic learning is not effective with today’s student, although it may have been in the past. It is not considered best practice to teach with such “old school” philosophies, as society has raised a contemporary child, one that is well-versed in technology and is used to a fast-paced lifestyle.
Smith’s history of American art education also highlights the Germanic influences on Art education, which played an important role in later time periods. Smith cites Schaefer-Simmern and Lowenfeld as having major influences on American art education. It was at this time that developmental psychology sprouted, and modern roots of art education become more evident. Influential figures began discussing and debating important issues surrounding art education, including the role of art history, theories on representation, and the social benefits of art. Comparisons were made between the art of children and primitive art, as well as American children’s art and German folk art, springing questions about the role and impact of the educator on student art.
Each of these issues is still in debate/discussion today, and plays a role in current trends of art education. The work of Franz Cizek is especially evident in today’s art classrooms. Also an important figure in art education, Cizek encouraged self-expression through art, and his philosophies towards art education were very student-centered. Although the way the curriculum is structured has changed, as well as certain objectives that educators teach children, today’s schools operate very much through a student-centered model. An important factor that impacts what students are getting out of an art classroom is the individual teacher, however. Especially with a discipline-based art education, the system makes it easy for some teachers to skim over the concept of self-expression. Where this was Cizek’s main mission, teachers today can get caught up in the core objectives that relate to their curricula for a particular project, without teaching and encouraging the self-expression part. This is arguably more common in older grades, as the objectives become a bit more skill based, and teachers are working towards getting students to render a nine-step value scale, for example, or capture a likeness in a portrait. It is up to the teacher in these instances to incorporate the concept of expression and the artist’s individuality. Many school districts still have very vague curricula, in which “using art to express oneself” is a vague objective that could be interpreted by teachers in their own personal ways.
The importance of history lies in the fact that each occurrence impacts later practices. This is prevalent in all areas surrounding society, including the development of art education in America. Especially because the United States is comparatively a young nation, it is crucial that we examine our practices and what influenced the development of these practices. Through the work of scholars such as Efland and Smith, it becomes increasingly clear, that the path of art education through America’s past is complex and evolving. Most importantly, it is through their research that we come to understand that the current state of art education, including its strengths and its flaws, can be traced to the events of the past that shaped it.
Efland, A. (1990). A history of art education: Intellectual and social currents in teaching the visual arts. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Smith, P. (1996). The history of american art education: Learning about art in American schools. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.