Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Notes from: Amburgy, Patricia M. "Culture for the Masses." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.

Culture for the Masses

The central thesis of this chapter is that conceptions of art education around the turn of the century were a complex response to the new vocationalism in schooling and the changing nature of modern work. To some extent, changes in art education were a reaction against vocationalism and the increasingly fragmented, alienating conditions of industrial labor. Progressive educators set out to improve the lot of working-class children through schoolroom decoration and the study of master pieces in art. Similarly, the gradual separation of fine art from industrial art in school curricula, the early interest in child study, and an increasing focus on art as a form of personal expression were motivated, in part, by intentions to add beauty and culture to the lives of the masses. But just as there were many sides to progressive reforms in schooling in general, progressivism in art education was characterized by a tacit acceptance of social class divisions as well as by conceptions of social change. Although schooling in art did not become an overt means of fitting working-class children to industrial labor, as tracking was, it became a means of withholding certain kinds of knowledge that might make them dislike industrial work. [p. 104] Culture for the masses was conceived within certain boundaries; and like the social conditions they reflected, these boundaries changed over time . [p. 105]

With the rapid expansion of industry that followed the end of the Civil War, American manufacturers increasingly called for a form of schooling that was more "practical" in nature than the bookish, "literary" education then typical of the common schools . . . . A change in general purpose began to occur during the 1880s and 90s with the introduction of manual training. From the perspective of the businessmen who supported it, manual training was a form of vocational training intended to prepare workers for mills and factories. From the perspective of the educators who supported it, however, manual training had to be justified on something other than vocational grounds. Vocational training was inconsistent with the democratic ideals of the common school that was supposed to provide an equal education for all citizens regardless of their birth or future vocation in life . . . . Although educators were initially resistant to the idea of vocational instruction, many of them eventually came to see not only manual training, but all public schooling as preparation for work. The purpose of literary or intellectual education was redefined in their arguments as preparation for professional occupations, and thus as a form of schooling that neglected the majority of students who would not go on to become doctors, lawyers, or teachers in later life. [p. 102]

By the opening decades of the twentieth century, the central issue in American schooling had shifted from equal education of citizens to "equality of educational opportunity." [p. 104]

A change in educators' understanding of the purpose of schooling was what Hogan [1985] calls the "conceptual revolution" of the 1880s and 90s . . . . they went on to establish the system of differentiated curricula, currently referred to as "tracking," that would make different kinds of education for different social classes an institutional reality in public schools . . . . With the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917, the status of vocationalism in American schooling was officially sealed. [p. 104]

As Cremin [1961] notes, the Smith-Hughes Act was more a confirmation of changes that progressive reformers had already set in motion than the initiation of a new direction in public schools . . . . [p. 104]

The significance of the period has traditionally been recognized in histories of art education [for example, Logan 1955; Eisner 1972; Wygant 1983]. At one end, the period was marked by an emphasis on industrial drawing; at the other, creativity and self-expression emerged as central concerns. At one end there were social and economic justifications for schooling in art; at the other there were psychological justifications. The period began with a form of art education that served the class interests of American manufacturers; it concluded with a form of art education that served the interests of--whom? [p. 104]

Perhaps more than any other figure, Jane Addams [1860-1935] exemplified the social ideals of the progressive movement. In 1889 she and Ellen Gates Starr [1859-1940] founded Hull-House, the first social settlement in Chicago . . . . The emphasis was to be on sharing, not charity. A social settlement, Addams would later write, "represented not so much a sense of duty of the privileged toward the unprivileged . . . . as a desire to equalize through social effort those results which superior opportunity may have given the possessor" [1899, 323,-24] [p. 105]

. . . . the settlement began a number of educational programs in art. Reproductions of masterpieces were hung low in the kindergarten nursery so that children could easily see them and talk to the Renaissance babies on the wall. For adults there were lectures on the history of art and a circulating loan collection of pictures that borrowers could take home with them for two weeks at a time . . . . In addition to the programs within Hull-House, Starr funded the organization that became the Chicago Public School Art Society [Addams 1895, 1910]. In these and other ways, the first residents of Hull-House set out to make art a "vital influence" in the lives of their working-class neighbors [Addams 1895]. [p. 105]

She saw at as a way of helping workers tolerate the conditions of industrial labor, rather than a means of changing the nature of the work itself. [p. 106]

In several respects, Addams saw the same kinds of problems with industrial labor that Ruskin and Morris had identified. Where she differed was her solution to the problems. Like Ruskin and Morris, she saw a problem in the division of tasks that modern workers performed. Instead of making, say , a watch or a coat as watchmakers and tailors had done in the past, modern workers made only one wheel of a watch or the collar of a coat. She also saw a problem in the division between workers. In a modern factory they were alienated from one another, sharing no interests or common goals. Their only connection was the mechanical process of production. Like Ruskin and Morris, Addams saw industrial labor as a division within the workers themselves, between their minds and their hands. Factory work did not require thinking or judgment, only physical labor [Addams 1902, 1798-220]. In one of he most astute observations, Addams noted that contemporary educators were always saying the child learns by " doing" and education proceeds "through the eyes and hand to the brain," but they seemed to have overlooked the fact that working people use their hands and eyes all the time, and do not need to have these activities artificially provided in school The problem was not only hands to brain, but also how to reverse the process [1902, 208] [p. 106]

She argued that even more than others, the worker needed to understand the evolution and growth of modern industry in order to "reveal to him [1] the purpose and utility of his work and . . . . his proper relation to society" [1902, 206]. The value of art was similar to the role of history in making factory work more meaningful. Like history, Addams argued that art could provide an "idealization" of industrial labor by depicting it in ways that would reveal its moral nature and importance in modern society. She argued that the worker, even more than others, needed someone to "bathe his surroundings with a human significance--someone who shall teach him to find that which will give a potency to his life" [1902, 219]. [p. 106]

Like others, Addams tended to view the moral nature of art as having to do with what was right and good in present society, even when actual conditions may not, in fact, have been all that right or all that good. [p. 108]

The idea that art was "moral" in this broader sense--that it had to do with what was right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust about industrial labor--was what made it potentially dangerous as a general paradigm, or a whole way of looking at the nature of art . Even in its highly diluted versions, exemplified by the view of Addams and others, the idea that art was related to work and morality became increasingly dangerous in American society as modern work evolved into forms that could bear increasingly less moral scrutiny. In the context of these changing forms of labor, it should not surprise us that progressive theories of art education came to separate the nature of art from both work and morality. [p. 108]

During the 1880s, one of the common themes in educators' arguments for industrial drawing and manual training was the idea that such instruction would increase the dignity of work . . . . it was also true that in the 1880s most manual work still required a certain degree of skill and knowledge, and a certain amount of judgment and self-direction on the part of workers. In the early stages of industrialization the nature of work in most trades was still closer to that of the watchmaker or the tailor in Addam's examples, than to making a wheel of a watch or the collar of a coat . . . . Industrial drawing, manual training, and the later arts and crafts movement in art education were all based on a conception of the worker as artisan. [p. 109]

In Ruskins' often-quoted dictum that "industry without art is brutality" [1870] 1905, 93], what he meant by "art" was the exercise of skills and knowledge in manual work. Especially important in the context of the political relationship between workers and employers, he meant that manual workers should have a substantial degree of control over their own labor. [p. 109]

The whole idea that work could be--and worse yet, should be--a matter of exercising skills and knowledge became increasingly dangerous as industrial labor became increasingly more fragmented and controlled through bureaucratic means. With the refinement of new technology and assembly-line methods of production, the kind of " skills" that workers needed were an ability to follow orders and to perform simple, repetitive tasks. [p. 109]

Francis W. Parker [1837-1902] was one of the important transitional figures who marked a change in art education from manual skills to personal affect. In 1883 Parker became principal of the Cook County Normal School, located in what was then still a suburb of Chicago. The school offered a one-year course in elementary education that combined studies in pedagogy and psychology with practice teaching . . . . Parker wanted the practice school to be "an influential object-lesson for the teachers of the city and the county, and for the parents and the public in general." The school was to demonstrate that "there is a science of education and an art of teaching, and . . . . that knowledge and skill are means for the development of character" [Parker 1902, 757]. [p. 1 10]

. . . . He argued "the foundation of education consists in training a child to work , to love work, to put the energy of his entire being into work; to do that work which best develops his body, mind and soul" [Parker (1894), 254 ] . . . . In a paper presented to the Department of Art Education of the National Education Association in 1900, he argued that "one of the fundamental weaknesses under which society suffers is careless, shiftless, indifferent work--work that falls short of its intentions." . . . . Parker was similar to Addams in wanting to change workers' perception of their labor, rather than changing the nature of the work itself . . . . In Talks on Pedagogics [1894] he argued that in manual work, the criterion of value was the "practical use" of the thing created. In the "conceptive" modes of expression, on the other hand, the value of the thing created lay in communicating ideas; in making art, the primary motive was "to give to others a great controlling thought, to embody this thought in an individual concept, and to externalize that concept by skill" [1894, 239] . . . . By 1900 he claimed that "art can never be defined except from a personal standpoint. It is entirely a personal matter. It means one's selfhood; it reveals one's best thought and emotions to others . . . . The best may be a daub, a blotch, a shapeless mass of clay, a discordant cry, but it is art if it is the best. [1900, 513]. [p. 111 ]

At an earlier meeting of the National Education Association, John S. Clark had noted that there were fundamental contradictions in Parker's views. As Clark described them, the contradictions came from Parker's adopting the perspective of experimental psychology which sought to "reduce the mental phenomena to unmediated physical energies playing through matter, and so to dispense with self-activity in the intellectual life of man." There was a difference between "mere 'expression'," Clark argued, and human activity that went beyond expression to become "'creation'; that is to say, productive action--action productive of new things or new conditions." Whereas expression was a 'statement of what is," the purpose of creation was "the active betterment of the world and the progressive elevation of human living." [p. 111]

There were, in fact, fundamental contradictions in Parker's views. These included not only mind versus matter and moral versus psychological dimensions of life . . . . there were conflicts between art and work, the individual and society, and the ends and means of education. At the turn of the century, John Dewey [1859-1952], a more accomplished philosopher than Parker, set out to resolve these kinds of conflicts in current educational thought. [p. 111]

In The Child and The Curriculum [1902] Dewey took up the issue that had by then become the major point of contention between traditional schooling and the "new" education: whether instruction should be centered on the study of subjects or the development of children. [p. 111]

Dewey noted that on one side there were educators who argued the child's own experience was too narrow and egocentric to be the basis of schooling. From their perspective, the purpose of education was to [p. 111] reveal to children "the great, wide universe with all its fullness and complexity of meaning." Subject matter, not the child, furnished the end and determined the method of schooling. On the other side there were educators who took the child to be the starting point, the center, and the end of all schooling. For them, the primary purpose was growth and development of the child ; the importance of studies lay only in their being means to this end. The goal of education was "not knowledge or information, but self-realization" [Dewey (1902) 1976, 275-77]. [p. 111-112]

On the side of children's development, he argued that educators should see the child 's experience "contains within itself elements--fact and truths--of just the same sort as those elements entering into formulated study." On the side of formal studies, educators should interpret subject matters as "outgrowths of forces operating in the child 's life" [Dewey (1902) 1976, 277-78]. Dewey saw the latter modification as being especially important because it was what distinguished the teacher's approach to subject matter from the approach of specialists in a field. For the specialist, subject matter was "a given body of truth to be employed in locating new problems, instituting new researches, and carrying them through to a verified outcome" [1902) 1976, 2 85]. The teacher, on the other hand, was not concerned with developing new knowledge, but with what Dewey called " psychologizing" subject matter. In contrast to the specialist, the teacher's role was "that of inducing a vital and personal experiencing . . . . {w}hat concerns him, as teacher, is the ways in which that subject may become a part of experience; what there is in the child's present that is usable with reference to it; how such elements are to be used; how his own knowledge of the subject-matter may assist in interpreting the child's needs and doings, and determine the medium in which the child should be placed in order that his growth may be properly directed." [(1902) 1976, 285-86]. [p. 112]

In contemporary arguments over " the child vs the curriculum" and "individual nature vs social culture," Dewey came down on the side of the child in the end [Dewey (1902) 1976, 274, 291] [p. 112]

. . . . Was the new paradigm, exemplified by Dewey's and others' views, better than older conceptions of art, morality, and work? A social history of art education would seem to suggest it was not better, only different in the kind of boundaries that were placed on modern youth. "Psychologizing" the nature of art severed it from work and morality, so that new forms of art education did not become overt means of fitting working-class children to industrial labor in the way that tracking or industrial intelligence were. [p. 113 ]

[Notes from: Amburgy, Patricia M. "Culture for the Masses." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.]



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