Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Some Basic Beliefs in Contemporary Art Education - Foundations of Contemporary Art Education - A History of Educational Thought - History of Change in Art Education - Development of Psychological thought - The Values of Society - Recent Art History

Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.

Foundations of Contemporary
Art Education

Those who study world culture understand that changes in the various aspects of human endeavor are often interrelated and interdependent and that art often reveals, truthfully and sensitively, aspects of existence common to different societies and eras.

To obtain a basic understanding of art, we must project ourselves back . . . . even before the age of cave paintings. If we can push ourselves back far enough into the dim recesses of time, we may recognize the importance of one early achievement: the invention of containers. The seemingly simple realization that a hollow space would allow someone to store water or grain must have been one of the wonders of primitive technology. How long people were satisfied with this breakthrough we do not know, but at some point someone must have noticed that if greater attention were given to such considerations as the shape of the space as well as the consistency of the thinckness of its walls, the container would somehow be more satisfactory. In perfecting the form in order to imporve the function, that anonymous fabricator was working on the level of enlightened craftsmanship.

At a later stage the person making the container, or pot, felt an impulse to make adjustments on the surfaceof the vessel. This phase was highly significant simply because what appears on the skin of the pot has nothing at all to do with its function--that is, with how much the pot can carry or how much wear it can survive. Decoration can only make the handling and the seeing of the object a more pleasureable experience. There was yet another difference in this stage: whereas technical considerations (the relation of size to thickness and to function) somewhat circumscribed the pot-maker's choice of size and style, the decorative stage released unlimited options for technique and design. Once the object was formed, shapes could be inscribed or painted in patterns that might include swirls, loops, straight lines, or combinations of any of these.

The next stage, which followed decoration, placed primitive people directly in the line of their more sophisticated descendants, for they soon discovered that decoration would have meaning , that signs could stand for ideas. They fund that symbols not only clarified their fears, dreams, and fantasies but communicated their state of mind to other people. Cave paintings reflect this function, for in these the animals depicted are more than rcognizable shapes taken from the experience of the group--they represent a magical ritual whereby hunters could record concern for survival (Albert Elsen, Purposes of Art,2nd ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968). Decoration now moved into the more profound sphere of the image as metaphor, and not every member of the tribe was capable of making such a transference. Those who could we now call artists . . . .

. . . . To produce art, however, artists must master tools, materials, and processes . . . . As a result of this struggle for mastery [perhaps refinement of skills--in application and personal verity is also applicable], an artist may produce an organization or assembly of materials to which others respond favorably. This assembly is usually given such names as composition, or design . . . .

Clive Bell called an arresting artistic assembly a "significant form." "In each [work of art]," he said, "lines and colors combined in a peculiar way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions . . . . these aesthetically moving forms I call 'significant form' and 'significant form' is the one quality common to all works of art." . . . . he failed to make clear the meaning of significant . . . .

Art can be controversial, stimulating, abrasive, and, at times, shocking. The important consideration is that it engage us through its uniquenss . . . . Common to all at is individuality of expression. All great aft bears the imprint of the personality of its creator. "Even the art that allows the least play to individual variations," says Dewey . . . . (12th cent. religious art, etc.) . . . . in the individuality of the work rests its timeless and universal appeal. We see, therefore, that art results from an act of self-expression involving emotions and intellect. Thus we may say that art is an expression of a person's reactions to experiences in his or her life, given form through the use of design and materials. It is this concept of art--a traditional one--that governs to a great extent the art programs in our schools today.

Beauty, to the uninitiated in art, is most often identified with execution as well as with subject matter . . . . So powerful is the Greek-Roman-Renaissance influence on Western civilization that even today the concept of ideal beauty as a primary concern of art still exerts a major influence on professional art and, hence, on art education in the schools. Nevertheless, to impose such a limiting concept on children, as some teachers have done, is to deny them the opportunity of exploring the rich variety of themes that artistic expression traditionally includes.


[Notes from: Gaitskell, Charles D., Al Hurwitz, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Michael Day, Univ. of Minnesota, eds. Children and Their Art, Methods for The Elementary School, Fourth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1982.]



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