Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Notes from: Korzenik, Diana. "A Developmental History of Art Education." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.

A Developmental History
of Art Education

Over the centuries, new beliefs about art have arisen and been circulated in many ways. In the United States from the 1840s to now, people have relied heavily on books on art education. Books that survive from different eras show their authors' ideals and explain the virtues of drawing according to their particular advice. Text describes the procedures. Illustrations show them. Writers on art education had substantial influence over whatever families drew at the kitchen table or children drew at their desks in classrooms all over the country. John Gadsby Chapman, who first published The American Drawing-Bookn 1847, Walter Smith who published his textbook series largely in the 1870s, Arthur Wesley Dow whose Compositionhad its greatest impact in the first decades of this century, and Viktor Lowenfeld whose several volumes appeared years later, each had their time to command the American imagination. [p. 201]

For much of my life, the art education I experienced--even before I knew it--was influenced by ideas attributed to Viktor Lowenfeld. Coloring books were taboo. I was encouraged to make my own mark . . . . My relatives and teachers said I was "good at art." They said I was "free" because no teacher had yet "spoiled" me . . . . Adults were sure that I made those wonderful things because no one taught me. Even as a child, I remember wondering about that. It seemed odd and felt very peculiar for adults to value my independence from their influence . . . . [p. 201]

One idea that was current was that "free" children didn't care what their images looked like. They got absorbed in the process. From that notion, a slogan arose: "Process is more important than product." [p. 202]

Lowenfeld's worry was that teachers were trying to get children to make what adults saw as "child art." He quoted teachers, who feared they were failing because they had problems trying to make children conform to the style of child art . . . . "What should we do if the child does not draw large, with big motions in his uninhibited straightforwardness, as we have read the child is supposed to do?' "My children even if I give them a large sheet of paper, draw only small" [Lowenfeld 1952, vi] [p. 202]

Lowenfeld shows us the self-deception of the teacher who disclaims any interest in the "look" of a painting, while he or she cultivates "child art" as a style with its own predictable appearance, that is, big strokes, with fat bristle brushes and bold colors. in 1947, in his preface to the first edition of his classic, Creative and Mental Growth,Viktor Lowenfeld wrote: "The idealistic concept of the child as an innate artist who has simply to get material and nothing else in order to create has done as much harm to art education as the neglect of the child's aesthetic impulse . . . . The aversion shown by some educators for suggesting any teaching method . . . . has brought progressive art education to a point where it relies almost completely upon the mere intuitive approach, which the teacher has or has not" [1952, 5]. [p. 202]

Idealization of child art has not always been with us. In this century, even people who did not read Freud talked about his ideas. Mental life and hidden content became accepted problems in the lives of adults, the solution for the next generation was to allow them to be freer of adult control. [p. 202]

For the better part of this century, in that climate, psychologists have been studying the development of the child, the transformations of mind and body at each stage. Teachers and psychologists, with parents following their lead, prized age-appropriateness and expressivity. Unlike the past century, which saw the child as an empty container that needed to be filled with information and values, this century saw the child as bursting to externalize feelings and thoughts. For this expression, pencils, paints, and clay were ideal media. Art was interesting to adults, not as it had been a century before, as a way of cultivating a generation of artists and designers, but rather as evidence of the healthy, changing child : a supreme manifestation of physical, cognitive, emotional growth. Creative and Mental Growth,Lowenfeld's book title, said it all. [p. 202]

The discovery of the stages of childhood can be attributed to the restructuring of education when, by mid-nineteenth century, traditional mixed-age schools became the new, age-segregated or age-graded classrooms. At first age-segregation did not change the essential technique of instruction; rote learning remained the rule. But toward the end of the century even that changed. Graded classrooms had level-specific exercises, whether in reciting, reading, or drawing. Characteristics of particular ages went virtually unnoticed in mixed-age classes in which children came one-by-one to the teacher to perform the lesson. But by the time teaching methods caught up with age-graded classes, teachers learned to notice age differences [Rodgers 1985]. [p. 203]

Almost as soon as age groups were segregated, childhood behavior became subject to ever changing interpretation. The definition and treatment of childhood became professionalized. As work removed adults from work in the home, farm, and immediate neighbourhood, parents, grandparents and neighbours gradually relinquished bits of their influence over children. Teachers and school committee set priorities, regimented children's time, and assumed responsibility for redefining childhood. [p. 203]

By the turn of the century some educators, reeling from society's changes sought to preserve the child, unsullied by the world that was radically transforming their lives. Psychology promised to offer the methods for ascertaining the needs of a hypothetically pure child. [p. 203]

. . . . researchers of the child study movement at the start of this century addressed questions to young children to find out how they, without supplying adult answers, understood such matters as space and time . . . . In 1895 Louise Maeline Maitland of Stanford University published "What Children Draw to Please Themselves." In her analysis of some 1,570 drawings collected from children ages five to seventeen, she wrote: "One is forced to recognize the fact that notwithstanding, or perhaps partly in consequence of, the emphasis laid on the teaching of the beautiful in most of our drawing systems . . . . children regard other things as more important and interesting for expression" [1895, 80]. She found that children use drawing as a means of description, a language, for showing their material environment and the persons and events which interest them. [p. 203]

Charmed by such findings, teachers of subsequent decades sought less and less intrusive ways to encourage the child to use the characteristics of paint and clay. Though some observers were troubled that the spontaneity so apparent in the free drawing of earlier years seemed to disappear at about the third or fourth [p. 203] year at school [Sargent and Miller 1916] and designed teaching to compensate for this, by mid-century the popular ideal was that art grew from simply allowing children to build upon their interests and abilities, from largely leaving them minimally contaminated by any adult skills or standards. [p. 203-204]

With the growth of available research funds and the increasing academic orientation of university-based art education departments in the middle of this century, art educators formalized their hands-off position by concerning themselves with investigation and description of the learner. At a safe distance from children, art educators could "develop a vocabulary by working with psychologists, sociologists, and researchers so that we may know what we are talking about and be able to translate our precise language into terms understandable by the ordinary person" [Dix 1954, 10] [p. 204]

Research served two agendas. One was for art educators to gain stature in the hierarchies of the professions. The second agenda was to stimulate public school's demand for art.

In the decades of this century, the study of the child becomes the basis of art teacher's professional preparation. Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Americans of the Child Study Movement appeared on reading lists along with Viktor Lowenfeld, Rudolf Arnheim, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget. Teachers-to-be learned that children's products, whether in painting, drawing, blockbuilding, or language, grow from the young person's life and concerns. These writers have taught teachers to be appreciators of the achievements of children. [p. 204]

Adult influence, called "interventions" in the late 1960s, was taboo, especially by the colleges, the very places where people learned to be teachers . . . . liberal arts course work took precedence over teacher training . . . . To shore themselves up, educators in universities and colleges built their new work upon that of a liberal arts field, psychology . . . . empirical research preempted other values in writing . . . . Research allowed educators to embellish their understanding of children, without ever having to do something with children. Among other things, the pursuit of research prolonged the era in which educators could maintain the position of neutrality . . . . the activity of teaching ceased--for a time--to be the center of the field of education. While enhancing out knowledge of children [p. 204] researchers turned the art education spotlight away from the arena of action: the classroom. [p. 204-205]

Not only did the study of psychological theory divert attention from methods of teaching per se, but it led to some careless confusion between methods of research and methods of teaching. Arnheim, Erikson, and Piaget, whose works the psychologically-oriented art educators read, never intended their studies to be methods of teaching. Decisions about what to do in the classroom could not be postponed indefinitely. [p. 205]

Meanwhile, in the liberal arts curriculum structure, some art students still elected to become teachers. Their "Studio Art" courses were to be taught by "artists" who acquired this label by obtaining a hertofore non-existent degree, the Master of Fine Arts [M.F. A.]. Because they lacked that degree, many renowned artists were ineligible to become professors. The M.F.A. Standards were formalized in a College Art Association resolution of 1970: "No academic degree other than the M.F.A. or equivalent professional achievement should be regarded as qualification . . . . Education degrees should not be regarded as constituting appropriate preparation for teaching studio courses" [College Art Association 1977]. A careful reading of the standards revealed that the M.F.A. degree, plus not having an art education degree, were the explicitly stated qualifications for becoming a studio art faculty member {Landry 1985]. "Studio Art" intentionally pushed art education into the periphery, where it survived as a vestige of the now retired normal school agenda. [p. 205]

This relatively new rivalry between studio and education faculties in art put artists and art educators in impossible positions . . . . Artists in the college studios, where they taught for much of the year, had to down play their interest in teaching . . . . [p. 205]

In this environment art students received little training in methods. Predictably, teachers who were prepared in this climate and those children who were their students, were confused and felt gypped. Simply being an artist and entering a room full of children whose stage of life is somewhat familiar probably did not seem preparation enough. A reaction was due and today we are in the midst of it . [pl 205]

Now things are changing. The childish look in art is less vogue. When the fiscal cuts across the states registered the public's distrust of schools, a "back to basics" mentality overtook teaching. Teachers wanted to prove they were teaching. Art skills began to be interesting again. At the same time, taste in home decor, historic preservation, and painting reflected a new, conservative, antiquarian state of mind. It is hardly surprising that art educators are attracted to our field's nineteenth century methods in their search for "basics." The new curiosity about the old methods springs, I believe, from educators noticing that children do learn a skill when taught it in a developmentally appropriate way. When, for [p. 205] example, children discuss what they see in paintings in a museum and bring new ideas in to their own work, adults start wondering why it is that they could not or did not want to notice what children could learn this way! [205-206]

People interested in education now are becoming fascinated by methods. They want to think about how they can direct and teach students, how they can plan. [p. 206]

They notice that if you have a strong bias toward certain skills, and you teach a child to master them, sure enough they will learn and they will master them. Suddenly, they want to teach everything they know about art, regardless of age. For some techniques of copying, drawing from life, and rendering light and shade are now part of the elementary art program. Others even want to start teaching aesthetics, art history, art criticism, and the making of art in the kindergarten. Such is the agenda for The Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts of the J. Paul Getty Trust's Center for Education in the Arts. [p. 206]

In reaction to the various forces reviewed above, art educators are currently entranced with art education's history. Today's teachers are amazed and delighted to find what appear to be usable strategies in art textbooks and School Arts magazines form the early twentieth century, and even earlier . . . . Walter Smith . . . . Louis Prang textbooks . . . . Still others see useful application of line and [ ?] [the balance of contrasting black and white] from Arthur Wesley Dow's Composition . . . . Each of these methods embodies a slower, more meticulous time when accuracy and effect mattered, when people were unabashed about admitting that their product mattered! [p. 206]

Today we want direction and we want to be able to direct . . . . [p. 206]

Not only do the old lessons provide direction and authority that match the conservatism of our time, but they also engage us in the contemporary attraction of nostalgia . . . . [p. 206-207]

. . . . There need not be an either-or situation. I would like to see the field of art education retain the developmental view with all its advantages but free itself from false idealization of the pure child. [p. 208]

We can use the rich findings of developmental research, after paring away from it the non-interventionist myth. In our new curriculum work, recognizing qualitatively different approaches to learning that suit a child's particular stage of development can provide a framework into which we can selectively fit old methods. [p. 208]

. . . . Those old art instruction books are only limited data . . . . they cannot answer the question of the relationship of printed exhortation to actual practise . . . . It is virtually impossible to now how a past school practise actually fit into the students' lives. To imagine the liveliness of a school, we need to invent, or juxtapose, the psychology of the child with available bits of historical evidence . . . . [p. 208] Eras would have differed in the balance of how much time children had to themselves, devoted to companionship with their peers, and spent under the supervision of adults and in what they did in all those different kinds of time. [pp. 209-210]

That the children used a drawing book at all for their less mature explorations suggests that the mere existence of a student's drawing book probably gave them permission to draw, to play, to make something on their own . . . . [p. 210]

Accepting these gaps in our knowledge, it can be productive for art educators to speculate about how it might have felt for children actually to have spent time on the various past methods of instruction. [0., 210-211]

By asking "What are the cognitive and emotional challenges built into a particular art instructional method?", one can begin to read history with a focus. If we read the history of art education with the child's mind and body in our mind, and with awareness of the changes it will undergo, we develop an empathic appreciation of what it would have been like to be a learner of each of the many historical approaches. This attitude will produce better historical thinking. The empathy demanded of the reader would force him or her to wonder about the space within classrooms, the furniture, how people were dressed, the homes to which the children returned, and the attitudes of friends, siblings, and parents. History becomes more alive and useful to classroom practice.

In our time, we now are no longer in the grips of that double-speak in which teachers claimed to be only cultivating, and not instructing, the child. We no longer need confound the methods and purposes of teaching and research. Now we can openly express our interest in instruction. Because of this, we are at an ideal moment to match the legacy of past methods with that more recent inheritance, developmental psychology.

As we read the various art education methods of the past, though there are only rare references in the 1850s to drawing as play, we know we should consider how drawing might have provided a form of play for children of the nineteenth century. We know that the psychology of the child would have demanded that opportunity for play, that no instruction could suppress it. What we learn from human development and what we learn from the history of art instruction can be useful in tandem for creating new ideas for teaching. [p. 2 11]

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[Diana Korzenik: "Prof. of Art, Mass College of Art, Boston. Painter, art historian, art educator. Founding member of Harvard University's arts research group, Project Zero, and contributing author to the Project's book, Art and Cognition. Her currrent book, "Art-Making and Education," was commissioned by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts. Her book Drawn to Art was awarded the 1986 Boston Globe's L.L. Winship Literary Award. Serves as an advisor to public and private educational institutions in MA, including the Brookline Arts Center, where she currently helps bring art programs to families in housing projects, and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. Serves on the Advisory Board for the 1992 Cultural Education Collaborative Project, commissioned by the Massachusetts Cultural Council to assess K-12 art education throughout the Commonwealth. For 13 years she directed the City of Boston's Magnet Art Program." NAEA Newsletter, June, 1992.]

[Notes from: Korzenik, Diana. "A Developmental History of Art Education." 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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