Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education
Perspective - The 1880's - 1900-1920, "Composition" - 1900-1920, 'School Arts' - 1900-1920, Art Education Associations - 1900-1920, Art Education in the Museum of Art - 1900-1920, The Modernists - 1914-1920, War and Post War - 1920's, Progressive Education - 1920's-1930's, Professional Stabilization - 1930's, Museum Education during the Depression - 1930's, National Government in Art - 1940's, A Psychology and Philosophy for Art Education
Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.
Art Appreciation --less so in terms of the availabilithy of the history of art and more in terms of the availablility in popular culture: "There is too great a limitation in the connotation that has grown up around the word appreciation . . . . when we really hope for strongly held creative convictions upon which people take action . . . . When the teacher begins this job, he must demonstrate the personal courage and ability to apply his broader background to a stimulating use of the resources of the child's environment. He must use clippings, slides, motion pictures, TV programs, as he thinks they can be assimilated. But no amount of these materials frees him from the responsibility of finding qualitative distinctions for the child to grasp among the buildings in his home town, the automobiles on the street, the movies shown in the local theater and on the network TV screen, as well as among the objects that may be shown in the local art museum.
"Then, as the psychologists became better acquainted with children and the philosophers left the realm of the ideal society for a more pragmatic interpretation of human acts and motives, it was to be expected that education should be approached from the point of view of those to be educated rather than from the angle of what constituted an adequate store of knowledge."
The very use of the words "progressive education" has reached a point where it sets off automatic emotional reactions pro and con among those persons who take fixed positions as liberals or conservatives . . . . art curriculum was expanded in the elementary and high schools and that an extension of some art work into additional thousands of schools was accomplished during the most vigorous decade of the progressive program, the 1920's . . . . to infer that the whole progressive movement was crazy at best or subversive at worst is to attempt to defeat educational advance. The present healthful and promising outlook for art education is, in my opinion, based on the scholarly inquiry and exploitation of resources in the arts which were so greatly advanced in that postwar decade. [pp. 152-153]
Montessori & Cizek
The system developed by Madame Montessori in Rome was enthusiastically praised by English and American visitors. Briefly stated, its characteristics were these: school was held in homes or homelike quarters as pleasantly located and furnished as possible; children were trained to come in and go out as they might in visiting a friendly family, greeting the teacher as a hostess. Activity programs in Montessori classes resembled those of the early kindergarten. They employed ready-made paraphernalia of string, pegs, cardboards, yarns, balls, and so forth. The criticism was made of this curriculum, as it was of the kindergarten, that routine requirements were set up in each activity game and that individualized use of the materials was frowned upon or absolutely refused. Certainly, Madame Montessori left no doubt as to her complete disapproval of [p. 153] the unrestrained, inexpert use of such media as paint and brushes. The physical messiness was as distasteful to her as the aesthetic value of the children's work was unrecognized.
The emphasis upon quiet kindliness, upon dignity and polite restraint of action, was particularly attractive to observers and international visitors. The American schools following the Montessori approach, again like the earlier kindergartens, tended to liberalize their interpretation of the European original. [p. 154-155]
During and just after the war, some American and English articles appeared on his [Cizek's] work, and shortly afterward groups of the work of his children were sent out on exhibition to both countries. The work itself, brilliant in color, large in scale, together with the occasional articles of appreciation and teachers' convocation talks that had been made since 1908, were bond to shape the teaching of some of the younger and more experimentally minded teachers. Many acknowledged their debt to Cizek during the twenties. [p. 154]
"The Child" arrives
With the end of the war late in 1918, many ideas for improving education, shelved for the duration of the conflict, emerged. By the middle of the next decade , the ideals and practices of progressive education were firmly established, as were the personnel and some institutional framework to give the ideals wide circulation. [p. 154]
There is every indication in the philosophy of William James, the early practice and philosophy of Dewey, the child-study movement, of a time when the relatively uninhibited activity and the unfixed interests of the child would come to dominate temporarily the approach to teaching. [p. 154]
For a century of public education, textbooks and a fixed quantity of factual subject matter had been of prime importance. [p. 154]
Then, as the psychologists became better acquainted with children and the philosophers left the realm of the ideal society for a more pragmatic interpretation of human acts and motives, it was to be expected that education should be approached from the point of view of those [p. 154] to be educated rather than from the angle of what constituted an adequate store of knowledge. [pp. 154-155]
It was believed by the educational leaders and experimenters after 1920 that creative activity and the development of children's natural interests could be relied upon to produce a curriculum better than the older ones. Most of the nineteenth-century curricula, it was assumed, were established by adults with little understanding of children, or of the learning processes.
The forms of art expression were inevitably pushed as the most creative of all possible child activity. Margaret Mathias, a Teachers College, Columbia University, graduate, taught as supervisor of art in the Cleveland Heights public schools in the early twenties. Demonstrating the results of that work, in 1924 she published the book, The Beginnings of Art in the Public Schools.It is still a classic, though now more often overlooked than read.
Patty Smith Hill's Introduction states, on the philosophical level, the approach of the art teacher in the progressive-education curriculum. She wrote: ŮArt ceases to be art in Miss Mathias's scheme of education, if any form or technique, no matter how good, is imposed from without. In other words, if it fails to grow out of the child's own expression and feeling of need as they lead on to higher levels of appreciation and control.Ó [Margaret Mathias,The Beginnings of Art in the Public Schools,Scribner, 1924, p. ix.]
This philosophy was interpreted throughout the rest of the book by its author. Her concern for influences like the work of Cizek is evident. His wide variety of art media, his encouragement of the children to use the studio as an artist might, were taken over by Miss Mathias. Her work did not parallel the approaches of the Montessori group except as they both used tangible materials for child activity.
Art in the Cleveland Heights school was based on child growth in the use of the materials and, more than that, on child expression of ideas. The need children have to give expression to their developing concepts of the life they know was dwelt upon at length. An outline of ŮSteps in the Artistic ProcessÓ was given. Manipulation was the first step and referred to the almost universal desire to feel, to try [p. 15 5] out, to experiment with materials, to see what happens to them. The stage of symbolism was used by Mathias to cover roughly all the work a child does which is only vaguely representative or naturalistic, but which he describes positively as a cow, a tree, or whatever else it "symbolizes" for the moment. The third stage was that of realism.
Under educational principles, she states one axiom which, if taken alone, could indicate the kind of drifting attitude toward education which critics of the progressive movement are so empathetic about: ŮTraining is harmful when it precedes the development of the power to be trained. Training should, therefore, be given as the need for it arises and is felt by the children.Ó [Margaret Mathias, The Beginnings of Art in the Public Schools,Scribner, 1924, p. 10.]
It is dubious, however, that the art work in Cleveland Heights was on any catch-as-catch-can basis. Problems were to be provided that would "lead to growth and development." Children must develop the "ability to use individual liberty and so respect the rights of others," and the "ability to give and take constructive criticism."
In the chapter "Materials Suited to Child Experiences," [Margaret Mathias, The Beginnings of Art in the Public Schools,Scribner, 1924, p. 12] the author is factual and altogether helpful. She concedes that some material is not useful at certain ages; that other media will serve as well. Much of the rest of the volume deals at length with standard materials and their potentialities: clay, wood, cloth, paint, and by products.
Extremes in child freedom of expression were to be found in the twenties and early thirties, but more often the plea for creative activity was modified sensibly, as in Mathias' outline of the materials and their usefulness at various age levels.
The need for creative experience with materials to be physically handled and shaped was eagerly accepted by all progressive educators. Since 1924, we have taken that need as a point of departure. The great contribution of progressive education has been continued as we have investigated the nature of the art expression and the psychological bases for the individual's means of communication. [pp. 155-156]
What Develops "Art Appreciation"?
"If we are to hope for a society with art appreciation and some ability to meet art problems, an adequate art course must provide for developing ability for self-expression and for understanding the expression of others." [Margaret Mathias, The Beginnings of Art in the Public Schools,Scribner, 1924,p. 1][p. 156-57]
Simple and straightforward, this dual objective of expression and appreciation for education in the arts appeared in all the aims and purposes of several valuable publications of the time. [p. 157]
The Francis W. Parker School in 1925 brought out a study on "Creative Effort" as one of its Studies in Education. Teachers contributed from the fields of writing, melody, rhythm, design, drawing and painting, clay work, and shop. Characteristic expressions of the new faith were made by the faculty contributors. "We presuppose that in varying degrees and with wide individual divergencies and tendencies, all normal children possess impulses to create... All normal children have the right to live in a rich environment, to exercise to the full all their powers of expression, and to have every avenue to their souls open and in use.... " Given freedom, children will create. This we say over and over. [Francis W. Parker School, Studies in Education, "Creative Effort", The School,Vol. 3, 1925.] [p. 157]
The Progressive Education Association, in the most ambitious project it had ever attempted for its new magazine, Progressive Education,produced an entire number on "The Creative Experience." It was dated April-May-June 1926. [p. 157]
In the lead article, "The Creative Spirit and Its Significance for Education" Mearns wrote: " . . . . but adults are in the main wingless; convention, tribal taboos, mechanistic living, long years of schooling, something has stilled the spirit within or walled it securely. It is to children we must go to see the creative spirit at its best; and only to those children who are in some measure uncoerced." [Hughes Mearns, "The Creative Spirit and Its Significance for Education: The Creative Experience," Progressive Education,June, 1926, p. 97] [p. 158-159]
Appreciation of art as a primary motif runs through the magazine, but nowhere as extensively nor as roundly as by Frederick G. Bonser in "My Art Creed": "I believe: That life itself is the finest of all arts and that its richest realization is art's supreme excuse for being . . . . That the mission of art is to teach a love of beautiful clothes, beautiful households, beautiful utensils, beautiful surroundings, and all to the end that life itself may be rich and full of beauty in its harmony, its purposes, its ideals.... That all progress in art lies in the expression of the experiences, the hopes, the ideals, and the aspirations of our own times, and of our own lives.Ó Bonser followed those three statements, somewhat optimistic as they are, with a reaching for the infinite which harks back to Hegel by way of the rational psychology of Harris: "[I believe] That the appreciation of beauty in the thousand common things of daily life will result in the final appreciation of beauty as a dissociated ideal. [Frederick G. Bonser, "My Art Creed," Progressive Education,June 1926, p. 104] [p. 159]
In a book Art in The School,Belle Boas tried to assure forward looking teachers that the coming of good taste and aesthetic judgment into the lives of the young was just as sure as their eagerness to develop creative expression . . . . She wrote: "Probably no one who has been drilled in design will be content with chaos and discord. If he can be made profoundly miserable when in contact with them he will have gone a long way toward eliminating them . . . . All a teacher can do is to produce dissatisfaction with evil; he cannot compel the attainment of good." [Belle Boas, Art in The School,Doubleday, 1924, p. 3] [p. 159-160]
Art expression on an individualized basis and the analysis of fine art as to its qualities of line, mass, structure, dark and light values, and color --these were to be the keys to art appreciation. While we no longer feel that they will accomplish the job, we are not positive about either a substitute or a means of amplification. It is time, however, that we try to make a distinction between the "art appreciation" of 1926 and alertness to the much greater span of values implied by Dewey in his classic, Art as Experience. [p. 160]
A step in the right direction would be that of junking the term "art appreciation." It suggests an activity almost impossible to experience for millions of American citizens. A work of art, a masterpiece, is an object of rarity. Most works of art are believed to be in museums; and a few, in the shape of buildings, are in faraway cities, frequently in Europe. Hence, to urge the importance of art appreciation is, in most students' minds, a request to become vicariously excited over a remote object existing for them only in a small reproduction. There is too great a limitation in the connotation that has grown up around the word appreciation . . . . when we really hope for strongly held creative convictions upon which people take action. [p. 160]
We have continued to develop in the creative work of the art classroom since the twenties. The drive to give an organized expression to experience, and the frustrations which hamper expression, have been made more familiar to us by the psychologists. We are better equipped to encourage individual creation because we know child development in the arts and something about the most marked differences in personality types and their influence on art production. Herbert Read and Viktor Lowenfeld have supplied us with more material than we have learned to handle.
But in the development of mature aesthetic judgments, a comparable progress has not been made. For the majority of the American [p. 160] people art is still held captive to the tradition of the framed painting in oils. Art is a product of dead men, or of other countries than our own, or it is a property to be owned by wealthy people or museums, an object famous enough to be written about in book or magazine. The tendency among artists and teachers to rely upon the relative handful of famous works and famous artists to explain elements of quality in art simply reinforces this attitude. [p. 160-161]
Pictorial arts have been approached in the same way as have the design and architectural arts. The teacher's professional background has been such that he has emphasized works foreign to his students. For them, movies, advertising, magazines, comics, television, are a major part of their experience. And they too often find that what the instructor counts as important art does not help them to form qualititative habits of seeing . . . . Picasso's Guernica,powerful as it is, may be a poor piece to dwell upon for many students, and the work of Baziotes is beyond the sympathies of most beginners in thinking about pictures. As in the development of their own painting, art understanding can be built only upon the basis of the individual's experience. [p. 161]
Kouwenhoven, Giedion, Pearson, and others are helping us to see what the relationships are between Bill Mauldin and Daumier, Piet Mondrian and Radio City, the Marx Brothers and Aristophanes. The problem for the art teacher dealing with children from the sixth grade and upward is that of finding and making opportunities paralleling class activities, of calling attention to the aesthetic content of the world the children know. The great contribution that Giedion and others have made is that of helping us to see how the excellent, the really bad, and the oversupply of mediocre, taken altogether for any period of time, constitute the soil from which the finest art forms spring. The child who lives engrossed in the comics is satisfying his aesthetic hunger with cheap and vulgar fare, to use Dewey's terminology. But the tragicomic masterpiece, Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush,will be found to appeal to the same hunger. As the child approaches and enters high school, he is capable of making some of the analyses necessary to understand the contrast between ephemeral and lasting works.
It will always remain the teacher's task to grow in his own vision and judgment and to guide his students' growth with all the materials that can be found. When the teacher begins this job, he must demonstrate the personal courage and ability to apply his broader background to a stimulating use of the resources of the child's environment. He must use clippings, slides, motion pictures, TV programs, as he thinks they can be assimilated. But no amount of these materials frees him from the responsibility of finding qualitative distinctions for the child to grasp among the buildings in his home town, the automobiles on the street, the movies shown in the local theater and on the network TV screen, as well as among the objects that may be shown in the local art museum.
Appreciation of the arts, which was to have grown casually as a by-product of individual art expression, has to give way to deliberate education in aesthetic awareness. Because a boy paints with an intense emotional projection, particularly strong in color relationships, we no longer count on an automatic emergence of his aesthetic judgment. But when the intellect is ready [that may be any age from eight to twelve], his interest in everything--paintings and automobiles, technicolor and public-park gardens--can be enlarged by [p. 162] becoming conscious of comparative values. For such a boy, his dominant expressive use of color might well determine and be the chief enrichment of his individual vision of all these things.
As Mearns put it, "we have no assured techniques in sight," but we realize that "appreciation" should be improved upon by an aesthetic awareness as fixed a part of the personality as the sense of balance. [pp. 162-163] [Note: 1926-1955]
The Patrons of Progressive Education
In the 1920's many artists, writers, and musicians took up more or less permanent residence in Europe because they found their American contemporaries, to use Hughes Mearns' words, "wingless . . . . stifled in tribal taboos." [p. 163]
Schools which eagerly welcomed progressive ideas were for the most part public schools in wealthy suburbs or private schools in still wealthier areas. It was as if the people whose frustration Sinclair Lewis so aptly described in Main Streetand Babbitwere hoping to secure to their children a more fruitful and sensitive experience in life. [p. 163]
The outspoken criticism of editors like H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan regarding the aesthetic illiteracy of the American middle class must have impressed many of its victims. To some of these the liberating influence of an education which dealt first with the children and their unbounded potentialities promised a next generation free from the deserved rebuke of the critics.[p. 163]
Mrs. Avery Coonley, for whom one of the greatest of the pre-1914 Frank Lloyd Wright houses was built, was the patron who made possible the use of the many expensive art color plates in Progressive Education Magazine.[pp. 163-164]
Maturing art interests in the theater, architecture, literature, painting, music, became a force in the schools, increasing and improving art education in particular. [p. 164]
Another impulse toward improving education was that of the negative social aspects of the twenties; recognition of current social evils became a goad to discover a more adequate education, one which might claim that its aim was to create values in life and in action rather than in "mere" book learning. The bootlegging era of prohibition, with its widespread law violation and the rise of frighteningly efficient gangs; the vast apparent increase in general prosperity, artificial though it might be; the radical change in relationships between men and women--these movements were a great menace to the stability of young people. Progressive education offered the hope that children active from an early age in educational pursuits aimed at self-reliance and the development of the individual would take such social turbulence easily. A child creatively educated might have a power of judgment and selection that would guide him past the dead ends of dissipation, of unrestrained sensuality, of too exclusive a reliance on economic success. [p. 164]
It has been suggested, too, that the reason education turned in this liberal direction for salvation from general laxity in society was a superficial but generally accepted interpretation of the Freudian theories. Such an interpretation accepted the notion that many personality defects were, without qualification, the product of needlessly strict inhibitions imposed on most of us during childhood. After 1918 there was considerable belief in the idea that almost all inhibitions were stifling and dangerous. To a parent holding this doctrine, the more-flexible educational plans appeared as a great improvement over the strict regime through which he had suffered. [p. 164]
[Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.]
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