Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education

Perspective - Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas - Schooling in Colonial America - The Invention of Common School Art - The Stream of Romantic Idealism in Art Education - 1890 to the First World War/Social Darwinism and the Quest for Beauty - Between the Wars/The Expressionist and Reconstructionist Streams in Art Education - Art Education from World War II to the Present

Notes from: Efland, Arthur. "Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas." In Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, eds. Soucy, Donald, and Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Reston, Virginia: National Art Education Association, 1990.

Art Education in the Twentieth
Century: A History of Ideas

The use of history . . . . is to rescue from oblivion the lost causes of the past. History is especially important when those lost causes haunt us in the present as unfinished business [Goodman 1960, 216]. [p. 117]

In this paper I discuss a series of cases or movements in twentieth century art education. To explain these I will describe two discernible streams of influence that have coursed through the history of general education. The first is a tradition of scientific rationalism; the other is the romantic-expressionist stream. By scientific rationalism I refer not to science proper, but to ideologies finding their warrant in science. By romantic-expressionist I refer to a loosely strung set of beliefs which place the artist in a vanguard position in social affairs. Throughout the past century, one can discern discrete movements, each with its counterpart in the alternate stream. Some movements arose in reaction to their opposites; others were concurrent but not rivals.

Educational history could be seen as an ongoing ideological contest between liberal and conservative forces that parallel the larger social drama in American society, but there is a caveat to bear in mind. Neither stream was, nor is, totally liberal or conservative in character; both have given rise to liberal or conservative tendencies. The first has a preference for rationality, structure, and scientifically sanctioned procedures; the second regards structure as oppressive and gives greater play to concerns for beauty, or emotional expression in the curriculum. A second caveat is that this is primarily a history of influences on art education with only selected examples given of what was taught. [p. 117]

I N D E X:
Romantic Idealism and Social Efficiency.
Deweyan Instrumentalism and Creative Self Expression as Rivals in Progressive Education.
Discipline-Centered Curricula and the Counterculture of the 1960's.
How the Arts Became Disciplines.
Counterculture Criticism.
The Arts-In-Education Movement.

    Characteristics of the Arts-in-Education Movement.
    Criticism of the Arts-in-Education Movement.
Accountability and Qualitative Inquiry as Rival Movements.
Phenomenology, Tacit Knowledge, and Qualitative Research Methods.
Excellence and Critical Theory as Rival Movement.
Summary and Speculation on the Future of Art Education.

Romantic Idealism and Social Efficiency.

In 1897 the American commissioner of education, William Torrey Harris, was able to point to the arts, music, and literature as great civilizing agencies in the school curriculum. He defined art as "a means of manifesting the Divine in material form for the apprehension of the sense and the reason." To Harris the arts were one of the three ways humans reach toward the divine, the other two being philosophy and religion. He went on to say that "we must teach drawing that we may be able to obtain keener perceptions of the beauties of nature, and that we may preserve what Mr. Ruskin calls true images of beautiful things that pass away, or which we must ourselves leave" [Harris 1897] [p. 118]

Harris saw art as a conservative force. It preserved the great ideals of past civilizations and human genius. Furthermore, art appreciation instilled in pupils a deep respect for social institutions and the moral ideals they espouse. This respect, Harris felt, would impose a degree of constraint upon personal action, and thus instruction in art could be harnessed by educators for purposes of social control [Stankiewicz 1984]. As these ideas were popularized, picture study along with programs for the decoration of the schools with art reproductions and plaster casts of classical statuary began to be supported by public spirited groups in many parts of the county [Canfield 1899]

But Harris's conservative vision was a bulwark resisting an encroaching tide of scientific materialism. Though actually antedating Harris, the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer began to influence educators who saw in the discoveries of science greater possibilities for social betterment than they could find in the lofty ruminations of idealistic philosophy . . . . [p. 118]

By the 1880's Spencer's ideas began to take hold in American educational circles. [p. 118]

By the turn of the century, the psychological ideas of William James and G. Stanley Hall were being incorporated into teacher training programs in many normal schools and colleges of education (Cremin 1964). [p. 118-119]

Spencer declared that the purpose of education was to prepare the pupil for complete living which involved five categories, these being Self-preservation, the ability to secure life's necessities, child rearing and disciplining of offspring, the ability to maintain proper social relations, and finally, the gratification of tastes and feelings. Survival was the first and most important category . . . . [p. 119]

. . . . in the United States, Spencerain thought fostered an aggressive utilitarianism in which all aspects of education were valued only by visible, practical benefits. [p. 119]

By 1894 a committee of ten prominent educators, appointed by the National Education Association, published a report on the high school. It offered almost no mention of the arts, questioned the efficacy of a classical education for al students, and placed a greater emphasis on practical and scientific studies [Report of the Committee of Ten 1894]. Art became an elective study because it was not recommended as a college entrance subject.

American educators soon began to utilize the techniques of science and business to make the schools more efficient by eliminating non-productive subjects. [p. 119]

By 1912 there was a whole new literature on the scientific management of schooling, and indeed, school administrators increasingly began to think of themselves as managers in the business of education. Spurred by increasing criticism of the schools in the press [Calahan 1962], they attempted to measure the efficiency of teachers, curricula, and the intelligence of children, and to use these data to eliminate waste and channel pupils into courses where their innate abilities could be scientifically developed. Thus, if art found its warrant as an agent of social control, the scientifically oriented educator could claim that with procedures such as testing, control could be accomplished with greater predictability. Art had lost its raison d'etre in the school. [p. 119]

1917. [David] Snedden, an educational sociologist at Teachers College, Columbia . . . . asked [in "The Waning Powers of Art" (1917)] whether it might well be possible that we have reached a stage of development "when the social need of art of good quality is less vital and compelling than was formerly the case [805] [p. 119]

Snedden surveyed all of the uses of art in past societies and speculated that "If we possessed sufficient data . . . . we would probably find that many forms of art had, during the long periods when they possessed great social vitality, a very large 'survival value'." But he continued, "an examination of these forms of social activity which are most intimately involved in the survival and expansion of civilized societies will show an increasing dependence upon what may be called the helpings of science as contrasted with the helpings of art." [808] p. 120]

Snedden's essay appeared during World War I, and though he acknowledged the value of art as a morale builder, the war itself was made into a case in point to assert that its outcome would be determined by the side with the best scientific knowledge and the material means to produce effective weapons, not by the side with the best art . . . . [p. 1 20]

Deweyan Instrumentalism and Creative Self Expression as Rivals in Progressive Education.
The factors contributing to the rise of the progressive education movement are complex and have been amply described by Cremin [1964]. Suffice it say that there was a general reaction against the excessive formalism that had been imposed upon schooling as a result of scientific management procedures. [p. 120]

Progressivism was also part of a wider political movement that had attempted to bring reform to wretched social conditions resulting from the industrial revolution. [p. 12 0]

In the past science revealed a world that operated according to certain inexorable laws that could not be changed but with the start of the twentieth century nature's laws began to be expressed as probabilities rather than certainties. Human beings were less often pictured as passive spectators, but as creatures placed in an immensely complex environment, and because this environment is anything but static, they must modify their behavior through learning to maximize their opportunities for survival. This is the work of intelligence. [p. 120]

Moreover, the operation of intelligence to produce knowledge is precisely what John Dewey called scientific method. This knowledge is instrumental and interested, as opposed to the spectator mentality of the previous century. Dewey resisted the idea that there were absolute instrumentalities for dealing with changing situations. This view of intelligence was to become the cornerstone of his educational philosophy [Jones 1952, 949-52]. [p. 120]

Dewey and his wife, Evelyn, established a laboratory school "to discover in administration, selection of subject matter methods of learning, teaching, and discipline, how a school could become a cooperative community while developing in individuals their own capacities and satisfying their own needs." [Mayhew and Edwards 1936]. The initial hypotheses were that life itself, especially those occupations and associations that serve human social needs, should furnish the ground of experience of education; that learning can be in large measure a by-product of social activity; that the main test of learning is the ability of individuals to meet new social situations with habits of considered action ; and that schooling, committed to cooperative effort on the one hand and scientific methods on the other, can be of beneficial influence on the course of social progress. [p. 121]

However, the art education most readily associated with progressive education did not originate in Dewey's thought but in the writings and practices of such artist educators as Harold Rugg, Ann Shumaker, and Florence Cane [Rugg and Shumaker 1928]. The method was known as creative self-expression. The impetus for change came from the artist as a model for social reform rather than the scientist. Expressionism pervaded the arts of the time--in the dance of Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, the painting of Max Weber and John Marin, and the photography of Alfred Steiglitz [Cremin 1963, 206]. [p. 121 ]

In 1914 Caroline Pratt founded the Play School in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. Though it had begun as an effort to build a richer life for slum children, it was slowly transformed into an experiment in creative education.... the school's pupils were largely drawn from the families of the artists literati [Cremin 1964, 205]. [p. 121]

Creative self-expression as understood by Pratt was not based upon the Deweyan concept of intelligence. Rather, its scientific sanction was derived from Freudian psychology. Freudian theory postulated that the unconscious mind is the real source of motivation, and that the task of education was to sublimate the child's repressed emotions into socially useful channels. [p. 121 ]

Throughout the 1920s the vision of an educational science that gave rise to Dewey's focus on social activity was gradually supplanted by a psychologically-based focus on the individual, but even though self-expression was the dominant mode of teaching in the leading progressive schools of the 1920s there was a reiteration of the Deweyan approach to art education with the social cataclysms of the Great Depression and World War II. [p. 121]

This is seen in the Owatonna Art Education Project which placed emphasis on community improvement thorough the use of the arts [Haggerty 1935] . . . . Indeed, throughout the war some art educators had equated the self-expression of the artist with the war's object to preserve the democratic way of life [Freedman 1986, 1 9 87] [p. 123]

As the war ended the writings of Sir Herbert Read and Victor Lowenfeld were influential [Read 1944; Lowenfeld 1947]. Both made the point in their widely used texts that children's art was universal in its symbolic forms, that it could serve as an instrument of peace if such art would be allowed to develop freely, without the repressiveness of society which thwarted the unfolding of the child's personal vision. The child as artist was the instrument of salvation for world civilization. [p. 123]

Discipline-Centered Curricula and the Counterculture of the 1960's.
During the post-war era there was great increase in at teachers and public schools offering at instruction, especially at the elementary level. The fortunes of art education were rising, and self-expression was the favored method of teaching. At the same time the progressive movement was on the wane and never regained the prestige and influence it had during the inner-war years. The journal Progressive Education ceased publication in 1957 . . . . the Russians launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite . . . . Spurred by the Sputnicks, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act which emphasized the improvement of mathematics and science teaching. However, curriculum initiatives in the sciences and mathematics had been underway for several years prior to the Russian achievements. Indeed, the movement to base the curriculum on the forms of knowledge in the disciplines came about because university scholars had become dissatisfied with the school's failure to incorporate new advances in knowledge, and to recognize the importance of these advances in the economy and society at large [Silberman 1970, 169-70] [p. 123]

It was in Bruner's The Process of Educationwhere most educators first discovered the term "structure of the discipline" [Bruner 1970, 19]. The book reported on the Woods Hole Conference, which reviewed the reforms in mathematics and science education underway in 1959. The conference was sponsored by a number of groups, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Carnegie Corporation, and the National Science Foundation, with funding provided by the NSF, the US Office of Education, the Air Force, and the Rand Corporation [Bruner 1960, ix]. What was lost on that generation of Bruner's readers was this unprecedented blend of federal agencies, private foundations, science organizations, and the military that sponsored this conference, lending sport to the new reforms favoring the disciplines. The underlying motive was to improve national defense, a task to be accomplished by no less than a reform of general education itself. Despite this motive the long-term benefits were then felt to be inherently worthwhile and long overdue. Few regarded the movement as a partisan expression of individuals identified by President Eisenhower as the "military industrial complex." [p. 124 ]

Members of the scientific community were in a position to recommend changes in curriculum content and organization, with many serving as consultants on curriculum development projects. As the disciplines became the focus of curriculum reform, a hierarchy was established elevating some studies to the status of disciplines. Others not so designated were relegated to the status of mere subjects. Philip Phenix asserted that all "curriculum content should be drawn from the disciplines, or, to put it another way, that only knowledge contained in the disciplines is appropriate to the curriculum" [Phenix 1968]. In this new environment art had to become a discipline itself or lose its legitimacy. [p. 124][p. 124]

By 1961 the canonical nature of the disciplines was asserted in Bruner's subsequent writings [Bruner 1961]. He speculated that structures of knowledge similar to those in science might be found in the social studies and humanities, demonstrating that any field might profit from the approach pioneered in the physical sciences. His Toward a Theory of Instruction[1965] described the social studies program known as Man a Course of Study, an example of a curriculum organized around concepts drawn from linguistics, anthropology, economics, and sociology. [p. 124]


[Notes from: Efland, Arthur. "Art Education in the Twentieth Century: A History of Ideas." 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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