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 Expressionist and Reconstructionist Streams in Art Education

The period between the two world wars opened with a spirit of optimism in the wake of a victorious war fought to make the world safe for democracy. It was a time marked by a rebelliousness against Victorian attitudes and inhibitions. Freudian psychology provided the rational warrant to eliminate puritanism from American life, a cause brought into the progressive movement by a number of educators.

The optimism of the 1920s faded with the stockmarket crash of 1929 and the deepening economic crisis that ensued. As depression spread, the dream that poverty had been banished from American life evaporated. Marxists declared the downfall of captialism, while new ideologies like communism, Nazism, and the America First movement gained willing adherents. Economic paralysis dramatically altered the mood and direction of progressive education, which also had lasting impact upon the teaching of art.

In Europe the war brought an end to long-established autocracies in Germany, Austria, and Russia. Though this sometimes cleared the way for democratic forms of government, it did not eliminate the national rivalries that had led to the war in the first place. A defeated Germany established a democratic constitution and the Weimar Republic. Its growth was blighted by economic chaos and conservatively nationalist forces that eventually led to the totalitarian rule of the Nazi Party. Yet during the chaotic times before Hitler came to power, Germany was the scene of the Bauhaus, one of the major developments in twentieth-century art education.

In this chapter we encounter three streams of influence acting up on art education. The first is the scientific movement in general education, which devised ways of testing academic ability and achievement and scientific [p. 187] means of curriculum development. The second I call the expressive stream, because it gave rise to creative self-expression as a method of education. The third, the reconstructionist stream, came to the fore during the Great Depression, when social reforms were necessitated by the country's economic stress. Each of these streams was connected with the progressive education movement, and the impact of all was felt in art education. [My idea of three streams was based in part on Cremin's [1964] treatment of progressivism.] [pp. 187-188]

After World War I American artists assimilated the style of modern art. Museums and galleries continued to look to Europe, but during the 1930s, WPA arts projects brought artists into the American mainstream for the first time.

Artistic freedom was the metaphor for the freeing of other social institutions from the weight of tradition, especially the school. The child-centered school was a place of creative self-expression where the child was perceived as an artist. Under the banner of Freudianism, the metaphor of freedom included the freedom from social inhibition and repression. Art education had come to mean creative self-expression and was closely identified with progressive education.

A number of individual artist-teachers originated the practices for which creative self-expression is noted. Though it is often described as a method that avoided the imposition of adult ideas on children, exemplary teachers stimulated children's imagination either by use of word pictures, by helping them recall experiences, or by exposing them to visual or tactile experiences.

From the 1930s to World War II progressive education moved away from an exclusive preoccupation with creative self-expression and began to restructure education around purposes tied to the community and its life. [p. 222]

The Owatonna art education project sponsored by the Carneige Corporation was the definitive art education experiment in this direction.

The integration of art into other subject matters was related to the attempt to restructure the curriculum around life-centered problems facing the school and the community.

As the storm clouds of the Second World War gathered, American art education was influenced by a great exodus of immigrants from the German-speaking world. Many Bauhaus masters settled in American universities and institutes of technology. Painters brought their modernist styles into American studios and classrooms, and art historians richly infused the intellectual scene.

Though the nation still felt the impact of the Great Depression, and stood on the brink of war, it was evident that art education was an integral part of the educational landscape. [pp. 222-223]


[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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