Notebook, 1993-

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.

Growth of Art
in American Schools

The Years 1900-1920, Education in The Museum of Art

" . . . . to breed, by exposure, suggestion and practice, the habit of having feelings about all that they see."

Florence Levy of the American Art Anuual . . . . prepared a paper on "The Educational Work of the Art Museums" [contributor to the 1908 symposium]. While she surveyed quite completely the best work of American museums in publications, newly formed museum guide services, exhibition organization, library services, and the like, she did not refer to the valuable concept of the museum in art education, which was then in operation. Her article did not refer to the Newark Public Library and the work of its director, John Cotton Dana

Dana was a librarian of the Newark Free Library from 1902 until [p. 144] his death in 1929. The products and the practice of the arts interested him all his life. [pp. 144-145]

Dana created rather than followed precedent in public education in the arts. From 1902 to 1909, he carried on art activities on the third and forth floors in the art room of the Newark Public Library . . . . during that time a picture collection for circulation was growing immensely. Also, any organizations with some concern for the arts which needed space for meetings were welcomed . . . . Dana managed to use increasing sums from the library budget to begin a collection of fine art prints and original works of art.

His thinking in art was formed on the theme that art was a part of every person's daily experience. He was more helpful to teachers and especially to art teachers than any librarian or museum director in the country; when he criticized their work, it was a privilege he earned by his close knowledge of their classroom practices. He observed that teachers might teach their students successfully to model, to paint, to weave, to bend iron, and to make boxes, and yet fail to plant the seeds of aesthetic understanding, to "breed, by exposure, suggestion and practice, the habit of having feelings about all that they see." [John Cotton Dana, "Relation of Art to American Life," School Arts Book,September, 1906, p. 4.]

The Newark Museum was founded as a separate entity in 1909 and continued to operate in the Library building under Dana's direction until it moved to a building of its own in 1925. The first decade of Museum affairs included several momentous exhibits which, taken [p. 145] together, established an example for a broad museum-of-art education program.

In painting, the works of Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and John Marin were shown, along with paintings from many other artists whose work was better known at the time and more pleasing to the public. Max Weber was given his first important one-man show in 1913, complete with printed catalogue presenting an introduction of the artist by Dana and of the work itself by the artist . . . . [Dana] believed that contemporary artists should be the first concern of the interested public, and further that those artists whose integrity he could respect, but whose work was more difficult of approach than the majority, were most in need of public showing. Then, too, the public must find the culture of its day, in art as in books, in the works of men who necessarily cast a different light than that shed by their predecessors. As with Fenollsa and A. W. Dow, Dana's enthusiasm for the arts of the Orient made it more natural for him to welcome the art of the twentieth-century modernists.

Exhibits of photography, of simple objects excellently designed which could be bought for sums less than fifty cents, of the products of the New Jersey clay and ceramics industry, were some of the unusual events held in the Newark institution. [pp. 145-146]

Sometimes Dana's mottoes accompanying exhibit material were considered in poor taste . . . . "Beauty has no relation to price, rarity, or age." . . . . cast a shadow over the latest European masterpiece acquired with large sums of American money . . . . Dana did not balk at some of the obvious interpretations of his attitude. He wanted children to look more carefully at their newspaper comics, at neighborhood billboard posters, at new stores and factories. If they found something attractive and interesting in their [p. 146] ordinary experience, that was all gain. If they became aware of much that was dull or even drab, then they at once contributed to the impulse to re-create, to improve their local environment. The museum could help to accomplish either or both of these outcomes for the children and adults who were its visitors. [pp. 146-147]

Nothing was more fantastically stupid to Dana than the fixed policy of American art institutions to ignore contemporary art and particularly American contemporary art. He was not chauvinistic in this regard. He simply felt that we must begin in art, as in framing or business --or in making a library or an art museum --with the land or the natural resources, or the writers and the artists that we possess. Of course, we can secure for ourselves some of the products, as we can some of the lessons from the experience of the past, and make use of both in understanding the present. But the art museums did not see their collecting and exhibiting function as primarily of importance to a living art and to living artists. Rather, they were building up huge repositories of the past purely for their interest in the past.

The Newark Museum's purchases were not large, but they were made from the work of living artists. [p. 147]

Miss Levy's article indicated a flourishing growth all over the nation for public education in the museums. Already, in 1908, Chicago Art Institute's Ryerson Library was becoming one of the best and most usable art collections available to scholars and artists. Toledo Museum had started to achieve its present eminence in schoolchildren's use of the museum. The New York Metropolitan, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and others were welcoming larger numbers of visitors, were providing lecture and museum guide staffs, and were issuing publications, including postcards of works of art as well as scholarly monographs. [p. 147]

But it was the Newark Museum which circulated art prints as the library did books. In this case it was Dana's application of library methods to art-gallery resources that proved so beneficial. Newark was first to engage an artists, Max Weber, to redesign and work out color schemes for its gallery rooms. Newark was foremost in showing contemporary work under the patronage of a large public institution. And Newark looked for art, and called attention to its finds, in the products of the factory or from shelves of inexpensive goods in the local retail stores. Nevertheless, Dana was not, as some artists and museum professionals protested, either a sensationalist or a vulgarizer.

He merely insisted stubbornly that art was always the product of today and of the place where we live. The past works of man in other parts of the earth and in our own land can be most valuable to our development. But finally we must find and nurture our own artists. Dana's museum practice was directed at uncovering whatever art forms were being created, as the first step toward a richer and more varied future production. [pp. 147-148]


[Notes from: Logan, Frederick M . Growth of Art in American Schools, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.]



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