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 1920's and 1930's, Professional Stabilization

"A great body of philosophy, scholarly studies of the past, research projects, governmental sponsorship of the arts, museum education, and art historical scholarships dealing with the arts in Europe, Asia, among primitive peoples, and in contemporary as well as historical periods--all came to something of a climax in professional art education before the entry of the United States into war with Japan and Germany."

"American schools using only slight variations in content from the academic regimes of the nineteenth century were nevertheless, aiming at the kind of a school experience and independent thinking necessary to produce strongly individual artists and artist teachers."

" . . . . it can be argued that the Bauhaus showed this country's best art teachers how better to implement a creative teaching which they had been working at ever since the first efforts of men like Eakins, Stieglitz, and later the Eight."

The groundwork of the past had been solid support a good company of teachers who welcomed the expansion of outlook and furthered the acceptance of public art education in the 1920's. [pp. 164-165]

One group of teachers concerned themselves with the place of the arts in the complex structure of the American public-school system. [p. 165]

C. Valentine Kirby in Pennsylvania - The Business of teaching and Supervising the Arts -1927

Winslow's Organization and Teaching of Art - 1928.

William G. Whitford of Chicago University - An Introduction to Art Education - 1929

Sallie Tannahill in New York - Fine Arts for Public School Administrators - 1932

Klar, Winslow and Kirby's Art Education in Principle and Practice - 1933. [p. 165]

In each of these volumes a statement on the aims of art education underscores the authors' belief in creative experience. These leading educators reflected the cumulative growth of a "child-centered" philosophy of art expression. All of them, too, expressed their hopes for improved social and civic life as one of the outcomes of education in the arts. Their major preoccupations dealt with the art teacher's relationships to every aspect of the school and surrounding community. Suggestions were made to help the art teacher-supervisor meet elementary teachers, pupils, principals, and parents, each on his own level of interest. Outlines were worked out for courses of study, subject-matter areas, the ordering of supplies, and the keeping of inventories, all in the most businesslike manner possible. [p. 165]

Most of the volumes go into the problem of art appreciation, and in doing so reveal a still-considerable gap between their art interests and the work of the artists of the time. [p. 165]

Whitford is the most exhaustive of the group. His survey of art needs, courses of study, theory and methods of art instruction, tests, and measurements is detailed and outlined in charts . . . . The Klar, Winslow, and Kirby book follows somewhat the same pattern, [p. 165] with perhaps more emphasis on the museum as an art resource and upon the integration of art activities with other subject matters. Tannahill's book, frankly addressed as propaganda for the administrator, puts a greater value on the nature of the creative experience than do the others. It is a persuasive tract, putting the argument for art education in concise form for principals and superintendents. [pp. 165-167]

An evaluation of the place and the worth of this kind of art-education leadership is necessary. Unlike the thinking and record of work coming from the unusual classroom teacher, it tends to be a little prosaic in content and phraseology. But what might have been the outcome for the arts in public education in this period and in other eras if the insights of Parker, Dow, Mathias, etc., were not given the support of men and women whose contribution is that of organization? [p. 167]

Sometimes the organizational framework is too cumbersome for its avowed purpose; sometimes it is so impressive it frightens the teacher away from using the material except in small parts. Occasionally the basis of interest in the arts appears only barely discernible in the heaping up of charts, diagrams, and lists. [p. 167]

But the texts of this nature provided a framework for art curricula. They have been used through the country in teacher-training schools and colleges, where their value has been in the building up of confidence that art classes may be sensibly, carefully established, and that the objectives of art education have an important place in the schools. [p. 167]

Organization applied to school and social forces was not the only effort to organize in the art education of the twenties. In the field of design and composition there were influential teachers able to provide leadership.

George J. Cox's Art for Amateur and Student[1926] was the best of several works which used Dow's earlier text on composition as its basis. [p. 167]

Charles de Garmo as early as 1913 discussed the aesthetic qualities evident in the automobile [Charles de Garmo, Aesthetic Education,Bardeen, 1913].

The Essentials of Design,produced with Leon Winslow in 1924, showed an awareness of the industrialdesign problem.

The Goldstein sisters' well-known volume, Art in Everyday Life[1925], anticipated the more-explicit design approaches to materials and techniques which were to be shown in the machine-art exhibits of the thirties. [pp. 167-168]

Design, as these teachers saw it, had already ceased to be a decorative motif cribbed from nature and pasted in some form on a surface. By way of the William Morris tradition, they were looking for design in the structure, for an understanding and feel for material in the craftsmanship of each object. Like Arthur Wesley Dow in his last magazine article, they were as alert to the changing and growing values in aesthetics as any artist-designer in the country; this on the part of persons primarily active in teaching was a good omen for the future. [p. 168]

Depression Decade
The economic depression, beginning in 1929 and reaching its most distressing depth in the election year of 1932, set apart in complete relief the decade of the twenties and that of the thirties. [p. 168]

Art education matured in the thirties. Professional art schools moved forward more rapidly than ever before, and in every phase of art education an integration of philosophy, of new practices arrived at in Europe, of psychology, of more exact studies of the nature of the arts, was at least begun before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. [p. 168]

Part of the forward movement of the thirties was due to the depression itself and to the public agencies inaugurated to cope with deflation and economic disaster. But significantly, a large share of the growth and improvement in art education can be traced to the continued good health of American institutions and foundations, and to the alertness of the people who set them up and the professional personnel carrying on the work. A recapitulation of the state of art education in 1929 is essential for understanding later accomplishments. [p. 168]

Art Education in 1929: The Elementary School
The most advanced position in education in the visual and plastic arts in 1929 seems to have been that of the best teaching done in the elementary schools. [p. 169]

Children were using as media the ordinary water colors, the powdered dry colors, crayons, and chalks. Small-size drawing papers were still much in use, but large-size papers were more and more common. [p. 169]

If anything, there was an overemphasis upon the need for encouraging young children to draw, and particularly to paint in large and bold fashion. Paintings done by children in the grades up to and including the sixth were, at their best, freely conceived, painted in personal and brilliant color, and individual in the drawing of form. Already the relationship of the best of children's work to the work of the German expressionists and the French Fauves was being understood, not that children were maturing at an excessively early age, not that some contemporary professional artists were attempting deliberately and witlessly to retrogress. Rather, the professionals sought the emphatic statements possible when color and forms on the canvas were used arbitrarily and independently of naturalistic appearance. At the same time, the thoughtful teachers of children were aware that a child using reds, oranges, and blues strongly to create a spring landscape was doing so to suggest the verve, the wonderful excitement of his response to living in a manner which he would lose altogether if required to make his whole painting in cautious repetitions of green pigment. The advanced painters and some young children were achieving an emotional expression foreign to academic drawing, to school "studies" of still life. [p. 169]

High School Art and Art School
In the schools only the progressive elementary curricula showed much concern with changing art concepts.

Here and there in the crafts, slight manifestations of cubism had appeared . . . . [but] The high school continued to teach a watered-down version of art-school drawing, and to adorn craft objects in clay, leather, or wood with slightly stiffened versions of art nouveau decoration.

In the high schools, as well as in the professional art schools, the encroachment of courses in painting and finally in composition was almost complete. It is more than a little difficult for us now to consider composition courses as a radical innovation, but it took almost fifty years to establish them firmly as part of a desirable art background. By 1920 a professional art student could expect to be in a drawing class for his full four years, but he would also expect to begin some approach to creative pictorial composition, especially during his last two years. Even there, draftsmanship was still dominantly naturalistic or representative; though advanced teachers were overly insistent that the subject matter was of no interest, and that the form, the design, was the only truly significant aspect of any good painting. Clive Bell's dictum was in general circulation; a thirteenth-century altarpiece of a landscape by Seurat were equally masterpieces because they possessed "significant form." [Clive Bell, Art,Stokes, 1913] For the moment, the place of these respective works in social contexts, the intent of the artist, were matters of little or no concern. The Chicago critic, Bulliett, wrote a book, Apples and Madonnas, the theme of which was established by the statement that an apple by CÚzanne was of equal significance with a Madonna by Raphael. [C. J. Bulliett, Apples and Madonnas, Covici Friede, 1930]

As a consequence, the chief characteristic of study in an art school was a painful, introverted effort to achieve "significant form," when all the while most students were still struggling with conventional form representation problems of the usual subject matters, still life, landscape , and figures.

Technical study of media was slight, and not very good, being for the most part little personal recipes and tricks achieved by the teacher in the course of his own painting.

There was widespread advocacy of devices like dynamic symmetry in pictorial organization, or like "scientifically" set color arrangements for the palette.

Drawing, painting, and, in the larger schools, sculpture were the only serious occupations of the professional student. Craft media, lettering, commercial arts, design, all were considered lesser activities taken by students majoring in education or commercial art; the determined fine-arts students took such courses before leaving school only as a kind of last resort to help him eke out an income.

In the years since 1929, courses and course content in art schools have changed immensely. Colleges and universities have entered the field of professional studio courses in art, as they had only timidly begun to do then. But to record only the change in courses would be relatively meaningless. For the whole concept of the arts and art education has been clarified and broadened since that time. To the considerable distress of many artists and teachers, drawing and painting from the nude are not likely again to dominate the art experience of the professional art student of the next half century. In important aspects of his work he will be closer psychologically to the successful child painter. At the same time the professional art student will take for granted an acquisition of technical skills in many media which his counterpart of the 1920's would not have believed possible.

A great body of philosophy, scholarly studies of the past, research projects, governmental sponsorship of the arts, museum education, and art historical scholarships dealing with the arts in Europe, Asia, among primitive peoples, and in contemporary as well as historical periods--all came to something of a climax in professional art education before the entry of the United States into war with Japan and Germany.

Industrial Design and the Bauhaus
Industrial design in this country is sometimes designated by its best early performers as a product of the depression. [p. 171]

One reads that the effort of leading railroads to recapture passenger traffic drifting to the motor buses and to the private automobile led to the designing of the first streamlined, air-conditioned, refurnished coach and sleeper trains on runs between important cities. Of course, the effort to relate art to the environment, to make the designing of everything from communities to kitchen pots a concern of the artists, did not spring into existence only with the coming of the depression. Some artists and art teachers have always been interested in that legitimate activity for the designer . . . .

But we can be reasonably accurate in assuming that the practice of designing for the huge mass production of American industry in the twentieth century, by artists competent to deal with the machinery, began with the attempt to find markets during the depression years. And with the development of industrial design came a new orientation in the practice of art and in art education.

As always, there were roots in the past. Artist have seen what is needed and what must come long before it actually arrives. The Italian futurists had publicly announced their desire to live in and by the mechanisms of the twentieth century. Their "manifesto" of 1909 is now seen to have overtones of the fascism of the Black Shirts, but their disgust with trying to be artists in the twentieth century, in a country where the chief industry is the adoration of the arts of dead men, has continued to strike a responsive chord in most artists of this century. Such a sensitive and appreciative visitor to Italy as Henry James expressed virtually the same plea for arts, for building, for thoughts appropriate to our time, for minimizing the nostalgia for the past. [F. O. Mathiessen, The James Family, Knopf, 1948, pp. 289-290]

Dadaists in Paris after the First World War were even more violent on this score than the futurists. They proposed to junk all aesthetic values belonging to the past. The present and its inevitably mechanistic future they would glorify, and, to show what they meant, it was believed entirely appropriate to use sections of toilet and bathroom plumbing as collage material in a dadaist exhibit.

At the time the dadaist were making their serious postwar jokes, another group of men were painting canvases using only severe forms based on rectangles, cylinders, and geometric forms and lines, and doing some three-dimensional pieces in complexly interrelated solid geometrical forms. These "purists," so-called, included men who later did more work in architecture than in painting, as well as in typographical design and design for industry. Those who continued to paint continued also to relate their work with what they believed to be the inevitable, the right direction, for all the arts of our time. Le Corbusier, Leger, Oud, Mondrian, were all of this period and of this conviction.

This direction was uncompromising revelation in all things of the structural pattern and the materials used. A house depending on steel and concrete and glass for its support and its sheathing from the weather would show those materials freely, as well as the probable arrangement of space within, to all who might glance at it or examine it closely. There was to be no concealment of iron posts by concrete molds of Corinthian pillar, no think casing of marble precariously pinned on a concrete wall, no elaborately carved sills and moldings to mitigate the shape of a window rectangle in a flat concrete wall.

When an able group of artists starts to think in terms quite rigorously clearing away and rejecting the ingrained habits of the immediate past, it is only a short time before someone will begin to plan a school curriculum to develop the new thinking in a group of students. [p. 171-173]

The German Bauhaus, first at Weinmar and then of Dessau, came into existence as the first great school to establish a twentieth-century art curriculum. [p. 173]

Walter Gropius . . . . agreed during the years of the First World War to take over the direction of a combined institution at Weimar, which included the old crafts-and-design school and the fine-arts academy. The agreement he reached with the Duke of Weimar, when he began work in 1919, gave him as great a freedom to recruit staff and to establish a pattern of studies as might be desired. [p. 173]

What was accomplished . . . . has had to be understood and used to an extent by every worthwhile art school of our day. [p. 173]

Gropius, together with the talented men who joined him on the faculty, believed that a school in which many art forms were being taught and each art activity influenced the other was unquestionably the best possible improvement over the classical academy. [p. 173]

Painting, sculpture, architecture, typography, ceramics, metal work, photography, and motion pictures were all counted as important art media. A new kind of elementary course had to be created. The plan was to devise a first-year experience which would acquaint the young student with the common and unique qualities of all the usual materials: wood, metal, paper, glass, stone, plastics, textiles, rubber, etc. Use of the material was to be approached so as to exploit and handle freely the inherent qualities: flexibility, brittleness, reaction to heat and cold, tools possible to use, forms which could be created, combinations of materials, and many other possible analyses. All students planning for work in any of the specialized fields worked in this first studio course. Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, and Moholy-Nagy developed the work and, since its start, contributed most to spreading its influence in Europe and America. [pp. 173-174]

Josef Albers brought his interpretation of it to Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1933. [p. 174]

Later Moholy-Nagy, inaugurating the Institute of Design in Chicago, as a matter of course designed a first year of work based on the old Bauhaus principles. The abstract paper-sculpture forms, the carved sculptural "handies," the wire-mesh three-dimensional forms, the photograms the collages of all kinds of material and textures, and the painstakingly done representational drawings of small objects and surfaces are easily recognized problems emanating from the practices of the first year of the Bauhaus training. [p. 174]

. . . . too many teachers and schools of narrow vision have only seized specific problems from the Bauhaus to replace their old regime of six weeks on a charcoal study of the values to be seen on a plaster cast. The basis for such work in a constantly fresh approach to each material, and in the potentialities of tools and processes, may too easily be lost to view. [p. 174]

As Bauhaus students went on in their work, they became more specialized. And another distinctive approach of that faculty to education in the arts was exhibited in the specialized work. First of all, every student upon graduation was expected to qualify for a journeyman's license in his craft as far as technical skill was concerned. Second, each teacher in a major field was expected to be a first-rate artist in that work. For several years this necessitated two people in some crafts--an artist-designer and a craftsman. Later it was possible to complete the faculty with men and women who combined design competence with the craft technical background. Here, too, the [p. 174] influence upon American art-school practice is becoming apparent as we see more splendid artist-craftsman teaching in many of our high schools and in professional departments and colleges. [p. 174-175]

Some kind of cooperation between the senior student designers of the Bauhaus and German industry was hoped for, but, though a beginning had been made, some products actually being placed on the market, the internal trouble of Germany first seriously interfered with the school; Gropius resigned in 1928; and then, after Hitler took over, closed it for good in 1933. [p. 175]

. . . . its influence in America was slight until the post-depression years. Partly, I believe, the stimulus of our growing field of industrial design turned American art schools toward the Bauhaus program. Partly, the general interest of art professionals and particularly of museum curators in the art of the machine directed educational thought to that school which had done so much to comprehend and instruct its students to work for machine production.

In 1933, the New York Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition on "Machine Art," for which Philip Johnston wrote an excellent and influential catalogue. The show was circulated in many museums on an extensive tour. "Machine Art," as elegantly set forth in the museum, was a relatively new term for this country; but it was inevitable that design for industry, the attention paid to the products of industry by the more active museums, and the spreading knowledge of the curricular innovations of the Bauhaus should come to have an influence in American schools.

The largest full-scale recognition and public display of the Bauhaus work in the United States came at the Museum of Modern Art in 1939. By that time magazine articles were being published on the subject, and it was only a question of time before the more intelligent schools began making direct use of the principles of Bauhaus education. In 1944 Georgy Kepes published his Language of Vision, and in 1947 Moholy-Nagy's Vision in Motion was published posthumously. Both books have enjoyed a large circulation and have been used as texts of the new design.

Moholy-Nagy and most of the other Bauhaus teachers and former students would emphasize, as the first Bauhaus contribution to education [p. 175], recognition of the need for developing the individual, drawing forth in each personality those unique creative potentialities which each individual and particularly the art student may be expected to possess. In the Bauhaus publications and in the works published in America since 1933 by those who took part in this rare scholastic enterprise, it is the first objective mentioned. "The most important task is the liberation from dead convention in favor of individual experiences and revelations." Thus Sibyl Moholy-Nagy quotes from the early Bauhaus program of the foundation course. [Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, "Letter to the Editor," College Art Journal, Spring, 1951, p. 271.] [pp. 175-176]

Yet it is a question whether that emphasis is the greatest contribution the Bauhaus made to schools in America. First, an art education which hoped to develop the strength and growth of the individual was in full swing here at the same time the Bauhaus was starting its work. Teachers like Robert Henri and Kimon Nikolaides were striving toward that goal during and after the First World War. The influence of Dow and Dewey in teacher education was to aid in the effort. American schools using only slight variations in content from the academic regimes of the nineteenth century were nevertheless, aiming at the kind of a school experience and independent thinking necessary to produce strongly individual artists and artist teachers. [p. 176]

What the Bauhaus provided was a broader range of experiences in materials to accomplish the purposes of individual development. It could be and has been argued that only the experimental attitude toward materials and processes which the Bauhaus faculty originated could offer a range of experience ample for countless individual expressions; that any art-school experience based only on a small number of media in life drawing, painting, and composition was so constrained that individual development would necessarily be limited too. There is a degree of truth in thus defining the handicap of limitations in materials. There is even more justice in supposing that conventional practices can breed conventional minds.

However, a minimum of materials, employed by teachers who are seeking and showing by example a maximum of individualized [p. 176] interpretation, can develop students capable of future growth when material limitations may have changed.

So it can be argued that the Bauhaus showed this country's best art teachers how better to implement a creative teaching which they had been working at ever since the first efforts of men like Eakins, Stieglitz, and later the Eight.

. . . . it is obviously true that the Bauhaus' instructional devices used in a context of prescribed routine can be just as stultifying as the academic procedures they displace. Both an experimental approach to materials and a planned freedom for student development are essential to the valuable coordination of Bauhaus discoveries and all subsequent art education. [pp. 176-177]

The Museum of Modern Art
Museums all over the United States had been working slowly in the direction mapped out by John Cotton Dana and Newark. [p. 177]

The Museum of Modern Art was incorporated in 1929 and began its work in a converted mansion on the site of the present building, which was erected in 1938-39. [p. 177]

. . . . the Modern seemed to find for itself museum duties which others had not assumed and which now seem peculiarly appropriate to it . . . .

Comparative exhibit of Art Nouveau and Design of 1933.

Machine Art . . . .

Objects of Everyday Use . . . .

The Work of the Aalto group in Finland . . . .

Competitions in organic furniture design . . . .

The Bauhaus Showing --focused attention on furniture, textiles, household objects, and the precise beauty of machine made tools as no amount of writing could do . . . . [pp. 177-178]

For each of the shows, handsomely illustrated and well-edited catalogues were printed. [p. 178]

In exhibiting such material, the museum was not an originator. We can recall the forerunners, the thinkers who made such museum exhibitions virtually a necessity, from our reading of the work of contemporary art historians, including Nicholas Pevsner, Herbet Read, Lewis Mumford, Siegfried Giedion, W. R. Lethaby, Charles De Garmo, and others. [p. 178]

Preservation of the monuments of the art of motion picture became one of the Modern's unique historical and educational functions. This task, begun in 1935 as the Film Library . . . . [p. 178]


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



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