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 1930's, Museum Education in the Depression

As employment and payrolls dropped during 1929-1930 and 1931, little time or energy went into new enterprises in anything. But eventually the whole population began to accommodate itself to an economically stringent regime. As it did so, all over the country museums, libraries, the programs of free summer concerts, the adult evening classes in vocational schools, all reported a steadily expanding and an intensely serious patronage from all age groups and from a cross section of intellectual and educational backgrounds.

Catering to this alert and eager clientele, the American museums of art which possessed collections and endowments permitting some creative activity entered a period of educational exhibits never before equaled. Certain types of ventures stand out in retrospect. First in public attendance and probably in general interest were the historical-survey exhibitions held in conjunction with the three great fairs, at Chicago in 1933 and 1934 and New York and San Francisco [p. 178] in 1939. The three were exhibits of the work of primitive cultures, the Pacific islands, the pre-Columbian culture of Mexico and South America, the art of the American Indian, the sculpture, especially of the African tribes. Large and small exhibitions of this sort were carefully organized and presented. The relationship of the arts to the study of anthropology was more than ever important and influenced professional scholars in both fields while it broadened and deepened the public awareness. Arts were seen to be inclusive of the symbolism of African ebony carving, the clean lines of a boat propeller, the twenty minutes of clowning in a Keystone film comedy, and the concrete walls of Frank Lloyd WrightÍs 1904 Unity Temple. [pp. 178-179]

Museums and their exhibits, the exhibits and their special publications, reached a high point in public education in the years following the Wall Street crash. [p. 179]

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Gallery in Washington, The Philadelphia Museum, the Carnegie Institute, the Cleveland Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the St. Louis City Art Museum--all have resouces to create important exhibitions, to present them adequately, and to publish catalogues. [p. 179]

The smaller museum of the country perform a quite different service. Their permanent collections are usually far less significant and more apt to be excellent in some small area of art and no other. Often they use their collections only occasionally as interim exhibit material for the reason that they lack exhibit space for showing temporary exhibits together with a permanent collection. [p. 179]

The smaller galleries are performing their greatest service in annual exhibitions of local art of importance. Such showings include the public-school art work; the prints of the local photographic [p. 179] groups; painting, sculpture, crafts from special art clubs, such as businessmen, physicians, night-class groups; the work of any museum classes for children and adults; the work of faculty and students in local art schools and colleges; and, somewhat less regularly, significant design in local industry or in local advertising and merchandising. [pp. 179-180]

To make the service of these museums more than simply provincial, however valuable that activity is, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum conduct regular programs of circulating exhibitions, which are made available at reasonable rental and transportation rates. A survey of exhibition listings through the year in the United States would indicate that when most small galleries wish to attempt an educational collection on some worth-while theme, they go to the current circulation units from one of these sources . . . . the circulating units are better in individual pieces included and in editing than the resources, in personnel and in finance for shipping and insurance, of the small institution can make possible. [p. 180]

The AFA and the MOMA catalogues of circulating exhibits list fine groups. On one important score, however, the tendency to rely on these bookings is to be deplored. It is comparable to the tendency of the small-town newspaper to rely on syndicate material for editorial comment, as well as for news, comics, fashions, health articles, etc. Fine as is the staff of the AFA and the Modern Museum, the whole art field is benefitted when some of the smaller museums plunge into creating their own exhibitions. In the last decade, leadership of this sort has been taken by a few college and university galleries, where academic personnel can do some of the work of planning; and most conspicuously of all the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. This gallery has achieved extra ordinary influence and distinction for its work in its "Everyday Art" gallery and for its small quarterly publication of the same title. The Walker has not ignored painting and sculpture either, for in those media it produces outstanding regional exhibits of contemporary work.

Despite the excellence of work already accomplished and the wide coverage of museums now in an active state, the educational values of art museums are too largely available only to the urban resident. [p. 180] True, the museum does set and advance art values which extend far beyond their walls, and the small-town and rural resident is influenced by the museum whether or not he ever enters a museum door. But he lacks the consciousness even of his own indisputable acts of aesthetic purpose and intent, partly because we have not found as yet the way to bring to all the parts and people of the nation the kind of cultural understanding the museum provides.

Education in museums has not been limited to the influence of the exhibit, the publications, or the gallery tours conducted by the staff. It has become a widely accepted part of the museum job to offer classwork in a variety of art activities. Of course, some of the largest and oldest museums are the parent institutions for our best-known professional rat schools, but in recent decades even the largest museums have not made any effort to enter that field. Instead, they inaugurated the kind of instruction suited to the aesthetic education of the general citizens, child and adult, who have some art interests. As a result, schoolchildren with special aptitudes have been able to do more art work than would be possible in their schools alone, and not only more art work but frequently work of freer possibilities, with more complex materials, than those offered by the regular school situation. In the larger cities, these classes are often times staffed by young artists; they bring to their museum teaching a somewhat more stimulating and interesting flavor than is likely in a public-school, five-day-a-week situation.

In small communities where museum classes are held, the instructor is more apt to be one of the regular school art staff. Even so, there is still the element of environment, and the encouragement of a class group having more than ordinary interest, which makes art activities in the gallery a most welcome addition to the community cultural resources.

To some extent the museum class can serve as an experiment station for new materials and for untried class group organization. For the reason that it is free from the requirements of an interlocked curriculum, the museum can venture more easily than the school. It should not wish to emulate the more organized, slow-changing patterns inevitable where many interests are to be reconciled. [pp. 180-181]

National Government in Art
. . . . the work of the various federal art projects and sponsorships of the 1930Ís . . . . When, in 1934, a relief program for artists was made part of the whole Works Progress Administration, rather than provide mere relief payments in the form of cash or food and rent, the aim of WPA was to provide gainful employment in work which the recipient of the relief check could do. Where possible, this could be achieved by setting up projects using particular skills and talents; such was the Art Project.

Accomplishments accredited to the Art Project, up to the time of its dissolution in 1939, were varied in quality and effectiveness. Some of the accomplishments have never been adequately recognized, while others have been unduly criticized.

The actual work that artists produced was amazing in quantity and quality: paintings in all possible media; stone, metal, concrete, and wood sculpture, much of it for specified architectural settings; prints[?] in all possible techniques, including a production in silk-screen printing which led virtually to a new industry both in the fine arts and in commercial practice. Then there was the now far-famed Index of American Design, the collection of thousands of painstakingly done plates illustrating copiously the folk arts of the whole nation for the past three hundred or more years. The personnel of this unit was composed [ ?] of older men recruited from the workers in lithography, engraving, and printing.

Besides the works of at produced --all available for the cost of the materials to public institutions requesting them --the people of the Art Project participated in hundreds of teaching and museum projects for children and adults in special-interest groups. The artists taught, lectured, and demonstrated from New York City to North Dakota and points in between and beyond. At first the bulk of the artists on the Art Project rolls were fairly experienced men and women; in its later years, large numbers of recent art-school graduates sought employment until teaching or part -time work gave them a more favorable income.

One of the valuable results of the Project was that of keeping a considerable group of younger artists in their home communities . . . . New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago could hardly be said to be a golden lure. Artists were sleeping in subways along with laborers. So scores of talented artists, realizing that the project gave them the opportunity to continue and mature their work beyond its student level, took advantage of whatever activity their local Project office provided.

Project artists found that they could work with schools and school administrators, with hosptial directors, with architects, with museum staff members, and with any number of other people in their community . . . . the communities . . . . found that the artists . . . . willing and successfully provided designs, posters, floats, all manner of decorations, stage settings, and any other related necessities [for Fourth of July parades or Christmas festivals].

To some extent in many places, they led the way in general art activity that we see at its best today in the community participation in schools, colleges, and museums. Many staff members in those institutions were Project members in earlier years.


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



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