Introduction to Theories and Methods of Art Education
For this exploration, I’ll compare and contrast two art education methods. The first is Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), and the second is Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE). I chose these two because they are clearly articulated and incorporate theories from Eisner, London, Gardener, Lowenfeld and Dissanayake. For me, a graphic designer with fine art and photography trimmings, interdisciplinary connection-finding is truly satisfying. Both methods seek to validate art education by defining context and criteria. TAB looks towards the future and maximizing innovative potential. DBAE lays the groundwork for formal and historical instruction.
Teaching Artistic Behaviors (TAB): Teaching for Artistic Behavior, Inc. is a trademarked organization that incorporated in 2007. TAB is also known as “Choice-based Art Education.” According to teachingforartisticbehavior.org, “If you offer your students choice of materials while providing ample time and space for them to pursue their own ideas most of the time, then you are a choice-based art educator.”
TAB promotes four core practices (from http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org):
1. Personal Context
2. Pedagogical Context
3. Classroom Context
The TAB website says that their framework also helps advance the objectives for 21st Century Skills (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework).
Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE): Discipline-Based Art Education was developed by the J. Paul Getty Trust in the 1980s. In 1998, Stephen Dobbs wrote Learning in and through art : A guide to discipline-based art education, with forward by Elliot Eisner. Eisner writes, “… DBAE: a curriculum that addresses four areas of learning, that is sequentially organized, that has relatively clear aims, that is assessable over time.” The guidebook was published by J. Paul Getty Trust. Dobbs describes DBAE as a “conceptual framework” and “evolving approach.”
DBAE lists four disciplines (from Dobbs):
2. Art Criticism
3. Art History
4. Art Production
These four disciplines are mirrored in the National Core Arts Standards of: Creating, Presenting, Responding and Connecting.
I believe both TAB and DBAE are necessary. For example, learning the formal rules about page layout and grid systems is necessary in order to provide readers customary material. However, once a designer knows and employs the rules, a system can then be created where a rule is broken consistently. Doing this creates surprise and drama. It can work to further engage the audience, point out emphasis or uniquely brand the work. In the case of art instruction, students must learn the history and classical techniques before ‘breaking the rules’ and innovating for tomorrow.
Differences and Similarities in Relationship to Classroom Roles
Dobbs (DBAE) writes that art education offers students a “body of knowledge.” The TAB organization writes that a strong standards-based arts education “can thrive in all learning environments”. Both define a strong relationship of art education to overall student achievement.
For teachers, DBAE might look more like traditional lesson plans with direct instruction. More class time might be dedicated to teaching and lecture. For TAB days, instruction and demonstration time is meant to be quite limited (5-minutes) in order to maximize the student-led constructivist class time.
For students, TAB time will be spent working in ‘centers’ or project tables. They are directing their inquiries and responsibility for deadlines. Exploring and discovering is more important than completing exact criteria. DBAE days include writing and testing about art history. They also will make art projects that exhibit Common Core objectives, which ensures their exposure to content.
For Art, the combination of approaches add up to success, in my opinion. My other favorite theory as it pertains to art is Gestalt (Berlin School of experimental psychology, 1920s), which says that the whole is greater then the sum of its parts. This is meant to apply to visual perception and mental organization of grouping. DBAE groups together the following: Aesthetics, Art Criticism, Art History and Art Production. TAB groups: Personal Context, Pedagogical Context, Classroom Context and Assessment. Put all eight together as a whole, and a much larger body of art knowledge can be offered to our students and tomorrow’s leaders.
My objectives for students are all of the above, in addition to promoting visual language principles across other disciplines. Ideally, tomorrow’s hiring managers will have solid knowledge about the place for creativity in their workforce.
My Approach to Teaching Art
According to Elliot Eisner, “The arts teach students to act and to judge in the absence of rule, to rely on feel, to pay attention to nuance, to act and appraise the consequences of one’s choices and to revise and then to make other choices.” This definition seems to agree with the authors of “Studio Thinking 2,” and their proposed Eight Studio Habits of Mind. Those habits are: Understand Art Worlds, Stretch and Explore, Reflect, Observe, Develop Craft, Engage and Persist, Envision and Express. Both sources present art as much more than “ability to draw.”
Peter London wrote in his book, No more secondhand art: Awakening the artist within, “For the primal image-maker, craft was not in the service of beauty in and of itself. Instead, craft was in the service of power.” London uses the term power in reference to spirituality. This observation also seems to support my subscription to “form follows function.” London promotes the creation of fully original art, and I don’t interfere when that happens. His approach can be described as laissez–faire, or deliberate allowance for personal choices and expression. There are other situations that do call for honoring our existing visual languages and customs. Use of vernacular is a powerful tool for conveying messages. Students will learn about times where appropriation is appropriate.
These examples also speak to my desire to help students with higher-order thinking, critical thinking, and abstract thinking. Teaching Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences also help art students look beyond traditional interpretations of art class. For example, if a mathematically-minded student is truly not connecting with oil pastels, a different medium may be utilized in order to achieve the goal. My teaching style will use different approaches in order to reach students, i.e. art history lectures, interactive learning, experimental-based creating, writing assignments as a component of presenting and direct instruction for methods.
Style and Methods in My Classroom
My students will become familiar with the “Problem-Solution” moniker. Desy Schoenewies, Assistant Professor of Art at Black Hills State University, reminded me that artists create problems by asking innovative questions. Being a problem maker and proposer of solutions is a perfectly acceptable exercise, especially in our culture that values jumping to conclusions nowadays.
I advocate thoroughly working through the steps of ‘design thinking,’ also known as ‘the creative process.’ In business, I observed trends to skip most of the steps in favor of layout design with hopes that the client will just say yes to the first one. I sadly watched this attempt at shortcuts backfire, time and time again. It only served to spin-wheels and employ morale-busting guesswork. Billable hours were not streamlined using the guess-and-go design approach, and only mediocre work resulted. Because design thinking works for cross-disciplinary applications, I’ll champion the process in my classroom. These concepts also overlap and dovetail 21st Century Skills and TAB (Teaching Artistic Behaviors).
I view myself as an encourager of idea-making that employs tools that are appropriate to the stated goal. Secondarily to solid conceptual skills, mastery of technique comes with practice and repetition over the years that students are enrolled in art classes.
My Decision to Become a Teacher
I’ve been interested in the teaching profession for a number of years. My path to Northern State University School of Education started, in earnest, about six years ago. Many life experiences had reshaped my thinking, and I found myself prioritizing ideas for contributing to my community. The personal experiences that most influenced my desire to teach are; the births and caretaking of my children, volunteering at my church and at an art gallery dedicated to children with disabilities.
I became passionate about helping children reach their potential. Little people with big perseverance had my attention and heart. At the same time, I was attending teaching artist training at the Dahl Fine Arts Center, in Rapid City. That experience further piqued my interest, and reignited my creativity.
The next personal step was to acknowledge that teaching excited me. It didn’t sound like work to me. Going to school, making art projects with students, teaching core principles and managing a classroom sounded like fun! I do understand it is ‘work’ and very challenging, but that’s good stress. I hope to positively impact my future students, school and community.
Teaching Style: Influential Experiences
I credit Kali Nikitas, chair of the graphic design department during my attendance at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, for largely influencing my teaching style. (Nikitas is now the Graphic Design Department Chair for Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA.) Ms. Nikitas thinks more abstractly and future-forward than I could ever hope to personally achieve. In her classroom, no questions were off-limits or ‘dumb.’ Actually, it was very important to put those ‘cliche’ or otherwise ridiculous ideas on the brainstorming board so they could be properly analyzed and subsequently moved off the board. For Ms. Nikitas, content and communication hierarchy was supremely important, even more than artistic style. She also values function over form. Other artists view form as more important than function. (Eisner settled the argument by writing that both are inextricably connected.) Nikitas taught her students to always ask “Who cares?” and “Why do they care?” I think that exercise is an essential element for anything artistic.
Besides naming Ms. Nikitas, my other art professors and K-12 art teachers influenced my teaching style positively. With fond memories, I aim to continue their curriculum and ignite curiosity and excellence in my students.
Dobbs, S. M. (1998). Learning in and through art : A guide to discipline-based art education. Los Angeles, Calif.: Getty Education Institute for the Arts.
Eisner, Elliot W. (2002) 'What can eduction learn from the arts about the practice of education?', the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/eisner_arts_and_the_practice_or_education.htm
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind : The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10449816
Hetland, L. (2013). Studio thinking 2 : The real benefits of visual arts education (Second edition.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Jaquith, D. (2013). This is not art, it’s engineering! Arts and Activities, 80(5), (11). Retrieved from http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/resources/.
London, P. (1989). No more secondhand art : Awakening the artist within (1st ed.). Boston: Shambhala.