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By Douglas McLennan
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November 29, 2008 4:25 PM | | Comments (17) |



All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtful and valuable as it is -- seems a little airy and has occasionally made me impatient. I think it's because the topic here is (pardon the oversimplification) what the arts say about themselves rather than what they do. Not that framing and language are unimportant. But no message about the traditionally-defined arts speaks louder than what happens, or doesn't, inside a concert hall or art museum, etc. Whether we're talking about advocacy at the level of the field or marketing at the level of an individual organization, those overt messages we spend so much time and care articulating are only a small part of the total signal we're sending. And sometimes there's a disconnect between what we say about our value (and values) and how our offerings actually look and feel to the audiences and communities we're trying to engage.

So advocacy and framing are, I would argue, arts management challenges, innovation challenges, even artistic challenges. When we find better, more intimate, more participatory, more colloquial, more diverse ways of connecting with people, the arts will half frame themeselves. Then a conversation like this one can do the rest.

In the meantime, maybe we should think about a parallel conversation about how best to advocate for new ways of presenting the arts and construing our audiences. And the target audience for that framing effort would be ourselves.

The following provides many resources for a perspective on the history of art education and provides an opportunity to consider issues that have changed over time:

For a Perspective on Art Education

Dear Mr. McLennan,

When the debate on arts education has ended, please publish it in a form that can be saved to one's hard drive or to a disk. I would like to study the discussion after Christmas and give the writers the time and attention they deserve.

Many thanks to you for instigating the debate.

With best wishes,

Elizabeth Stanford

As a practicing artist and art educator I have great esteem for the dedicated teachers who engage all children in the arts in public schools. The work that is being done is quite fantastic! All children today really do benefit from the efforts made to both practice and reflect upon works of art.

Because society and our culture develop and now engage everyone in increased visual communication --with increasingly refined materials and tools --it is impossible for any child to not be responsive to the practice of visual communication and its effect. All children develop visual literacy in the process of being educated --even if the focus is on history or science.

There is, however, a need to distinguish between visual arts communication and aesthetic experience.

Aesthetic nourishment --practiced and observed --is not so useful or so functional as are significant visual communication skills. Aesthetic experience may have a more profound affective strength and may strengthen the imagination, empathy, responsiveness, the broad view on any topic or issue, and development in the 'diplomatic' exchange of ideas. This is not just a recognition of relationships and the creative play of coming up with something new --as in physics.

Because of the necessity to evaluate and justify visual arts education there is a tendency to weigh art programs down with goals and objectives that are academic in nature. Despite the imbalance in the academic nature of understanding objectives and arriving at certain goals children do benefit immensely from the exposure and activities. And those not at all motivated do win with some time for reflection in an art class --even if they do little or nothing in a short class period.

What is needed in art education is the time. Time to do more than a picture 'all at once' --which may be done in part of the 20 minutes of activity designated in a 40-minute class . What is missing is the play with the imagination through which one's own objectives and goals become clear --through the experience with materials and imagery that result in affective engagement and the wonder of what one oneself is able to achieve.

A sense of wonder, quiet appreciation, empathetic response --these are engaged through quiet and through time. A picture that may take a period of weeks to develop or a visit to a museum and gallery with father, mother, or a volunteer mentor --in which group dynamics and socialization are not at play --these can deepen the value of art experiences.

And - very important --we do not want all children to be artist any more than we would want all to be doctors, teachers, policemen, lawyers, etc. What children are given in our public school programs is wonderful.

For those few children who are keenly engaged and obviously responsive to the materials and methods in practice --and the wonder and reflection in observation --there is a need for the advanced opportunities.

Museums, private organizations, master artists, perhaps some art galleries, and some volunteer mentors should provide the opportunities that are not already provided in the public schools.

This means that the kinds of experiences are significantly more than what is already done in public schools --such as the time needed for realization in fundamental drawing or painting classes --such as guidance with tools and methods --steps and processes --that are not otherwise introduced --such as exposure to colors that correspond with the world as a child views it, which may include the sepia, umbers, ochres, crimsons, cobalts, vermillion --and other colors and tones and nuances that are more than what can be learned about mixing primary colors.

And - 'How to' instruction is not going to interfere with or diminish the inevitable development of personal expression. Personal uniqueness, differences --these are inevitable and easy. What is important is the expanding and the refining repertoire --a repertoire achieved through human responsiveness, perspective and accountability. For what may be original is probably universal. And the universal is shared through the development of the material --requires understanding and skill.

- - - - -
* Know that the existing art education programs are quite wonderful!

* Consider the difference between visual art communication -- and -- aesthetic experience and development.

* Consider that it is exactly that period of time in which goals and objectives are not met in which all children can benefit from the play with their imagination and the appreciation of an empathetic period of consideration and reflection. The value of this is underestimated and should count.

* Consider that only a few children may be future artists --such as the future doctors or lawyers --in need of the additional art opportunities --which should exist in museum programs, with master artists, other 'extra-curriculum' opportunities --and volunteer mentors.

Question....I need numbers. What studies are recognized as valid re arts=bright, succesful, etc.

One argument that needs to added in favor of universal arts education K-graduate school is that there is a very strong correlation between arts and crafts training and success as a scientist, engineer, or inventor. Arts aren't just for artists. Arts train a general set of skills (we call them "thinking tools") that are critical to all creative thinking in all disciplines. Arts are therefore like the other "three Rs" in having both intrinsic and utilitarian functions in education. Having written a book (Sparks of Genius) and many research articles on this topic, I could go on forever, so I'll just append a few key references here and hope that this idea sparks some dialogue.

Root-Bernstein R. S., Root-Bernstein, M. M. Sparks of Genius. Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Root Bernstein, R. S., Bernstein, M. and Garnier, H. W. "Correlations between Avocations, Scientific Style, and Professional Impact of Thirty Eight Scientists of the Eiduson Study," Creativity Research Journal 8: 115 137, 1995.

Root-Bernstein, R. S. and Root-Bernstein, M. M. “Artistic Scientists and Scientific Artists: The Link between Polymathy and Creativity” in Sternberg, Robert, Grigorenko, Elana L., and Singer, Jerome, L., editors, Creativity: From Potential to Realization (Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association, 2004), pp. 127-151.

Root-Bernstein RS, Lindsay Allen^, Leighanna Beach^, Ragini Bhadula^, Justin Fast^, Chelsea Hosey^, Benjamin Kremkow^, Jacqueline Lapp^, Kaitlin Lonc^, Kendell Pawelec^, Abigail Podufaly^, Caitlin Russ^, Laurie Tennant^, Erric Vrtis^ and Stacey Weinlander^. Arts Foster Success: Comparison of Nobel Prizewinners, Royal Society, National Academy, and Sigma Xi Members. J Psychol Sci Tech 2008; 1(2): 51-63.

web page:

creativity blog:

In response to Ms. Fineberg: Thank you for inviting me to speak! I am a current practitioner in arts education, teaching in a public arts magnet middle school-high school in the Pacific NW. Originally a "teaching artist" as you defined it, I was displaced when certification policies changed as a result of the NCLB. Committed to our program's vision, I re-invested in the higher education system and completed an education degree. Now, I am hired as a traditional teacher while continuing to practice as a professional artist….an artist teacher?
Our program is integrated, infusing arts into curriculum via a common theme with a work of art (or canon of works) & artist/art form at the center of each year's study. We intentionally focus on building relationships with students, parents and colleagues over time, guide student interest-based inquiry, use instructional strategies that support and encourage multi, cross and interdisciplinary study, and strive to infuse all instruction with high quality arts. I can proudly attest that it is working remarkably well, from results I witness daily in the classroom and as alumni return and share their stories and successes. The state and federal officials are pleased with our test scores and graduation rates.
Though successful presently, in its tenure of fourteen years, our school has struggled at times to maintain its arts centered vision. Those times were primarily adversely influenced by shifts in administration. This suggests that, though many practices contribute to a program’s quality and effectiveness, two absolutely essential components for success are key.
1.)Arts friendly leaders who are flexible and open to new ideas and
2.)Continuous collaboration between teachers and administrators to determine priority for staff development, instructional practices and arts offerings.
Our current administration, faculty and community are firmly committed to increasing the potential of the arts within an educational setting. For me personally, staying active as an artist equips me to make valuable contributions to the artistic development of young people through my own artistic expression. In our case exploring innovative teaching and the collaboration with others in planning, has helped to facilitate the implementation of a program of excellence.

As an educator, researcher, writer and advisor to foundations, I am particularly eager to read the entries of current practitioners of arts education including artists who elect to interact in one or some ways with kids in schools. I am interested in hearing from the traditional art, music, dance, writing and drama teachers who do exist in increasing numbers in many states, and I would like to hear from those people who call themselves Teaching Artists (with accent on both words -- artists who spend a good percentage of their time working in educational settings and about equal time involved in their own professional art world.) I would also like to hear from actors and opera singers who perform in "student matinees" in their communities, and teachers who try to infuse arts into their workaday curriculum in history,
reading/literature, math and science. How goes it? Are you realizing the vision expounded on in so many of the bloggers' blogs? If so, how so? If not, why not? The larger audience for this discussion needs to hear you.

Thank you for a very interesting blog. I have a comment regarding Mr. Kessler's column in which he talked about the "arts education gap." While many private schools offer very rich arts education programs, I come from a Catholic school background, and not all private schools can be lumped together. In my archdiocese the music education is all over the map. Probably half of the teachers are degreed music teachers, but many are not. What kind of "music" do you think children in those schools learn? From workshops I can tell you that teachers are asking for good CDs and movement ideas. You can tell that there is very little real music education going on -- music class is an off period for another teacher, not a cohesive, sequential program of instruction. The attention paid to public schools is wonderful but horribly short-sighted. An arts-deprived child is still deprived whether or not he is in a public school, a private school, a parochial school, or home-schooled. So many people assume that parochial schools must have so much more because there is tuition involved. The educational foundation is there in academic subjects, but guess what gets cut when there is a budget crunch? Yup. The arts, just like everywhere else. In my school I am the only arts education. "Art" was cut many years ago, so music is it. Most arts-education grants and programs benefit public schools. (The VH1 band instrument program comes to mind. We have a pitifully small band due to cost of instruments, but there is no financial help available.) So when we talk about the "arts education gap" let's REALLY talk about the gap. It's not just in public schools. And an arts-deprived child is still deprived, whether Mommy and Daddy pay tuition or not.

What a great blog to discover - with many thanks to my wife and her cohorts at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As a 57-year-old student teacher, I'm daily battling the incursions and distractions of students' hand-held digital media devices while trying to carve through the ennui with film-strip projectors, circa 1971. I think I'm probably not the only one dealing with techno-lag. That, in fact, is the topic of my master's thesis.

Are classrooms and teachers equipped to deal with the digital millennium? Can we find ways to harness technology to our advantage and use it to engage students? I would be most interested to hear from other Luddites in the arts and educational communities regarding their thoughts about pod-pedagogy.

My kids can teach me if I can only find ways to keep them awake. Any thoughts?

I am currently a student in the field of art museum education. I have enjoyed lurking on this and other sites recently.

I would like to suggest that, while arts education for K-12 is absolutely essential for a well-rounded student, the way to increase demand for and engagement in rewarding arts experiences, is to educate adults. The adult is the greatest influence on a child's access to and experience of the arts. The adult is the greatest influence on its peers, i.e., if I love the arts, I will talk about it and invite my friends, family and peers to experience it WITH me. The adult has the ability to support the arts, as a volunteer and as a patron. Focus on the adult.

I would like to join the blog as listener/reader. Do I just click on this site?

Please inform.

Thank you,

How can I particpate/listen in on this worthwhile discussion?

I received a notification about the "Debate on Arts Education," but I believe that I'm simply missing information on how to participate in the debate, or at least learn what is being said.

Is this a webinar, or some other Web accessible format? Thanks for letting me know, and I look forward to the debate.

All my best,
Evan Wildstein
OPERA America

Please provide information on call, ie. times, phone in number, so that I may distribute to national staff.

Thank you.
Sandy Bertrand
Young Audiences, Inc.

Thank you! I am looking forward to this conversation! I hope to be able to spend some time checking it out next week. Have a wonderful holiday!


I am interested in both the visual and media arts discussions as I teach both at the high school level. Are these discussions in real time or are they more about non-linear postings that can be made at any time?

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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Peter Linett commented on Contact us: All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtfu...

Notebook commented on Contact us: The following provides many resources for a perspective on the history of a...

Elizabeth Stanford commented on Contact us: Dear Mr. McLennan, When the debate on arts education has ended, please pub...

Studio commented on Contact us: As a practicing artist and art educator I have great esteem for the dedicat...

viki commented on Contact us: Question....I need numbers. What studies are recognized as valid re arts=br...

Robert Root-Bernstein commented on Contact us: One argument that needs to added in favor of universal arts education K-gra...

Anne Averre commented on Contact us: In response to Ms. Fineberg: Thank you for inviting me to speak! I am a c...

Carol Fineberg commented on Contact us: As an educator, researcher, writer and advisor to foundations, I am particu...

Mary Lou Fuenzalida commented on Contact us: Thank you for a very interesting blog. I have a comment regarding Mr. Kess...

Paul Erickson commented on Contact us: What a great blog to discover - with many thanks to my wife and her cohorts...