Art and the Curriculum

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    Art and the CurriculumAuthor(s): Ernest GoodmanSource: Art Education, Vol. 30, No. 8 (Dec., 1977), pp. 13-16Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 02:53

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  • Art and the

    Ernest Goodman I believe that art is a powerful agent

    for educational growth, of fundamental importance, and therefore that its rightful place is at the core of the cur- riculum, with all that this entails in the provision of time, staffing, and re- sources. Because I am the headmaster of a school, I am able to ensure that this belief is reflected in the curriculum structure of my own school, and that art receives appropriate support and status.

    That I am able to do this is a reflec- tion of the considerable autonomy granted to English headteachers, par- ticularly in the secondary sector. The relative freedom to experiment with curricula, to alter prevailing emphases, to resist popular prejudice, and to maintain one's position in the face of pressures to alter it, even from the most prestigious sources, make the leadership of an English secondary school a potentially very satisfying and challenging, if exhausting, experi- ence.

    But, of course, it is possible either to fail to grasp the opportunities pres- ented by this freedom or to misuse it. Furthermore, headteachers all over the world, whatever degree of freedom they are allowed, are under powerful psychological and other pressures to reflect, in the ordering of the curricu- lum, prevailing ideologies and prejudi- ces relating to the purpose of educa- tion and the relative importance of its constituent parts. It is not surprising, therefore, that in this country, as in others, in spite of pockets of very interesting curriculum experiment, there would seem to be a prevailing general orthodoxy in this field.

    I shall return to this topic later, but may I first suggest that the contribution of art to the curriculum is mainly affected by three factors:

    1. The special potential of art as a tool for educational growth.

    2. The extent to which art teachers understand, use, and demon- strate that potential.

    3. The principles and priorities which curriculum builders bring to the ordering of the curriculum.

    It is my thesis that in this country as in many others the last two factors give cause for concern to all those who believe that the purpose of education is the fullest possible attainment of indi- vidual potential and delight, and a deep and abiding sense of social responsi- bility and interdependence. It is per- haps necessary to add in this context that this belief in no way ignores the importance of the role of the products

    of the educational system as pro- ducers and as sustainers of society, which I would see as implicit. It is also my belief that the efficiency as well as the quality of a society rest heavily on the levels of personal fulfillment, crea- tivity, and aesthetic and ethical aware- ness of its people. We have come a long way since the time when it wasthought that a brief and narrow training in basic skills was a sufficient preparation for life and the world of work for the majority of our citizens, although there are some in our society who display a startling nostalgia for such beliefs.

    I earlier mentioned the word "delight." This is a word remarkable for its comparative absence from educa- tional discourse. It sits uneasily on the tongues of many educationists, and when used is often made palatable only by association with moral principles, as if there were something vaguely irresponsible about delight in the shapes, colours, textures, and sounds of our universe, their relationships and metaphorical possibilities, and the celebration of this richness. He who is blind to these riches is not only the poorer himself, but also makes easier the task of those who would manipu- late the world and ourselves for purely material ends. What is more, we begin to alter the world at the point where we perceive it aesthetically.

    Alfred Whitehead declared: Nature gets credit which in truth should be reserved for ourselves- the rose for its scent, the nightingale for his song, and the sun for its radiance. The poets are entirely mis- taken. They should address their lyrics to themselves and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellence of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, sound- less, scentless, colorless-merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly. Similarly, T.S. Eliot wrote, "We are

    the music while the music lasts." We, and our children, must confront the world with visions if the world is not to overwhelm us and if we wish to make it habitable in more than physical terms. And we must do it now, and constantly, not at some future time when society has deemed us worthy, through indus- try or spiritual worthiness. We must therefore resist the principle of "deferred gratification" so dear to the hearts of many politicians and teachers and which so easily becomes a perma- nent feature of their strategies and dispositions.

    There is at the moment a ferment of

    debate about the purposes, content, and methods of education, and therefore about the curriculum of schools. Its origins are manifold and certainly include the stresses devel- oping in the last 20 to 30 years, first by the extension of secondary education to all, then by the change, still not completed from a selective system of secondary education to a comprehen- sive one, and more recently by the extension of compulsory schooling to the age of sixteen. Other factors have complicated the issue still further. These include the large number of schools which are either completely or partially independent of the state sys- tem, the denominational sector, and the increase in the immigrant popula- tion. inevitably, strains and stresses have appeared, and whatever their significance, recent anxieties concern- ing the economic position of the coun- try have tended to focus attention more closely upon them. Equally inevitably, education has become a very live politi- cal issue.

    In such a situation, which the press has called "The Great Educational Debate," views have become polarised on the question of the main purposes of education and their reflection in the curriculum. Not surprisingly, liberal and humane concepts concerned with personal as well as societal needs and aspirations have come under sharp attack from those who would have industrial efficiency and economic competitiveness as the dominating preoccupations informing curriculum structure. For reasons which are not difficult to identify, this stance is more often than not accompanied by a deep, almost mystical concern for the trans- mission of traditional values and struc- tures, externally imposed discipline, the early separation of children into intellectually homogenous groups either within schools or in separate schools, and the frequent use of instru- ments of measurement to monitor both pupils' progress and teacher effective- ness in a narrowly prescribed range of academic skills. The arts are seen as of peripheral importance; and elements like the arts, considered to be irrational, radical, questioning, irrev- erent, unduly concerned with the indi- vidual, and difficult of measurement by traditional techniques, are attacked.

    One might call the evangelists of this creed the "pragmatic instrumental- ists." Their voice is currently the more powerful because of the general anx- iety which exists in society at large. Parents and teachers, worried by what


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  • they see as the indiscipline and revolt of the young, by the breakdown of traditional patterns of order in schools and society, and by the contemporary confusion about moral and ethical values, can find the apparent logic and simplicity of this stance appealing, although little has been done objec- tively to ascertain the strength of the support which it commands. Two related factors tend to be forgotten. The first is that we have ample experi- ence to suggest that young people are increasingly unwilling to allow them- selves to be manipulated in ways which the application of this philosophy would demand. Secondly, I believethat the adolescent revolt of recent decades was not in origin a simple generational conflict, as it is popularly categorised, but a revolt against the values and techniques intrinsic to this very system of education which is now proposed- in particular against the denial of their individuality and expressive needs and their measurement and ranking by inappropriate and demeaning - yardsticks. It is significant that their revolt was expressed most strongly in artistic forms, through music, dance, and self-adornment in particular. They were reaching out intuitively for a richer life-style, less dominated by the remorseless logic of the market-place. In doing so they added new dimen- sions to our culture.

    The excessively pragmatic/instru- mental curriculum contains elements which are strongly antagonistic to a humane, democratic concept of edu- cation in a contemporary context. I would list these as the elitist, puritan, and mechanistic elements. Although not always appearing in their extreme form in schools, their influence on cur- ricula, particularly at secondary level, has been widespread and of long dura- tion. An obvious casualty of these forces has been the arts.

    For many years I have lectured to art teachers at national and local courses and conferences, and the overwhelm- ingly dominant theme of their discus- sions, especially in informal situations, has been the low status, time, and resources allocated to art in the curric- ula of their schools. A study of curric- ula and their patterns of construction bears out the validity of their com- plaints. Changes in the size, type, and modes of organisation of schools have not appreciably altered the relative positions of aesthetic and other disci- plines and in particular the "non- verbal" modes not only continue to be poorly represented, but are in addition the most vulnerable to elimination from the curriculum at various stages if vocational or other pressures are seen to demand it. This is done in a variety of ways-by straight elimination or bythe introduction of option systems by which the arts may be rejected in favor of other studies, often with no signifi-

    cant aesthetic content or aims. Even when the choice is theoretically a free one, "guidance" is often forthcoming, and the pupil in any case will often respond to the strong implicit value- systems operating. The guidance offered, largely by teachers whose own education has been strongly academi- cally biased, is often coloured by sub- conscious prejudice and limited knowledge of the art field. For instance, the rich variety of careers in art and design is not widely known.

    In some schools there exists a somewhat more liberal curriculum structure in which some form of aes- thetic study is maintained for all pupils for the major part of the course. This, however, is usually based on the notion that the arts are interchangeable, a notion which can hardly be sustained for long in the face of even a cursory study of the respective aims and contri- butions of the various art forms. One would not wish to deny that all art forms have important shared aims, but it is dangerous and misleading to over- look the fact that they also have impor- tant differences. Music, important though it is, can hardly be said to increase powers of visual perception and discrimination, and of course there are fundamental differences between verbal and non-verbal forms.

    In view of the factors already menti- oned, it is not surprising that the lowly position of art in the average curricu- lum seems to depend on a view of art as having two main purposes:

    1. The production of artefacts by those possessing the necessary talents and skills-these artefacts to serve in a largely decorative capacity, enhancing the school environment.

    2. The transmission of "high cul- ture," with vaguely refining aims.

    This limited concept of the potential and role of art seems to me to derive largely from a syndrome which T.S. Eliot called "the disassociation of the sensibility," the origins of which he saw in the 17th century. Certainly one can detect at that time, in the enormous explosion in mathematical enquiry and knowledge and the reigning purita- nism, the seeds of the long dominance of mechanistic science, the search for pure reason, and the belief that truth can only be discovered through logical and empirical modes of enquiry. In spite of the increasing authoritative evidence of the baleful effects of this ideology, it still strongly influences general consciousness and, naturally, curriculum thought.

    Its practical effects have nowhere been more dramatically illustrated than in the following passage from the auto- biography of Charles Darwin:

    Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took immense delight in Shakes-

    peare. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; I have also tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it to be so intolerably dull that it nau- seated me. I have also lost my taste for music and pictures. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone on which the higher states depend I cannot conceive. If I had my life to live again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week, for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character by enfeebling the emo- tional part of our nature. The distress of this sensitive man

    reaches us across the years. But his insight into his own condition under- lines in a forceful way the origins of the disregard of, even distaste for, the arts in many of those too long and exclu- sively engaged in logical, linear, ana- lytical modes of enquiry and intellec- tual abstractions. Particularly interesting are Darwin's speculations about the possible injury to the intellect and to the moral character. Since his time, the evidence has grown steadily that these speculations were insightful and valid. Recent discoveries relating to the structure and mode of operation of the brain to which I shall refer briefly later are specially significant in this context, and reveal empirically the almost uncanny precision of Darwin's intuitive awareness.

    The concept of a dual mode of con- sciousness, intellectual and aesthetic, differentiated but mutually reinforcing, ought by now to be generally accepted if the mounting evidence were more widely disseminated and absorbed. The fact that it is not is a reflection of many influences, including the monoli- thic, slow-changing nature of the edu- cational system and the failure of arts teachers to unite and engage in the dialectical struggle which is neces- sary.

    Art is, or can be, when taught well, a powerful tool for the rigorous confron- tation and understanding of the objec- tive world and its recreation in humane terms, as well as for the pursuit of harmony and subtlety in the workings of the internal, subjective world. Justi- fication for art in the curriculum has in past times rested perhaps too heavily upon the last, admittedly important function. However, in recent times, some educationists have swung too far to the other extreme in the attempt at

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  • justification in terms of aims which they see as having more practical significance, and which seem more rational to other educationists and society at large. One might call this the "logical environmentalist" movement, and its chief manifestation in England has been a recent very strong emphasis upon the role of art in "design" educa- tion. There is no denying the impor- tance of art in relation to environ- mental design and values-this reflects the widespread relevance and potential of art. Art teachers would wish to reflect this factor in their teaching, but there is a danger that if they attempt to do so without increased curriculum time and resources, the more central aims of art education will be unfulfilled. One of these, the knowing, ordering, and progressive refinement of the world of feeling, is dealt with in percep- tive detail by Robert Witkin in his recent book The Intelligence of Feeling (Heinemann).

    Elliot W. Eisner has recently reviewed the changing patterns of thought and emphasis in relation to the role of art in education and refers to the current well-known trinity of goals:

    1. The productive goal, that aimed at enabling children to acquire the skills needed for using art mate- rials as media for personal expres- sion.

    2. The critical goal, that aimed at helping them learn to see the world with an aesthetic frame of reference,

    3. The historical goal, that aimed at helping children understand the arts as an integral aspect of human culture.

    The relative emphasis one assigns to each of these aims will to some extent be conditioned by the particular situa- tion in which one is operating, but possibly more by one's beliefs as to the most powerful elements in the contri- bution which art brings to understand- ing. My own view is that the first two are the most important and are very closely interrelated, since effective self- expression depends upon an increas- ingly rich and varied repertoire of visual experience and imagery. The third is important, and can demon- strate the power of visual imagery in the defining and "reading" of a culture, as well as contributing an ethic to the logical manipulation of the environ- ment. Of all three elements, this seems to me usually to be the least well understood and taught, and can too easily deteriorate into a dull, chrono- logical, prescriptive survey of past schools, styles, and artefacts, which contributes more to historical knowl- edge than to aesthetic insights. Much study and experiment needs to be done if this section of the work is to cross- fertilise with, rather than distract at- tention and resources from, the other two.

    Certain factors have recently emerged which have strong signifi- cance for arts teachers in pressing their claim for a more central role in the cur- riculum. The first is the work and discoveries of the Californian neurop- sychiatrists and psychologists like Sperry, Ornstein, and others, well des- cribed in Robert Ornstein's book The Psychology of Consciousness. This provides convincing, clinically based, empirical evidence of the validity of the hypothesis that the brain's two hemis- pheres each have unique specialised functions, but reinforce each other through the corpus callosum, the mas- sive bundle of nerve-fibres which con- nects them. The left hemisphere is specialised for verbalising and for the processing of input in logical, rational, linear, analytical ways, while the right is non-verbal and specialised for spa- tial, aesthetic, holistic, spontaneous response and processing. Ornstein's view is that Western educational sys- tems have given overwhelming atten- tion to the development of left- hemisphere powers and have largely undervalued or ignored the potential of the right hemisphere and its contribu- tion to wholeness of understanding. This he sees, as did Darwin in the previous century, as wasteful of human creative resources, since it must drasti- cally limit consciousness.

    This view is, of course, strongly supported by research into creativity, particularly since the early fifties, by Guilford and others, but also by recent work by Jerome Bruner and others. This work has revealed that we each form a personal construct for reality, based on the necessity to filter the huge and unmanageable load of infor- mation presented to the senses. That which is sensed as being useless, irrelevant, or threatening to the man- ageable pattern of consciousness which we build and bring to our encounters in the world and which enables us to move with confidence within it, may be rejected.

    The personal construct, however, is capable of flexibility and revision, and this flexibility and openness to revision must be a major goal of education. To ignore this principle brings dangers of what has been called "automated con- sciousness," which processes input in a relatively coarse and static way and which is resistant to new experience and subtleties, however significant. Bruner has done some convincing work in this area, and has emphasised that perception involves acts of "cate- gorisation." This has to do with the way in which we develop stereotyped sys- tems or categories for sorting input, leading to a tendency to perceive what we expect to perceive and to reject new forms of experience which violate our model of the world. The potential of the arts in "opening up" consciousness through constant sensory stimulus and

    challenge needs surely no laboring. The need for an "agonising reapprai-

    sal" of the curriculum seems clear, and a first priority in this exercise must be the redressing of the existing imbal- ance between "academic" studies and those aimed mainly at the devel- opment of spatial, aesthetic, intuitive powers. The strategies by which this can be done are varied, and must be related to specific situations. I would do no more now than suggest that we need first to simplify the curriculum, to identify that which is fundamental and constant and that which is peripheral, that which is out of date and that which is truly reflective of contemporary needs, that which is narrowly voca- tional and limited in educational aims and that which has the potential to fulfill the shared fundamental needs of children of all kinds. We need to iden- tify carefully the concepts, skills, and values which we need to promote and reduce the amount of time and energy devoted to the transmission and mem- orising of factual information. Extra curriculum space and resources could be freed by reducing the use of teach- ing time for the frequent testing of chil- dren in limited and sometimes demeaning ways. And, of course, we need to eliminate some subjects and drastically reduce the inflated emi- nence of others.

    I am also sure that it will be greatlyto the advantage of arts education if we can accelerate the movement which is now beginning in educational evalu- ation to move away from large-scale generalised, empirically and statisti- cally based research towards smaller- scale descriptive analysis of actual teaching situations with tools of aes- thetic perception as well as logic. Past practice has always tended to devalue or ignore those elements in education which have been difficult or impossible to measure by conventional modes. Elliot W. Eisner's recent statements on "educational connoisseurship and crit- icism" are an important and perceptive contribution to this movement and should be closely studied and pro- moted by arts educators. ("Educational Connoisseurship and Criticism-Their Form and Function in Educational Evaluation" in The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 10, 1976)

    This paper, in attempting to consid- er major underlying issues, has inevitably not dealt specifically with many facets of the contribution which art can make to the curriculum, benef- its such as heightened powers of dis- crimination in visual environmental values, the creative use of leisure, and so on. I believe that these are relatively well-known and understood by teachers, and in any case derive most fruitfully and effectively from an art education crisply focussed upon more central issues. As art teachers we must first of all be the guardians of the



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  • sensibility and help our young charges to confront the dead weight of reality with visions.

    I can think of no better way of con- cluding than by quoting from "Symbol, Myth and Art," a paper delivered in London at the Cockpit Lectures of 1976, by Dr. Mel Marshak:

    It was and is a cardinal mistake to assume that the scientific paradigm was sufficient to provide us with the knowledge we need to live. We become intoxicated-the arts as well-by the conquests of physical nature and the splendour of technol- ogy and we supposed them sufficient for all our needs, assumed that knowledge gleaned in this way would make substantial contribu- tions to the improvement of human conduct, and in our exultation forgot the simple fact that man is not merely a reasoning being; that knowledge of nature's ways does not satisfy his heart nor does a purely intellectual diet feed his moral and spiritual being, his ideals, aims and aspira- tions. When you rule out all the evidence save the evidence of mate- rial things, supplied by the five bodily senses "the universe belies you and your heart refutes a hundred times the mind's conceit."

    Ernest Goodman is headmaster, High School of Art, Manchester, England, and chairman of the Art Committee, Schools Council.

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    Article Contentsp.13p.14p.15p.16

    Issue Table of ContentsArt Education, Vol. 30, No. 8 (Dec., 1977), pp. 1-30Front Matter [pp.1-3]British Art Education [p.4]Recent Developments and Emerging Problems in English Art Education [pp.5-8]Problems and Recent Developments in Art and Design Examinations in England [pp.9-12]Art and the Curriculum [pp.13-16]Design in General Education: A Review of Developments in Britain [pp.17-21]Expressions [pp.22-23]Visual Memory Training: A Brief History and Postscript [pp.24-27]An Extra Terrestial Overview [pp.28-30]Back Matter