How Research Influences Art Teaching and How Art Teaching Influences Research

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  • National Art Education Association

    How Research Influences Art Teaching and How Art Teaching Influences ResearchAuthor(s): Brent WilsonSource: Art Education, Vol. 24, No. 5 (May, 1971), pp. 3-6Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2014 16:43

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  • How Research


    Art Teaching And How

    Art Teaching Influences


    Brent Wilson

    Among art teachers there are two rather common reactions to art educational researchers. One is of distain of the "Why do you even exist?" variety. The other is much less

    threatening and just a little bit flattering. It goes something like "Surely through your research you have discovered secrets of art teaching, but I can't understand what you are saying. Just tell me what I ought to do in simple language." Both these reactions and others like them indi- cate a deep misunderstanding of the role of art educational research and its relation to the total art educational enter- prises. Hopefully the following will clarify some of the functions of art educational researchers and draw attention to some of the key relations between teachers and re- searchers.

    In characterizing how scientific advancements take place, Arthur Koestler describes what he calls the "eureka act". The eureka act refers to the situation wherein a creative individual experiences a moment of truth-a new break- through or new insight, and his act is followed by a quick succession of similar or related discoveries by several other individuals. This period of rapid advancement, break- through and synthesis usually follows a period of relatively minor advancement. It comes at an auspicious time-a time when something is in the air, a time that seems ripe for the advancement. It is as if a discipline, an area, or sometimes even a larger segment of mankind is expecting, ready to welcome, and ready to contribute to the act of synthesis.

    Without claiming that we have ever had any overwhelm- ing break-throughs in art education (in my opinion we have not), I would like to claim that something similar to the eureka act, which I shall call the ground swell phenome- non, does indeed function in art education. I shall claim

    that it functions among classroom teachers, students, super- visors, researchers, and others concerned with art education. For example, during the period of the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties we experienced a heavy emphasis on creativity in art education. A great number of researchers did studies of creativity, and teachers and supervisors claimed that crea-

    tivity was one of the most important goals for art education. From my vantage point it seems that the concept of crea-

    tivity had gone through a long period of incubation, and

    during the fifties the time became ripe for the break-

    through. This long incubation period for creativity in art education

    may have begun in 1899 when creativity was mentioned as a goal by the Committee of Ten on Drawing.2 The goal as stated then was: "To develop the creative impulse." The

    progressive education movement during the nineteen- twenties spawned the publication of a book called Creative Expression Through Art." 3 By 1926 G. Wallas had formulated a theoretical structure of creative behavior,4 and Viktor Lowenfeld published his book The Nature of Creative Activ-

    ity,5 in 1939. Victor D'Amico's book, Creative Teaching in Art,6 was published in the early forties, and Lowenfeld's Creative and Mental Growth 7 appeared in 1947. I'm not sure to whom to ascribe the first eureka, but the synthesis of work in creativity was contributed to by well-known individuals such as Guilford, Koestler, Ehrensweig, Kubi, Getzells and Jackson, Torrance, Barron, Taylor, Wallach and

    Kogan and by Eisner, and Beittel and Burkhart and many others in our own field. But, as mentioned earlier, it wasn't

    just the researchers who were concerned with creativity, it was also teachers and supervisors who were contributing to the groundswell of activity in creativity. Indeed, it was as if we were ready and waiting for the synthesizing activity


    I 4


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  • to begin. We now seem to be riding out the tail of that

    groundswell, and it seems to me that during this time when researchers have turned away from inquiry into creativity, we might be able to reassess this area in a more reasoned manner than was ever before possible by taking advantage of the synthesis that has taken place, but also by being able to do our reassessing free from the turmoil of the ground- swell action.

    In passing I might state that the new groundswell phe- nomenon seems to be directed toward aesthetic education.

    Advancements and changes in practice do take place in art classrooms. Attributing changes to groundswells of activ-

    ity in which there are many individuals contributing in some ill defined way seems not to shed much light on how

    change actually takes place. Regardless of how change oc- curs there are some persuasive arguments which state that

    change seldom results from specific research findings. Furthermore, these arguments hold that educational research has little if any direct effect on classroom practice.

    J. W. Getzels 8 states that as of 1969 over 70,000 research

    reports had found their way into the Review of Educational Research. It was further suggested that only seventy, that is one in a thousand, had any marked influence in educa- tional practice, and even in these cases it was doubtful that there was a direct influence between the research and the

    practice. In light of such speculation by a highly influential and

    respected educational researcher, art teachers do seem

    justified in questioning the purposes of and even the value of educational research. However, Getzels goes on to main- tain that marked changes have taken place in educational

    practices. He uses as examples the change from classrooms with desks bolted to the floor and the discontinuance of


    flash cards and drill. He claims that changes in education actually result from changes in our conception of the nature of our learners. He cites the change from viewing the learner as a stimulus-reducing organism to a stimulus-seeking orga- nism, and now sees a change in emphasis from problem- solving to problem-finding as desired pupil behavior. When an individual is viewed as a problem finder he requires an open and rich environment in which to function, and in- deed, some classrooms are becoming just that. Getzels' claim is that the function of research is not to alter class- room practices directly, but to change our ideas about the nature of the young people we teach and consequently change their learning and environments to correspond with our conceptions of their capabilities.

    Although I agree with Getzels that this is the way changes usually take place in education, I would refer to ground- swell phenomenon and claim that teachers, social scientists, philosophers, social critics, and many others influence our view of the nature of the individual, and consequently, effect educational practice. I believe that even though Get- zels gives educational research a very modest role, the role ought to be considered even more modest.

    At this point one might be tempted to ask that if educa- tional research, which is a rather well-developed enterprise, and especially art educational research, which is just begin- ning its infancy, seem to have so little influence, then why is research continued. My claim is that research plays a very valuable role in the groundswell phenomenon, and that without it our art teaching might be much less effective than it is now and than it will be in the future. But the role art educational research plays is definitely just one role among many interrelated roles. It provides one type of information and draws its information from many other sources in the

    groundswell phenomenon. In order to see the immensity of the task of being more

    effective art educators, let's look at the nature of art and art learning for a few moments. First of all, art is what Gallie 9 has called an essentially contested concept. That is, 1) a concept which is value laden and at once prescriptive and descriptive, 2) a concept which is fantastically complex, 3) a concept which at different times refers to an object, the response of a spectator, and a process of making, and 4) an open concept which is continually modified by changes in circumstance. Consequently, art teachers and researchers find themselves working with a phenomenon which seem's as complex as life itself. In making a work of

    art, whether a student or artist, one confronts a fantastic number of variables such as expressive aspects, composi- tions, images, symbols and sensory qualities, which might be related in an infinite number of way to result in an infinite variety of works of art. And, of course, in art we

    prize the open and the divergent. The unusual is the rule. Indeed, there seems to be no single answer to an artistic

    problem. In fact, if art is to stay alive it must continually redefine itself. Art then is a far cry from school subjects such as mathematics, where there seems to be a sequential set of learnings which lead to mastery.'? There seems to be very little in the concept of mastery learning which is

    applicable to art education. Furthermore, when we consider the nature of art learning

    there seem to be so many requisite behaviors, skills, and attitudes which might be useful in making one of many forms of art, that any single, solidified, stable, conventional method of educating the young in art seems unachievable and undesirable. For example, if one considers the role the

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  • preconscious plays in the creative process of making art,'' it seems that much that is important in art making is beyond the reach of direct rational control. In fact, perhaps at times art teaching should be arational or even irrational.

    To say the very least, art, art learning, and art teaching are most complex, illusive, and fluid. To assume that now or perhaps ever we will have any reasonably adequate theo- ries of art learning or teaching seems wishful thinking. It may even be the case that a true theory of art teaching or learning is just as impossible as a true definition of art.

    At the very least I must claim that art teaching and learning are infinitely richer and more complex than the theories that seek to describe them. In fact, there have been few attempts at comprehensive theorizing about art teaching and learning. Far too often art educational re- searchers function without explicit theories to guide their work and consequently the findings of much research do not accumulate systematically into a useful body of knowl- edge about the teaching of art.

    Even when art educational researchers' inquiry is directed

    by theory the usual pattern of operation has been to single out a few variables such as age, social-economic class, con- ception of space, and media and to study these aspects in depth. By limiting themselves to a few variables the re- searchers can make careful and accurate observations, but in doing so they risk the danger of losing sight of the larger and more complex aspects of art teaching and learning.

    The teacher's practical, common sense knowledge of the art classroom comes from having to exist daily in this fluid and rich context. What the art teacher does depends upon his conception of the nature of art, art students, how art might be taught, and how it is learned. Many of his actions are intuitive and based on what feels right. In fact many of the things an art teacher does might be considered from the aesthetic viewpoint where one move or action follows another because it has a nice relationship and directs art teaching toward a desirable end. In this kind of situation the teacher simply cannot wait to see what the researchers have to say; he has to perform now. And as I have indi- cated, it will be a long time before the researchers have much systematic knowledge about the teaching of art.

    It seems to me that the proper attitude for an art teacher to take toward research in art education is not, "What does research tell me that i might apply in my classroom?"; but rather, "How can I use the findings of research to sharpen my ability as an art teacher?" Mainly we teach by responding to what our prior experiences, our assumptions about art and art learning, and our purposes for our students lead us to do in a given situation. Any useful insight about the process of art learning and teaching adds to our assump- tive world and has the possibility of sharpening teaching abilities. The researcher is one among many in the ground- swell phenomenon who contribute insights into art teaching. But, because the art educational researcher is often trained to observe things about art teaching and learning that teachers overlook, the special insights of the researcher can be most valuable to the teacher.

    A useful illustration of the relation between teaching and research is an analogy based on the relation between art, aesthetics, and art criticism.

    One of the primary tasks of aestheticians is to define the nature of art-that is, to assist us in our understanding of what art is through a careful and systematic description of its characteristics and symptoms. Earlier it was indicated that art is an essentially contested concept for which no

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