My Philosophy of Art Education
In order to write about My Philosophy of Art Education, it was necessary for me
look into my own education in art, starting from an early age and continuing
my adult life. By recalling, analyzing and reflecting on my art experiences, I
gained insight into what I have learned from and lacked in my education in art.
investigating my various art experiences inside and outside school as they
corresponded to various theories in art and art education, I have discovered
revelations about myself, my relation to others and to the world . Finally,
recognition has helped me to come up with my own personal philosophy of art
My art experiences in elementary school
As all children do, I am sure that I scribbled, drew and painted; however,
unfortunately, like most adults, I do not possess any of my childhood drawings
reflect on. The earliest memories of art making that I can recollect is the
that I did in elementary schools in Germany as well as in Iran. I am sure that
drawings and paintings but perhaps they were not as significant as my craft
that I remember so clearly. These included the jewelry box that I decorated
seashells, the stuffed animals that I would decorate my room with later on and
hand bag with pictures of two walrus glued on it that I would carry around the
and wear in my imaginary world of play. I remember also that I was taught to
embroider and do needlework.
The only significant painting experience that I recollect happened at home
I was 12 or 13. I think I had a new watercolor set and I wanted to paint not
anything but something significant, something that would look sophisticated and
adult-like. I copied a typical miniature portrait of a woman surrounded by
that I had found in an illustrated poetry book. The result was amazing - the
background colors of green, blue and yellow, and the rose color of her dress. I
tremendous joy, especially as my imitation stood up to the original image. I
for my ability to copy. I felt so motivated that I copied the same image two
of course, I did not feel the same thrill.
Looking back at my art experiences in primary school, I can say that the
was not so much on self expression as it was on directive work, crafty works.
a variety of materials, not for pure experimentation but to imitate and follow
procedures. It was learning by imitating, working and doing so that the result
successful acquisition of skills and products. In other words, I was taught
empirical-analytic paradigm (technical knowing) where products, facts, skills
techniques are emphasized"( Pearse, 1983, p.159).
This way of learning also corresponds with two orientations in the study of
and psychology. They are the mimetic aesthetic and psychological behaviorism.
read in Efland's article, Conceptions Of Teaching In Art Education, that in the
aesthetic, art is the imitation of nature; correspondingly, behaviorism
learning is acquired by imitation. On this subject, Efland (1979) writes:
Children learn to talk by imitating the sound made by others, especially
gestures are mimicked, as well as vocal inflections and regional accents….The
learns to draw by copying pictures made by others. He learns to imitate actions
actors by watching television and films, and he learns the appropriate
audience behavior like sitting still and clapping by modeling his behavior
sibling, and parents (p. 22).
Within this mimetic paradigm, I learned to work with different materials, to
variety of technical skills, to improve on my eye and hand coordination, to
and to create a complete final product.
Today, there is not as much support for copying as a method of instruction in
formal teaching of art; however, there are some studies in favor of this
(1996), for instance, mentions that postmodernist theory questions the concept
absolute originality and "it comes as no surprise that copying, a practice
Lowenfeldian art education, has been reconsidered by curricular reformers"
Copying is not such a bad thing because "unlike adults, children use copying to
facilitate their movement away from memory-based art to visually-based
(Smith, 1992, as cited in Clark, 1996). Wilson and Wilson (1977) have conducted
series of clinical studies with children and adolescents who have shown a
propensity to draw and paint and who involve themselves in these activities
independently of schooling. They have found that in most cases these
taught themselves to draw largely by processes involving copying (as
in clark, 1996).
In my art activities in school, I was exposed very little to the idea of self
I was not encouraged enough to express my inner world as a valid subject of
exploration in art . The result of this vacuum in my education made me always
an adult, particularly a teacher, to tell me what to do or paint. I was always
instruction and looking up to an adult model of representation as a valid
The result of this exclusion would manifest as dependency, lack of a personal
and sometimes feelings of inadequacy because my artistic goals were always set
reach an adult model of representation. Lowenfeld (1947) suggests that the
uses creative activity as an emotional outlet will gain freedom and
flexibility, and the
child who has not been able to express freely will feel restricted in his
I believe that, from an early age, art should be an instrument of self
because it has tremendous benefit for the overall growth and mental
of the child.
In the expressive tradition, children can safely experience and get in touch
emotions and imagination and access their unconscious thoughts which
result in positive developmental growth. When mental health is fostered through
therapeutic benefits of art, it will contribute to a sense of individual
(Siegesmund, 1998, p.200). I can conclude that, in my early years I would have
benefited tremendously if I had been taught from both the mimetic and the
traditions in art (Efland, 1979).
My art education in secondary and high school
In secondary school, I remember we had very limited art activities, only an
extracurricular after-school craft program. The art experiences that we had in
were integrated with different subjects mainly in the form of poster making. I
remember making posters for different subjects individually and collaboratively
I never felt that my poster making was art. To me, they were the "visual aid"
component of an assignment. I had some delight in working with the design
the works and also learned how to organize words with images as graphic artists
might do. The art in this type of activity was a handyman to other subjects; as
the validity of art as a subject in its own rights was lost.
This part of my experience in art does correspond with the reconstructivist
view of art
as an instrument of integrating or linking disciplines to enhance learning.
reconstructivist stream, art is properly understood as an instrument, not a
the pedagogic role of art education is to facilitate teaching across different
the purpose of critical analysis (Siegesmund,1998, p.203). I did learn more
however, what was missing in those integrated activities was the essence of
aesthetic experience, the training of the feelings, and self- realization that
the relevancy of the art activity to the learner's life.
Even though, I do not see the delight nor the authentic experience within the
reconstructivist model of art education, I cannot deny its instrumental values.
that a reconstructivist art program could be enhanced by making it relevant to
students life by affective teaching. According to Efland (1971), when an
system place primary value on cognitive learning and disregards affective
does not lead students toward personal fulfillment or toward social integration
because in this type of education students lack a basic commitment to the
beliefs within the culture. They are disturbed by the emptiness of their
experience(p.7). An affective education would not rule out cognition, but would
the feelingful aspects of educational encounters to be expressed and nurtured.
says that, "what we know and what we will allow ourselves to learn will
depend upon our feelings about it" (1971, p.20).
Another part missing from my secondary education was meaningful contact with
art and artifacts of my own culture. This lack cost me the ability to connect
my culture and resulted in my confused sense of belonging and identity. One of
reconstructivist objectives is multicultural learning. If multicultural art
transfers to students the multicultural values of the society in which they are
then they are empowered through their differences and learning is internalized
because each individual brings his/her personal values to the art experience.
However, if multicultural art education is irrelevant to the learner's life
and his/her social environment, then the learning will not be internalized
of us can fully appreciate life experiences beyond our own. Therefore, I do
the instrumentalist value of art as a vehicle for social and cultural awareness
helps students to adapt to the cultural and social values ( Eisner, 1984,
p.261) as long
as the integrity of art is kept intact and art does not become a commodity
At the age of 13, I attended a private art class because I wanted to paint and
"real" art. I remember quite clearly the first day that I walked into that
entering, I saw a large oil painting. It was picture of a woman in a white
long hair and wings floating in the air (an older student's unfinished work of
deceased sister). Looking at this painting gave me an inside thrill that rushed
my whole body. I was so excited to know that eventually I would be able to
artists, on a canvas with big brushes.
For four months, I drew with a black pencil on a paper. I observed and drew
forms such as a cube, cylinder, sphere, half a sphere, half a sphere with a
passing through it, etc. Then I learned how to give accent to the volume of
shapes by seeing light and shade. I did not find deep personal satisfaction
these drawings and I did not feel the strong aesthetic joy that I had
entering the class on the first day; however, I was getting trained to look and
artists do. I stopped attending the art class due to heavy loads of science and
mathematics assignments in high school that seemed to be more important than
my later teen years, I once again picked up my private art classes and for
years I strictly drew, using various materials.
As I reflect on my out-of-school art experiences, I can say that I did learn to
skillfully with my drawing mediums. I could produce work of high quality and I
my own critic, making qualitative or aesthetic judgments regarding the ongoing
forms with which I worked. In those art classes, art was neither an instrument
adaptation or reconstruction, nor an instrument of psychological development or
emotional release. The art was used to develop the skills necessary to enhance
understanding of art as a process and help me to become visually literate. It
learning about art in the objective tradition of art education.
Efland ( 1979) points out that in the objective tradition, art is viewed as an
independent entity, apart from its cultural origins (p.28). In this tradition,
W.Dow has established a method of teaching based upon sets of universal
and principles, such as line, light and dark, color, and principles of design
opposition, transition, subordination, repetition and symmetry. Dow suggests
"through the study of the ways and means of combining these principles and
one could become aware of the structural basis for all art" (As cited in
In this essentialist view of art, though the system is rationally coherent, it
disadvantages, as mentioned by Munro (1930). He points out that, first of all,
post impressionist art cannot be accommodated in that system, and secondly, the
order of progress in the exercises is not addressed to the interests, needs and
developmental capacities of the learners ( as cited in Efland, 1979, p.30). I
conclude that my formalist art experiences did not address my interests that
to be explored in art.
Art in my adult life
In one and a half years of my architectural studies in Iran, in my studio
courses I was taught from the principles of Bauhaus, especially the plastic
materials involving the exact depiction of materials and their actual use in
constructions. In those studio courses, the student's task was to invent an
aesthetically elegant and structurally simple solution to a problem. Eisner(
mentions that the aim of such a program was to foster the student's ability to
inventively by using materials and engaging in tasks that must meet strict
which allow a multitude of solutions. In this educational system, "cognitive
developed, imagination is fostered and aesthetic sensibilities develop"
other words, what I learned in this type of experience was creative
In my undergraduate fine art studies at Concordia University in Canada, the
was on self-expression in art making, formal criticism and art history.
I was also being trained in the objective orientation of aesthetics to
paintings or drawings that are good Gestalts. My education in art at university
corresponded to expressive theories which are oriented toward the artist as the
work's creator, and objective theories, where the work of art is regarded as a
self-sufficient autonomous whole, accessible to the viewer directly through
(Efland, 1979, p.21, 22).
Objective theory in aesthetics is influenced by the works of gestalt
particular Schaeffer- Simmerm (1948) and Arnheim (1954). They have stated that
human behavior is more than the sums of its parts. It is holistic with
cannot be reduced to smaller elements. They have also mentioned that there is a
quest in human perception for good gestalts. Good gestalts in a perception
as a painting are achieved when the underlying structural order of all the
working harmoniously towards a complete whole. When a work of art is a good
gestalt, we perceive it as a unified whole in our experience; otherwise, the
of relatively bad gestalts will arouse tension (Efland, 1979, p. 22). Learning
objective orientation provides perceptual training. Within this orientation, I
discovered the structure, differentiation and integration of various elements
me to create works that are good gestalts in character.
In my graduate studies in the field of art education, areas that have
influenced my view of art are aesthetic experience and self-realization/
through personal reflection. Dewey (1958) has viewed aesthetic experience as a
dynamic relationship with events in which we can live fully and wholly for the
forgetful of time and space, as we resonate with the situation. In an aesthetic
experience, what is illuminated is a heightened sense of meaning and the
value that is first emotionally internalized through our senses, and later,
intellectually (Dewey, 1958, p.38).
There is a difference between those ordinary moments of life characterized by
'distraction and dispersion' and those moments, however rare, in which " the
experienced runs its course to fulfillment" (Dewey, 1958, p.35). This latter is
experience and the aesthetic is the qualitative aspect of an experience that
our emotions when all the functioning parts in a situation are interrelated
An experience is not necessarily pleasurable or gleeful. It may enter into our
as to become touchstones of our understanding through which we interpret other
experiences. In his book, Art as Experience, Dewey says: Struggle and conflict
be themselves enjoyed, although they are painful, when they are experienced as
means of developing an experience….For 'taking in' in any vital experience is
more than placing something on the top of consciousness over what was
known. It involves reconstruction which may be painful…. (P.41)
An example of my personal contact with such an experience would enhance the
more clearly. I have realized physically and intellectually the extreme
importance of an
aesthetic experience in art. There are those rare aesthetic experiences that
An example of such an experience is described as follows:
I am sitting in a classroom. The room is dark and the teacher is showing slides
abstract expressionist painters. A slide of Hans Hoffman's painting is on the
the teacher is analyzing and explaining the work. He clicks to the next slide,
"woman I" by Wiliem De Kooning. There is a painting of a woman right in my
first reaction is "WOW". My chest moves forward as I breath the air deeply and
back straightens. I am trying to connect with the painting and digest the
pouring from the image. I hear the sound of my breathing and sense my eyes
quickly to every corner of the painting in order to grasp its powerful
My eyes can not concentrate on one area of the painting, as they move from one
brush stroke and shape to the next one, almost like trying to swallow the
at once. My heart beats are getting faster and faster. For a second I look at
people in the dark. They all look very calm and unaffected by the painting. It
that I am alone in this visceral experience and I move uncomfortably in my
My feelings are a mixture of excitement, joy, fear and pain . I have never seen
woman painted this way before. I feel weak in the presence of this powerful
All of these thoughts are passing through my mind quickly in a fraction of
that my eyes have touched all parts of the painting, they have stopped
slowly the whole woman is visible all at once. Now that I have "taken in" the
can breath a little easier.
Here I have described the emotional component of my aesthetic experience. After
feeling came a realization. I realized that I see myself in the image of that
realization later on led to self- reflection as to how I view myself and why.
reflection was the closure part of my aesthetic experience because it helped me
grow internally and be a better adjusted person.
My aesthetic experience had all the three components of an experience that
talks about. They are emotion, closure and structure or form. I have already
the emotional component of an aesthetic experience. Closure refers to the sense
intrinsic completion, value and meaning that one arrives at through the
self- realization through intellectual reflection was the closure component of
aesthetic experience. Dewey mentions that for an experience to occur form must
constant gathering together as well as an opening up. This is achieved through
relational, rhythmic structure of the work that is successfully organized. My
experience occurred because there was a successful, organized form (the
front of me to look at.
The artist materializes his emotions and thoughts through organized forms,
expression, and the viewer realizes that expression only when the material of
work is successfully organized by the artist. In other words, "the form, then,
transitive as well as transformational activity which passes from the
interaction of the
creator and his material to the interaction of the work and the audience. The
form is no
more in the object than in the mind -It is the organization of response to the
material"(Alexander, 1987, p.235).
In the book, Readings in Art Education by Eisner/Ecker, in regard to the
of the parts within a visual field, it is mentioned that:
The human visual information handling process appears to be the fundamental
upon which design is built…. The designer appears to be a mediator between the
perceiver and unorganized visual stimuli. He uses design, the grammar of visual
communication, to organize his material so that it can direct visual attention,
interest and make it more easily assimilated. (p.186)
We can clearly see the link between the Gestalt principles of perceptual
of forms within a work of art and aesthetic experience or response to a work of
The latter is very difficult to achieve when the former does not exist because
human organism needs some form of order to be able to respond.
So far I have reflected on my art experiences since my childhood. I have
that my experiences do correspond to essentialist as well as instrumentalist
of art education. Instrumentalists believe in education through art and
believe in education in art. In my view, these two models of art education
be looked at as a pair of opposites but rather as interconnected. I recognize
instrumental value of art in expressionist, reconstructivist, and feminist
the expressionist view, art is a vehicle of self-expression, a developmental
that leads an individual to a sense of personal fulfillment and growth..
this model, the emphasis is on the psychological benefits that an individual
through artistic activities.
In the reconstructivist view, art is properly understood as an instrument for
change or adaptation. Therefore, in this model art is a vehicle for social and
awareness. In the feminist view, art is a vehicle to reflect the struggle for
by people who have been suppressed through racism and sexism, especially as it
relates to the experiences and needs of women (Garber, 1992, p. 211). Within
feminist pedagogy, the self as it experiences life becomes the subject of
in art. In this view, art is a vehicle that one uses to explore differences in
gender, race, class and culture. In all these three theories, art has not been
considered a discipline with its own body of knowledge worth investigating, but
an instrument of psychological development, emotional release, social
reconstruction, critical analysis and reflection.
Essensialists, on the other hand, believe that art has inherent value as a
with its own epistemology or warranted knowledge. The unique role of the visual
is that they provide visual aesthetic experiences, which no other discipline
Through the verbal language and within different fields of study, such as
liberal studies, geography, history, etc., we can educate the learner about
are important in our postmodernist age; why, then, should art take the role of
handyman or a tool to facilitate learning in other subjects?
How do we expect to have a concrete ground in the educational system, when we
ourselves deny the subjectivity of art as a body of knowledge and "refuse to
its own content" (Efland, 1971, p.14). Bruner, the Harvard psychologist, in his
Process of education, has mentioned that "the key educational task is to give
an understanding of the fundamental structure