My foundations of Art Education

Outline

  • What is Art Education in my opinion?
  • What is my philosophy of art and education?
  • What are the foundations on which my philosophy is based?

Introduction

To be honest, I had no idea that the discipline of ‘Art Education’ even existed until two years ago. I was pursuing my master’s degree in graphic design then and concurrently researching where I could study next in order to fulfill my dream of eventually ‘working for children’. I came across this degree in the listings on PSU’s website. I assumed that ‘Art Education’ would be a discipline where you learn how to teach art. I hoped that in this setting I could bring together my passions of art, design, children and education. This seemed like a perfect fit to what I was looking for. And coming from non art education background, I realized that the best part of this program is that on the first day of class, we are asked to explore what ‘Art/Education’ means to us. So I am treating this essay as a piece of self-exploration.

What is Art Education?

Art Education is I believe a bridge that connects a person/student with his art. Art Education acts as a facilitator to help an individual find his art. Inhibitions, fear and oblivion to one’s inner expression are I believe the biggest hindrances in artistic creation. The function of art education would then be to open up the doors to this inner world to empower the individual to freely traverse this world, experience and express it through art. Simply put, I think art education is like a father teaching his son to ride the bicycle. The father holds on to the bicycle until the child learns to balance and then takes off the support. Beyond that point it is the journey of the child and the bicycle, just as after a point, the teacher lets go and the journey of the child and the art begins.

What is my philosophy of art and education?

My priority as an educator is children and not education itself. Of course educational content is important but not more so than the child itself. I could have the educational content of the highest merit at my disposal but if I did not connect with or take into consideration the needs of the student, would that be a failure?                     I wonder if the aim of education is to create educated and literate people or to create well adjusted, socially conscious, and if I may be audacious to add ‘happy’ citizens of the world? This could be an idealist approach, but until I learn all the accepted theories of art education, I would like to stick to my layman’s approach that art/ education facilitates the learning of ‘the art of living.’

What do I perceive to be the scope of Art Education?

My interdisciplinary background and the interdisciplinary approach of the Art education program at Penn State are I believe the substantiating factors in my perceiving art education as a discipline which facilitates the confluence of other disciplines which aim to better learning, education and art. I don’t believe in looking at art education as a discipline that includes only art and education. This discipline’s greatest advantage is that it can work with design, media, psychology, sociology, women’s studies and many other disciplines.

What are the foundations on which my philosophy is based?

The foundations of my philosophy in art education are based on the possible ‘Absence of any Philosophy’ in my kindergarten, elementary and high school life.

Imagine this scenario. About 60 students are seated cramped up in a classroom that is “governed” by a teacher. The teacher reads out from the textbook and the students are expected to learn ‘by-heart’ (by rote). In a system of education where learning ‘by rote’ is considered learning, I wonder how many students are truly educated? But educated I mean able to access, analyze, process and act upon information. Never in the twelve years that I spent in that school (from kindergarten to 10th grade) was I ever asked my opinion on a single topic. How could the teacher afford to do that when there were 60 students in the class. The result is that in India, even today after 60 years of independence, the schools still produces the ‘clerks’ that the British envisioned. Is it any wonder then that most of the students who come to the US for higher studies are from the Mathematics, Engineering or Science backgrounds where most of the learning happens by repetition, rote and practice? The arts where independent thought and expression are required are poorly neglected. This is obviously an imbalanced growth.

Expression verses Autocracy

I believe that the biggest advantage of learning art is that it teaches a person to express. This expression could well extend to other avenues in life apart from art. If the aim of the learning session is expression, how could the structure of the session be autocratic? I believe the system of teaching should be democratic if teaching children to artistically express themselves is the aim of the session.

At the same time, I am also a believer of learning techniques of art. I don’t think it harms to learn the correct techniques. The concept may well be original.

The foundations of my philosophy in art education are inspired by a simple children’s illustrated story-book!

The book called “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds to this day remains one of my most treasured possessions. “The Dot” is the story of a little girl, Vashti, who has convinced herself she cannot draw. Her art teacher dares her to make a mark. Vashti makes one little dot on her sheet of paper… which turns out to be the beginning of her creative journey! But ‘The Dot’ is more than a book about art. It is a book that encourages us to be brave about expressing ourselves. It gently reminds us to start small and explore the IDEA. It is also a tribute to great teachers who know how to use humor, “off-the-path” approaches, and who have the vision to see the possibilities in EVERY student. The book ends off with Vashti sharing this gift with others, beginning a ripple of inspiration. The discovery of this book has been monumental in my journey of art and self-discovery. The story of the book is so poignant, yet so simply told. The biggest hurdle in my creative process was that I was afraid to make the first mark, afraid to put a pencil on paper. Reading this story I realized that I needed to break free from that mold and set my creativity soaring.

Peter says, “Something odd starts happening to us when we reach about ten years of age. Our creative wings begin to fold up, neatly, and begin to get packed away. We have more freedom artistically when we are very young. Making colorful pictures, wild ones, ignoring the rules, green skies and blue lawns, are expected and applauded.” I wonder if the education system I experienced in India was responsible for my creative wings to be wrapped up and never to be opened until I went to an art school. And then I had to re-learn the whole process of exploring my own ideas and creativity. I believe it is the moral duty of any educator to empower the child to express himself/herself. And what better way to teach this expression than through art? I believe art is one of the greatest tools that educators posses, that they can use for the overall personality development and mental well-being of the child. As an Art Educator I prefer looking at art education as a medium which superficially serves the goal of teaching children art but in a deeper sense serves to accomplish holistic development of the child.

In my doctoral studies at Penn State I intend to learn and study all the theories, methodologies and foundations of Art Education that I haven’t been exposed to so far. I am sure it is going to be a very enriching journey, reading and understanding what so many researchers and scholars have to say about children and art.

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