Artistic Development

Facing Multiple Pathways, the Choice IS the Curriculum: Starting From Where VCAE Has Left Us

Which path to choose for my art class? Will a lesson designing memes for social media using one-to-one Chromebooks engage students and give them opportunity to master the skills they need to succeed in the world of art?

Art education still seems to lean heavily on “universal” elements and principles of art introduced a century ago in the context of emerging modernism. More current guidelines for learning in art are at hand: Olivia Gude (2004) proposed a collection of principles of art for a postmodern era. Paul Duncum (2007) proposed 7 principles of Visual Culture Art Education (VCAE) for authentic art learning. Hetland’s (2007) Studio Thinking (ST) framework offered a new approach to teaching artistic habits of mind, or dispositions.

As a paradigm, the Studio Thinking framework seems to have gained the most mass and momentum. Whereas attempts to align art in school with a postmodern art world of “many truths with many narratives, and the blurring of the distinction between high and popular culture,” as Duncum (2009, p. 67) describes VCAE, may have had a destabilizing effect on art educators whose own love for the world of traditional “high culture” art motivated them to teach, Studio Thinking provided new perspective without prescribing an aesthetic or dislodging any anchors to familiar studio structures involving painting, ceramics, photography, design, sculpture and drawing. Its purpose was to describe real benefit of arts education taken seriously. Art teachers readily turn to a flexible framework based on established art programs rather than aim for multiple moving targets of praxis in the context of postmodern art broadly defined as visual culture.

The popular Studio Thinking framework doesn’t preclude postmodernism or visual culture art education. It accommodates diverse aesthetics, ideologies, and artistic purposes of both the past and the present, while meeting the need for articulation of arts education’s distinct contribution to human development. Teachers equipped with it have the freedom to choose a path into centuries-old art traditions as well as explore the breadth of art in visual culture. At this point, all paths are open, none is predominant, how does an art teacher select what to teach? What can art teachers do in support of students following multiple paths, growing toward multiple endpoints of artistic development (Duncum, 1999) ? How do we teach multiple aesthetics, ideologies, and artistic purposes?

What to teach next? The choice is the curriculum.

If selecting art lessons for their value in developing artistic dispositions, nearly any line of artistic inquiry will do. Artistic dispositions are the habits of mind that are well-developed among working artists and serious art students of any ideology. They are also believed to be essential thinking skills in the 21st century, and as a set, they overlap with the dispositions demanded of other domains, such as mathematics, science, engineering, and language.

But what lesson next? The decision is most difficult when it is monocratic, but when the next lesson is presented as one of many options for student artists, as a choice that is theirs to make, the teacher’s choosing becomes a model of authenticity in a domain of multiple trajectories, and students may learn to value a wide range of inquiry in visual art. The subtext of the choice-based curriculum is that visual art involves individual choices and aesthetics. The breadth of art lessons the teacher chooses deepens the curriculum.

Art education centered on student choice is authentic pedagogy, valid in a multidirectional art world, and appropriate for the contemporary art classroom works toward artistic dispositions. Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB), (Jaquith & Hathaway, 2012) a choice-based approach developed over decades, allows the students multiple paths of development toward acquiring artistic dispositions.

Choice-based art programs are fertile ground for authentically varied art learning. Worrying less about the implications of autocratic lesson selection, TAB teachers are likely to more freely incorporate art lessons on visual culture, contemporary art, and even architectural or engineering design processes. Taking a chance on an interesting new, unfamiliar, or possibly unsuccessful direction for learning in one’s class echoes the kind of creative risk-taking behavior expected in any art world and models the intellectual risk-taking expected of creative students in a creative stepping stone environment (Stanley & Lehman, 2015).




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