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Lesson Plans

Re: What's Worth teaching in Art? (A long reply to Craig.)

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Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Thu, 16 Jul 1998 02:36:33 -0500

Howdy ArtsEdNetters,

At 12:08 AM 7/14/98 -0400, Craig Roland asked:

"I'm curious, Bob, whether you consider this typical way of dividing the art
curriculum at the high school and college levels to be outdated (given the
nature of contemporary art practices today and--as you pointed out--the
problem of "disjoin[ing] the big picture into factored bits of know-how. .
."). "Don't these "traditional" course divisions (Drawing I, II, Painting
I, II, etc.,) tend to promote "traditional" ways of thinking about art and
the content that might be taught in art classes?"

My Response:

Craig, I think you are right on the money here. I agree that the
traditional distribution of classes are soon to be obsolete, but from the
perspective here at the bottom, I must be a realist and accept the structure
which has been put in place by Texas Education Agency (TEA) through their
"Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills," (,
even though the "traditional" divisions (Drawing I, II, etc.,) foster more
of the same, "traditional" student thought.

You are very perceptive to see this problem. Perhaps college course
structure will need to change first to include learning objectives which
will accommodate student interests in "intermedia" and other exploratory
ventures. I believe many who teach on the university level are working
around the traditional labeling to allow for some exploration. On the high
school level, we have such a range of student interest, intellect, attitude
and preconceptions about what art should be, as the students choose (or get
placed into) our classes, that we have our hands full simply trying to get
the kids to experience the range of more traditional media in art I. Of
course a case can be made for student exposure to the new media simply to
challenge the conservative preconceptions which they bring form home. The
exposure would make them think in new ways about freedom and limits in
creativity and perhaps help them learn to understand and appreciate recent
cultural developments.

There has been some change for high schools here. Texas has recently added
electronic media to the assorted TEKS course list, but school districts will
continue to have a choice of which courses they want to offer to the student
after they have credit in Art I. It will be interesting to watch how all of
this shakes out. Certainly, as there are more ventures into experimental
media in the world outside schools, the pressure will build for the
controlling educational organizations to deal with the problem of their
inclusion in the art curricula. Perhaps educators will decide to add one
course which surveys a range of assorted creative activities outside the
traditional categories. In the mean time, I think most of us have the
freedom to allow individual students or groups to explore some of the new
creative ventures, even though that learning content does not "officially"
fall within the stated course description and expected content. There are
usually ways to stretch the course limits as long as one has developed a
logical rationale and sees some aspect of the new content which ties it to
the old traditional learning.

Craig also asked:

"Are students being presented alternative models of art-making involving
collaboration or "team" approaches in these classes you speak of?

My Response:

I wish I could quickly say yes to your question but the closest thing to the
objectives you mention seem to be collaborations which are not part of the
official art curriculum, such as the .......aaahhhh!....gaassspppp!....40'
by 14' football run through crash posters which some of our classes end up
doing for the athletics department each fall. We teachers always hate this
particular expected duty when we get stuck with it. It turns into cranking
out the equivalent of a mural a week only to have it trashed at the Friday
night game marking the start of another deadline for the coming week. The
situation is made worse by the reality that only a few of the kids from each
class are willing to do the work and the others end up getting in the way
with horseplay or even more destructive antics. So the teacher sis caught
in the middle trying to keep some semblance of quality going with the group
that is willing to work and, at the same time, having to try to maintain
discipline with the majority who see the potential for distraction and play,
which quickly gets out of hand. It is almost an impossible situation with
only one adult and 20 to 30 kids in the class.

The other group project which comes to mind was a mural we did for the San
Antonio Police Department's traveling community display. Again only a small
group worked on the project but at least three art teachers were able and
willing to give of their free, after school time to see this to completion.
The task was overwhelming for the group of kids who did volunteer and the
teachers had to set in and actively participate in order to make the
deadline for the thing. It has been traveling from mall to mall through out
the city since the past spring semester and I think the kids that did get
involved felt like they had accomplished something when it was completed.
You can see it at:

Another group project which my computer arts people are expected to do
involves small animated quick time movies done with claymation techniques,
flat cardboard puppetry or other materials using a camcorder with an AV
platform. The students are expected to write the script, storyboard the
thing, film it and then load it into video editing software and clean it
up, add sound effects, etc. It seems I am never very happy with their
efforts here but the problem may be that I have only been asking them to do
this assignment for a couple years and I, like the kids, have much more to
learn in this area.

We do several other group assignments in our classes such as posters for
events and competitions and projects such as art history time-lines.

Craig asked:

"Are they learning how art can affect positive change in their community? "
Or, are they being taught that art is something that is "hung on a wall" and
made by an individual artist working alone in his/her studio?"

My response:

Again, I must admit that the majority of the traditional assignments in the
courses work toward the latter, the traditional idea for art as the product
of an individual creative expression rather then that of the group. The
projects mentioned earlier did involve the community land positive change
but ......alas!.....they were exceptions to the rule. I would like to get
the students involved in some international group experiences but have not
done so recently. Perhaps others on the list will have the same desire and
we can get our heads together to set something up for our students to do as
an international group project. Wouldn't it be great to have kids all over
the globe work together online to design several murals on the topic of
world peace, ending hunger, endangered species, recycling and ecology and
then find local business support at various locations around the globe to
allow the children to enlarge the designs which were chosen and paint one
for their local community. As you suggest, the traditional structure of
courses does not allow for this kind of involvement. It would have to happen
outside of the course structure, after school and on week ends, and end up
taking a great deal of unpaid extra personal away from the teachers, yet
that kind of group experience would be closer to the way work is going to be
done in the business world of the future. I think I mentioned these changes
in my earlier comments to your first set of questions.

In the paper that I am working on, I am trying to do a little prophecy for
art education based on the shifts I see and the writings of assorted
futurists. Prophecy in the field of art education is a risky business since
changes in the discipline have been driven by shifting ideologies and
priorities set by external forces. On the other hand, I feel that when the
stage is set for momentous change, as is the Twenty-first Century, one will
do well to try to prepare for the inevitable challenges which are on their
way. I fear that the art teachers who are not interested in technology and
the Internet are, metaphorically speaking, setting their lawn chairs up for
a quiet nap on top of a volcano.

At the end of the paper, I try to suggest some of the Implications if
technology and the Internet for Art Education. Here are a FEW of the
changes that I see that are here or are on the way.

1. Learning will be redefined. The most glaring change resulting from the
Internet and its Age of Information is the need to re-define the concept of
learning. Teaching and learning is becoming an involved and adaptive
operation where the functions of student, teacher, and course content are
open, flexible and endlessly changing. Learning will no longer be simply
that which happens when a student confronts information. In our new age,
learning will become the information gathering process fused to the outcome
of using logic and intuition to filter and act on that information. If
teachers are going to prepare their students for the world that lies ahead,
they must design learning environments that build the skills of research,
evaluation, visualization and the solution of real and potential problems.
These are skills which are not acquired by students when a teacher assigns
the project, sets a deadline, demonstrates how to do it, and then grades the
project. With the new definition of learning, enlightenment is not complete
until the student understands that we are all constantly learning and
changing to confront the urgencies of an ever-adjusting universe in an
ongoing journey through change.

2. Educators must be ready to work in an environment of continual change.
Art teachers, their colleagues and their administrators must realize that
they, like their students, are caught in a lifelong pursuit of learning in
the face of change They must make the effort to keep up with changing
technologies, changing curricula, changing teaching methods and change in
the real world outside their classrooms.

3. Our concepts of school, learning environment, and classroom must be
divorced from the idea of physical place. Educational institutions have
traditionally been conceived as locations, physical places, where students
mingle in social interaction while learning. With the age of information,
the challenge for every discipline now involves reconciliation of the
Internet as a global community where time, place, and diversity are not very
important. The public school classroom, once the students' immediate world
for the duration of the class time, now has become the access point to the
learning universe without the traditional concepts of time and place.

4. Traditional textbooks will change. The speed of change for developments
in the visual arts and related areas of art history, aesthetics, criticism
and other art curricula will soon move faster then the time which is
required to write, review and publish traditional paper texts. In addition,
traditional teaching resources will become cost prohibitive. The new
resources of our age will be found on the Internet and occasionally produced
in digital form on re-writeable CD or other removable media which allow for
quick and cheap update and distribution. Educational institutions will
switch their textbook funds to contracts for information delivery with
continual updates, for Internet access, computers and classroom display

5. Art media will change. When we consider issues of global ecology,
shrinking natural resources, recent technology including computers, the
Internet, imaging equipment and powerful new software tools for digital art,
animation and multimedia, the changes suggest that classroom projects using
physical art making media will diminish. Many of the traditional studio
projects in painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, weaving and drawing
materials will be replaced by and digital projects using scanners, cameras,
and computers. Traditional media will continue in the curriculum but with an
increased expense. Future oil, gas and mineral reserves will be shrinking
while freight and production costs for art materials will increase, yet
computers and digital art applications will become cheaper and more
plentiful in the learning environment at school and at home. As earlier
mentioned, special effects, multimedia and computer art have sparked
student interest in digital imaging. Change will also be influenced by
artists, teachers, and students who gain experience with the new imaging and
multimedia tools and discover an exciting and creative working environment
which is unlike any visual communication medium in the history of humanity.
The change toward a preference for computer art media will also result
because of the versatility of digital media. Images and multimedia
creations are best suited for distribution and reproduction in our age of
information where, in a flash, they can move freely throughout the globe
via the Internet and gain physical form with desired dimensions at their

6. Methods of teaching will change. Teaching methods in traditional art
education involved assignments for learning through individual studio
production, group projects, worksheets, textbook reading assignments,
demonstrations, and lectures. Lectures in the art room required frequent use
of slides and overhead transparencies for classroom projection of images,
text and diagrams. Art room teaching will change to include lectures
incorporating digital images, animation, video strips, and sound prepared
and periodically upgraded using computers and multimedia presentation
applications with projection equipment. Worksheets and textbook reading
assignments will go digital, multimedia, and online with assessment and
feedback features built into the software. Multimedia resources have the
potential to accommodate all learning styles to increase student interest,
participation and learning success.

Group learning projects will move beyond the classroom and out into the
world where learning can involve students from around the globe who
participate in the creative development of real world online art resources,
images, teaching tools and future learning applications. Since the future
art and design market will demand people who can creatively solve
open-ended challenges, participate with others, manage their own time,
evaluate their own progress, utilize an assortment of resources and
communicate ideas in words and images, the international group learning
experiences will be designed to yield critical experience in the use of
technology, networking and cooperation. Groups of students in classrooms
will join individual students working in their homes where each can take on
the responsibility for helping to complete the communal project while
communicating with others via technology. Of course, these are not the
traditional skills typically addressed in the art learning environment so
art teachers must join other educators in the process of expanding their
curriculum to provide student's with the skills of the future world of work..

7. The control and responsibility for learning will be diversified.
Teachers who demand total control and full responsibility for their art
learning environment must accept several changes which are coming with the
new age. The role of mentor is converging with that of the learner.
Teachers will spend less time trying to maintain control and deliver
learning in mass, however they will spend more time planning, developing
learning resources and assisting the learning process with strategies for
individual and group discovery. When computers and the Internet are part of
the learning environment, students will be expected to take more
responsibility for the content of their learning and for the rate at which
they learn. Students will also be able to make choices concerning the
method and place in which the learning will take place. There is a very good
chance that school districts will incorporate online art credit available
to self-motivated learners who choose when they work on the assignments and
whether they will work at home or at school to complete their learning. In
this scenario, parents will be expected to accept some of the teaching
responsibility traditionally held by the classroom teacher.

Other remote students and professionals will become involved when group
learning projects engage computers and the Internet. Remote teachers, their
students, and knowledgeable authorities like librarians, artists,
curators, historians and scientists will be expected share responsibility in
these learning experiences. However, the local teacher must also be ready
to exchange the traditional classroom isolation and control for the roll of
a remote educator for students in other locations who are involved in the
online group learning projects.

8. Internet based learning will build trust, tolerance and understanding.
Online group projects and the exchange of teaching ideas and resources will
carry an increased potential for the global cultivation of tolerance,
understanding, trust and the appreciation of diversity. International group
projects, video-conferencing, email exchanges, electronic chat sessions, and
International online art exhibitions of student work will enable positive
multi-cultural exposure for young learners and their teachers.

9. The faculty lounge, teacher workroom and the library will go online.
Research, planning, project coordination, news of current events and gossip
have all moved from the library, faculty lounge and teacher workroom to the
Internet. Web resources, email and special interest groups allow for an
educator to loose their sense of isolation, stay informed, talk over
problems and develop solutions with the help of other experienced
professionals in their field. The Internet allows for an International
exchange of teaching ideas and learning resources between educators. As a
member of an art education listserv, such as ArtsEdNet or TeachArt, one has
access to a wealth of intelligence, experience and ideas. Online library
resources, virtual museums, galleries and teaching resources are
multiplying. With computers in the art room, advice and application specific
information is available through listservs, web pages, tutorials and
downloadable software. The Internet seems to be the only feasible method for
the accumulation and distribution of these resources given the speed of
change inherent in this technology and the growing expense for mass
publication of textual material.

10. Educators will go to school - online. The virtual college is a credible
and applicable solution in higher education. Online courses are being
incorporated into traditional certification and degree programs. In
addition to the initial online learning experiences in teacher preparation,
Web based courses can provide teacher renewal, additional certification and
greater expansion of the knowledge base. Since the virtual university can be
asynchronous to other responsibilities and events in the lives of teachers,
it will continue to grow as a viable educational asset for teachers.

I see other developments in the field of art which will also effect art
education, such as exploratory ventures using remote locations and groups of
artists who are bouncing projects back and forth across the Web as they
are being created. I am not quite sure how these new activities will filter
into teaching and learning in the arts but I am sure they will also effect
exciting change. There are also some additional implications which I need
to think about before I try to explain them to others. To be sure, the
implications for arts teaching and learning will grow with the changes and
maturation of the new technology in our culture. We are in the infancy, who
knows where it is taking us. To a better world, I hope.

Perhaps others on the list can share their insight on these or additional
implications for our future due to technology and the Internet.

Craig asked:

Will our students gain the kinds of skills and knowledge you speak of here
by drawing pictures of still lifes or sculpting heads/figures from clay?

My response:

I would say they are only getting a foundation of creative experience from
the traditional classes in the present structure. The logical next step
would for them to expand their experience and skill in personal expression
and through group projects, blend their unique contributions to that of the
global family of learners.

Craig said:

I may be off base here and misinterpreting your statement. I actually agree
with much of what you said. But, it seems to me its time to drastically
rethink what we are teaching kids in schools about art (and about its role
in our global society).

My response:

Well, please don't kill the messengers on this one, my friends, but I am
beginning to think that way also, Craig. I fear that that we must
drastically rethink what we are teaching kids in schools about art (and
about its role in our global society).