ERIC Identifier: ED329491
Publication Date: 1990-12-00
Author: Hagaman, Sally
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science
Education Bloomington IN., Adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse for Art Education
Aesthetics in Art Education: A Look Toward Implementation.
Aesthetics, or the philosophy of art, is perhaps the most troublesome
discipline advocated in a discipline-based approach to art education. It
is troublesome for many reasons, including its largely verbal nature and
the lack of experience of most art teachers with its content and modes
of inquiry. Nevertheless, aesthetics can serve as a basis for all other
content in an art curriculum because of its nature and its foundation of
general questions about all works of art. Problems examined in this ERIC
Digest include (1) relating aesthetics to art education, (2) placement
of aesthetics in an art curriculum, (3) philosophical inquiry in art education,
and (4) reconstruction of aesthetics in art education.
PROBLEMS OF RELATING AESTHETICS TO ART EDUCATION
There still is confusion between understanding aesthetics as an adjective
(as in "aesthetic scanning") and aesthetics as a noun (as in the philosophy
of art), a distinction made clear years ago by Sharer (1983) and others.
Aesthetic scanning clearly is a method of art criticism, of responding
to a specific work or body of work. Aesthetics historically is a branch
of philosophy with its own substantive content. This content deals with
general questions about art such as "What is art?", "What's the difference
between a work of art and a copy?", "Are there criteria that can be used
in evaluating all works of art?", and "Is the concept of originality in
art a meaningful one?"
This simplistic explanation of aesthetics does little to clarify its
potential role in a K-12 art curriculum. If we look at the writings of
aestheticians and their ongoing debates about questions such as those,
we may remain puzzled about the discipline and its proposed place in art
education. I have advocated the study of philosophical aesthetics by art
educators (Hagaman 1988) although I realize that a typical university aesthetics
course or reading essays about aesthetics on an individual basis offers
little sense of how such scholarly and often dull writings relate to what
happens in an art class.
Another problem in dealing with aesthetics as a major aspect of art
education is lack of available models for curriculum and instruction. The
best models come from philosophy and, most directly, programs designed
to foster philosophical inquiry with children and others who are naive
about philosophy. Some argue that children are naturally philosophers because
of their sense of wonder and constant inquiry about things adults take
for granted. Curriculum materials and pedagogical methods that have proved
valuable in fostering philosophical inquiry and reflective thinking with
students share two major characteristics:
(1) The philosophical issues are couched in ordinary language, avoiding
scholarly terminology or jargon and are placed in specific contexts designed
to elicit understanding and build interest on the part of students.
(2) There is a concerted effort to encourage dialogue among students
about issues because such dialogue is seen as the best way to experience
reflective thinking and philosophical inquiry.
One approach to contextualizing issues of aesthetics is to use invented
puzzle cases in which perplexing issues are embedded. An example is: "The
Louvre is on fire. You can save either the 'Mona Lisa' or the guard who
stands next to it, but not both. What do you do?" (Battin 1986). Dialogue
based on resolving such a puzzle would involve the relative importance
of aesthetic and ethical values. Another approach to contextualizing is
to use current events that hold some aesthetic puzzle. An example is discussion
based on a newspaper account of Ruby, an elephant at the Phoenix Zoo, who
paints, creating "colorful, abstract works of art" (Lankford 1988). Is
Ruby an artist? Is what she makes art? The most comprehensive approach
to contextualizing philosophical issues is that of writing stories or novels
in which such issues are embedded. The Institute for the Advancement of
Philosophy for Children (IAPC) publishes a number of such texts and accompanying
teacher's manuals with exercises and discussion plans.
PUTTING AESTHETICS INTO THE ART CURRICULUM
Philosophical aesthetics must be reconstructed as an integral part of
discipline-based art education. We don't need another discipline on top
of what we already struggle to do in schools. Rather, we need to mix aesthetics
throughout the curriculum by reconstructing ideas and experiences of aesthetics
and adding those needed ingredients to our recipe for art education.
Why are these ingredients needed? There are two major reasons why the
study of philosophical aesthetics is important in art education. First,
ideas from that discipline, and appropriate methods of dealing with those
ideas, can connect disparate parts of an art curriculum. Art teachers know
it is often difficult to make meaningful connections between various aspects
of production such as 2-D and 3-D, fine arts and crafts, art history and
art criticism, and, at the same time, integrate increasingly complex sets
of content and methods. Because of the general nature of aesthetics, it
can function as a binding agent for all this complexity.
Another reason is that philosophical aesthetics, like all philosophy,
is based on wonder. Philosophers wonder about things others take for granted.
Young children do the same until their sense of wonder is deadened by socialization,
education, or some combination of the two. They reach a plateau in their
sense of wonder and their willingness to express wonder as they reach a
plateau in drawing development, usually around fifth or sixth grade. Ironically,
it is at this point, around age twelve, that cognitive developmentalists
such as Piaget say that children are ready to begin philosophy, having
reached the stage of formal operations, the "age of reason" (Piaget 1950).
It may be true that this is the appropriate time to teach formal logic,
but it is late to begin dialogues with children about issues from aesthetics.
We need to focus early on the openness, willingness to voice wonder, and
desire to find meaning in problematic situations that may have no definitive
solution, all of which characterize the young child. To say that young
children cannot function as aestheticians is quite true; to say that they
cannot engage in meaningful discussion of complex problems and situations
PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN
Recognizing the need for educational materials about aesthetics, I have
investigated existing methods and materials that might serve as models
for art education. Philosophers associated with the Institute for the Advancement
of Philosophy for Children have helped develop and disseminate extensive
curriculum materials about general philosophy for children including a
number of novels, written for children of all ages, that incorporate issues
from various fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, logic, ethics,
and aesthetics (Lipman 1974; Lipman & Sharp 1978; Lipman, Sharp &
Oscanyan 1980; Reed 1989). There also are extensive teacher's manuals that
accompany each text, filled with discussion ideas, exercises, and activities.
The main objective of this approach is to develop critical thinking
skills and philosophical inquiry through class dialogue based upon the
texts. Lipman and his associates believe that thinking about philosophical
issues is best achieved through dialogue. Many people confound thinking
by oneself with thinking for oneself and are under the mistaken impression
that solitary thinking is equivalent to independent thinking. A discussion
of issues embedded in a child-centered story draws upon the child's sense
of wonder and develops critical thinking skills within the context of philosophy.
Older children are taught formal logic, but at all levels children are
encouraged to use informal logic or a "good reasons" approach. There is
a concerted effort to develop a community of inquiry, a class climate wherein
each child feels comfortable to express an opinion or observation, with
an end goal of largely "student-student" rather than "teacher-student"
discussion. There are three important components of such a community:
1. Use of criteria: children are encouraged to examine and explain why
they think as they do about certain issues being discussed. This process
requires reasons for judgments and reflection upon criteria used in making
judgments. An example is to determine what one's criteria for realism are
after contending that realistic paintings are best.
2. Self-correction: Individuals are encouraged to listen carefully to
comments of each group member and be willing to reconsider opinions. However,
there is no attempt to come to a single "correct" judgment for the group,
as in the form of a vote. Such a grasp for consensus (democratic though
it may seem) does little to encourage reflective thinking or dialogue and
is a flawed attempt at closure in philosophical inquiry.
3. Attention to context: Understanding the important influence of context
upon one's judgments and opinions is crucial. Insofar as knowledge is a
historical, linguistic, and social construct, it is dependent on context.
Other approaches to teaching aesthetics that build upon dialogue include
writing responses to philosophical questions, keeping art journals, and
completing teacher-made worksheets. Any lesson that deals with aesthetics
should approach the subject in a conceptually open manner, focusing on
reflection and reason and rewarding recognition and attempted solutions
of philosophical dilemmas on the part of students.
I am now in the beginning stages of writing and field testing a series
of art texts for grades 1-6. These texts, like the books of Lipman, Reed,
and others, are populated with children who interact with their peers,
families, and teachers, and include a small group of children who leave
the art class each year and travel through time and space. They actively
explore the meanings and contexts of art and the roles and status of artists
within the cultures they visit. Hence, the perennially occurring questions
of aesthetics can be effectively and, it is to be hoped, enjoyably embedded
within child-oriented stories. Perhaps more importantly, this approach
allows a natural integration of art historical information and provides
numerous opportunities for art criticism, history, and studio experiences.
Another important aspect of this approach is its multicultural nature.
It is increasingly important for all educators to provide meaningful knowledge
and experience of many cultures for students.
The stories are divided into short episodes, designed to be read by
or to children. Examples of subjects within episodes include a visit to
a sacred cave in Mali where a Dogon man is carving a Kanaga mask, participation
in a workshop in medieval Persia, joining a crowd watching Hokusai paint
an image of the Buddha, or a visit to a contemporary Egyptian guild that
produces tapestry weavings.
The approaches to integrating aesthetics in art education that have
been discussed share the characteristic of putting philosophical problems
into specific contexts that are accessible to students and encourage classroom
dialogue. Dialogue about aesthetics may be generated by historical, critical,
or studio inquiries as students and teachers recognize and attempt to solve
emerging philosophical issues. Puzzle cases, both invented and discovered,
build student interest and help to focus reflection and inquiry. Using
art texts modeled after philosophy for children materials has the positive
attributes of logical sequencing, recurrence of problematic issues, and
variable unit emphases upon art production, historical, critical, and aesthetic
inquiry experiences. Such an approach also builds upon a tradition of using
textual stories in art education.
As in community of inquiry processes, any implementation of aesthetics
in art education must utilize criteria, be self-correcting, and be sensitive
to specific contexts. Meaningful integration of aesthetics in art education,
however troublesome, is both necessary and possible as well as enjoyable.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system
and are available in microfiche and paper copies from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS,
3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone numbers are
703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated
monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is available
in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however,
they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided below.
Battin, Margaret. "The Dreariness of Aesthetics (Continued), With a
Remedy." Journal of Aesthetic Education 20 (Winter 1986): 11-14. EJ 327
Hagaman, S. "Philosophical Aesthetics in the Art Class: A Look toward
Implementation." Art Education 41 (May 1988): 18-22. EJ 348 289.
Lankford, Louis. Aesthetics in Visual Art Education. Paper presented
at the annual convention of the National Art Education Association, Washington,
DC, April 4-8, 1989.
Lipman, Matthew, and Ann M. Sharp. Growing Up with Philosophy. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1978. ED 159 158.
Lipman, Matthew. Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery. Montclair, NJ: Institute
for the Advancement of Philosophy of Children, 1974.
Lipman, Matthew, Ann M. Sharp, and Fred Oscanyan. Philosophy in the
Classroom. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980. ED 137 214.
Piaget, Jean. The Psychology of Intelligence. New York: Harcourt, Brace
& Company, 1950.
Reed, Ronald. Rebecca. Fort Worth, TX: Center for Analytical Teaching,
Sharer, Jon. Children's Inquiry into Beliefs about Art. Paper presented
at the annual convention of the National Art Education Association, Detroit,
Michigan, April 16-19, 1983.