A History of Art Education - Talking points related to the book A History of Art Education by Arthur D. Efland, Chapter 1 - Art Education: Its Social Context.

I started reading the book A History of Art Education by Arthur D. Efland as an assignment of my M.Ed. Program in Curriculum & Instruction - Art Education. And I believe that sharing my insights here can be valuable to anyone interested in a dialogue about Art Education. Please send me a message if you would like to discuss in details any of the topics presented here.

Below I will present my views on Chapter 1 only.

The first chapter (Art Education: Its Social Context) sets the author's intention to carry on his research with an interpretative outlook. Efland is interested in investigating if the History of Art Education is related to the "social realities of the times in which they occurred" or just "the result of changes in the pedagogical fashion" (p. ix).

His book guides us through the "social currents" that led to the introduction of the arts as a discipline in the school system, and we will be able to comprehend, for example, the perception still in vogue that the arts are for the elites or the talented only. The book will show that, in early history, the arts were either seen as a privilege of the elites or attributed to slaves and common workers. It was never a universal right, and access to the visual arts was subjected to class, gender, and social status. I feel that even today, Art Education has a limited reach in society, being restricted to the most privileged groups. When we compare the quality and scope of art pedagogies available in different social groups, it's evident that the elites still hold the dominance in this matter. For example, a poor school district does not have enough investment to acquire art supplies, while wealthier neighborhoods can promote field trips to museums, art galleries, and private art studios. How can the art teacher make an impact to compensate for the lack of resources in a less affluent school?

As soon as visual arts started being introduced in public schools thanks to the literacy movement of the 19th century, it gained an aspect of privilege rather than human necessity. Such a label impacts this discipline's vulnerability until today. Every time we have an economic downturn and funds need to be cut, art education is one of the first disciplines to suffer precisely due to the misguided understanding of its significance. How to change society's view of art education from superfluous to vital? It seems an urgent question.

The teaching of visual arts is constrained by three powerful societal elements: "patronage, education, and censorship" (p. 2). They often act together to define institutional settings responsible for organizing the teaching of the arts. Usually, the variety of instructional methods in the arts is directly proportional to the number of patronage sources available in the society. Today, we experience an explosion of patronage that connects to the artist through a widespread online platform. Consequently, the number of practices in art teaching also rose. The zeitgeist of an era set the basis for the cultural policies that establish an epoch's art education system. For instance, during the Middle Ages, the cultural policies defined that the arts' purpose was to disseminate the religious faith. The guild system of the Middle Ages or the museums and the school systems of our time are excellent examples of institutional systems responsible for applying the current cultural policies.

Efland points out that a society's character can be determined by analyzing its pedagogies of teaching the arts, not just the artworks produced. Following Efland's affirmation, what qualities from our current society can we infer by looking to our Art Education system?


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