Studies in Arts Sharpen Analytical Skills, Nurture Creativity, Getty Panel Argues
Washington--Students are missing out on significant learning opportunities because schools have relegated the visual arts to a subordinate place in the curriculum and tend to focus only on the development of artistic skills, according to a report released here last week.
In the document, "Beyond Creating: The Place for Art in America's Schools," the Getty Center for Education in the Arts urges that schools develop a well-defined, sequential curriculum in the arts for grades K through 12 that comprises art history, art criticism, and aesthetics, as well as the6more conventional "making art."
The document is the first public report on art education produced by the Los Angeles-based center, which was established by the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1982 to focus on issues and challenges for art educators and policymakers.
According to the Getty Center, good art education, taught in a systematic and rigorous way, enhances students' understanding of culture and history, sharpens their perceptual and analytical skills, and nurtures the creativity and imagination they need for innovative thinking and problem-solving.
"A discipline-based art-education program provides instruction in how to examine and analyze works of art, how to interpret them, and how to engage in deductive and inductive reasoning about their meanings," said Leilani Lattin Duke, director of the center.
Although she acknowledged that children need to spend time on "basic skills," she argued that they also need to develop sides of their character that are not addressed by math and reading instruction. "I think we're talking here about educational value priorities," said Ms. Duke. "Our belief is that if we're talking about a balanced school curriculum, there should be time for art."
The report is based on a study that was designed and analyzed for the Getty Center by the Rand Corporation. It includes case studies of seven school districts that have approached art education as "fundamental" to a child's learning. The studies were done by art-education experts who visited classrooms; interviewed teachers, administrators, and parents; and reviewed instructional materials.
Customarily, the study states, art education has taught children drawing, painting, and sculpting, but nothing about the cultural contributions of art or its historical context.
"In many school districts and in many minds, art education ... has a very limited creative, expressive role that does not qualify it as a legitimate academic subject," Harold M. Williams, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said at a press conference last week on the report. The notion that art education lacks fundamental importance "has not been broadly and actively challenged," he said.
The Getty report notes that art education is often treated "only as an enrichment activity, a reward for good behavior at the end of a week, or a 'relief' activity from other subjects."
Teachers frequently emphasize making things for their own sake, and they attempt to teach art without written curricula, textbooks, or assessments of students' progress, according to the report.
Increased state attention to education provides a new opportunity for improving instruction in the arts, Getty officials noted. But they also said that growing competition for time, attention, and resources in the public schools means that art education "easily gets dumped" when it is not viewed as central to schooling.
As a result of current teaching methods, "the fine arts are now afforded little place in the school curriculum," according to Elliot Eisner, professor of education and art at Stanford University, and a contributor to the report.
Art commands less than 3 percent of the instructional time per week at the elementary-school level, Mr. Eisner found. Approximately 80 percent of all high-school students do not enroll in fine-arts courses, and fewer than 3 percent of all school districts require high-school students to study one of the fine arts to graduate.
A recent analysis of data from High School and Beyond, the longitudinal study of high-school students sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that the average high-school student earned two credits in art over the course of four years. Art credits represented about 6 percent of the total credits that students earned.
Although 85 percent of the approximately 19,725 public and private secondary schools in the United States offer instruction in the fine arts and 99.9 percent offer courses in the humanities, only 40 percent offer cultural-appreciation courses in music or art, the nces found in its analysis of the 1981-82 data.
Moreover, such classes are not uniformly available. They are more common in schools where more than three-quarters of the students go on to college, and less common in rural areas and in schools where one-quarter or more of the students are from low-income families.
"The result of access denied," writes Mr. Eisner, "is a program of education that leaves most students unable to participate in the arts; the great museums and concert halls that populate the nation are the resources of a small minority of our citizens. Artistic literacy is a rare educational commodity."
Since 1965, Ms. Duke said, a small group of art educators has been working to develop a more substantive, discipline-based approach to art education.
The center hopes to increase the number of good programs by disseminating its report widely; convening national symposiums that will give school administrators a chance to discuss high-quality arts programs with their creators; and providing planning grants to help coalesce and develop promising programs. The center is also working in 20 school districts in the Los Angeles area to improve art education.
According to the Rand Corporation, the study turned up only two school districts--Hopkins, Minn., and Virginia Beach, Va.--whose programs fully embody the Getty Center's model, balancing art criticism, history, and production, and documenting their programs in a written, sequential, prescriptive curriculum.
The dearth of such models, according to researchers for the study, is one of the biggest obstacles to implementing more effective arts programs.
As enumerated by the Getty Center, other barriers to changing art education in the schools include:
College-entrance requirements that do not require fine arts and do not count art courses toward entrance credits. Such requirements give parents and students a subtle message that art is not important for education.
Teaching-credential standards that do not require art courses for certification, giving teaching candidates the message that art education has second-class status.
Standardized tests, used to gauge student progress, that generally omit art. Without tests that can show what students have learned, art educators say, superintendents and principals may be reluctant to adopt art programs.
Among the key factors that helped districts develop good art programs, said Ms. Duke, were a new perspective on the importance of art education; the presence of an articulate, committed, and skilled advocate who could mobilize support and resources; the support of administrators, principals, and teachers; and the presence of an art specialist who acted as a resource, a facilitator, and a coordinator of services, rather than as an instructor.
Copies of "Beyond Creating" may be obtained free of charge by writing the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1875 Century Park East, Suite 2300, Los Angeles, Calif. 90067.
Copies of the three-volume technical report that is summarized in "Beyond Creating" may be obtained from the Rand Corporation, 1700 Main St., Santa Monica, Calif. 90406. The executive summary is $4 per copy; the cross-site analysis of the seven school districts, $7.50 per copy, and the case studies of the seven school districts, $25 per copy.