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Art education in Australia.

Two questions were in my mind as I began my recent visit to Australia: How does art education "down under" differ from art education in the United States and what is there to learn that will enrich my own teaching skills? As the recipient of the Chromacryl Company's art teacher grant, I had the opportunity to meet with many Australian art educators and artists and to visit elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. I documented my findings on videotape.

To my surprise, Australian schools structure their art curricula very much like their American counterparts. Content and methodology show few differences. There is one exception: art in both the public and private schools is fully matriculated by legislative mandate and has been for sixteen years. The results are astonishing!

Students take art through elementary school. In their second year of high school they can elect to take art as a subject matter major. During their last two years of high school, students spend time preparing for Certificate Examinations. In the art program there are two examinations, a three-hour art history test and the presentation of a major piece of artwork to a board of judges consisting of artists and art educators. While the art history examination is tough and the stress of producing a major work is somewhat strenuous, the results are admirable. Not only is the artwork by Australian high school students comparable to work by American college students, but the students are quite articulate in presenting the theories behind their artistic conclusions.

Because these students begin studying art at an early age, they are well informed and skilled in the field. Their study of art history is supplemented by a variety of programs offered to them by museums. The museums provide lecture tours, a variety of exhibits, and exhibition space for the students' works. The students are encouraged to use professional quality materials and they learn to manipulate and control a variety of media as well as how to integrate ideas into one or several works of art. These students show an excellent knowledge of art history and an artistic development that has grown with time and practice. The arts are taken as seriously as any other major area of study in Australian schools. This gives the more advanced students the support they need to pursue and develop their artistic skills.

Australia is a growing nation seeking to define its own culture. In doing so, it recognizes the value of a strong visual arts education. Its educators recognize that technology has made mass communication a reality. Information and meaning are conveyed in an increasingly visual way. Australian educators feel that a visual arts education helps students to explore the traditional and contemporary symbols of the world they live in. Most importantly, a good education in the visual arts helps the students to become creative thinkers. They learn to respond and interpret with discrimination which helps them tremendously with their other studies.

The experience of seeing the results of art as a fully-matriculated subject in the Australian schools, helped to confirm my conviction that art should be a major subject in American schools. Not only does a good art education provide students with cognitive abilities that are not learned in other disciplines, but it also provides them with a richer experience in relating to the world around them.

If my experience through photographs and video can provide students and teachers with a deeper knowledge of the Australian culture and a deeper appreciation of their own involvement in the arts, I would say my trip was successful. Now, when I think of Australia, its culture, art and people, I realize that they're not really "down under," but very much on top!

Mary Jane Overall is an art teacher in the Chevy Chase, Maryland Public Schools.
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Author:Overall, Mary Jane
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1991
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