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Ohio's balancing act.

Ohio's Balancing Act

For years we have believed that the purpose of art in the schools was to expose students to the experience of art expression, to the skills of making works of art. Undoubtedly, some of our students will use this experience throughout their lives by becoming artists. And others will apply the sensibilities we have taught them in their chosen occupations and in their daily living. This traditional studio approach has served students well, but does it go far enough?

There are many critical problems in society today, ranging from crime and vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, to unchallenging school experiences, visually sterile work places and excessive television viewing. Of course, some of these problems are economic, but many of them are brought on by choices - aesthetic choices, socially restricted choices, choices of how to work and play - that our students must make daily.

It is not within the art teacher's responsibility or capability to solve all these problems. But some of them can be addressed only by a truly comprehensive art education program, by introducing students to the experiences inherent in both the study and practice of art. At the Ohio Department of Education, we have developed an approach to art curriculum planning called BCAC - Balanced Comprehensive Art Curriculum. BCAC is comprehensive because it addresses six critical problems facing society that art education is uniquely suited to tackle. BCAC is balanced because, in a K-12 art program, attention is given to all six problems in terms of instructional time, staffing and resources.

Personal expression through art

The first problem is one that all people face, especially the young: the development of their own identities. Those who paint, sculpt, weave or make pots know the joys that come from being a creative person. It is no exaggeration to say that through the struggle to create a work of art, we literally create ourselves. We become what we do.

Not all people have a chance for this kind of personal, creative involvement in what they do. There is little genuine artistry in most people's lives. Teachers can do much more to help solve this problem. First, we can give a higher priority to all the arts for all students. Second, in art classes we can help students have authentic studio experiences and develop their abilities to discover and express personal ideas.

Personal response to art

A second major problem: people have difficulty responding to aesthetic objects and events and significantly communicating that response to others. Many people are frequently at a loss for words to express their personal responses to art. Some aesthetic decisions are relatively simple, such as selecting a tie or a pair of shoes. Even then, it can be hard to find words to explain the decision to someone else. Other aesthetic decisions are more complex and difficult to make, such as those concerning contemporary paintings and sculpture.

Students need to develop confidence in talking about art. Art classes ought to be places where students can write and talk openly and sensitively about their interpretations and judgments of their own and others' works. [Tabular Data Omitted]

Understanding artists' expressions

The third problem is the lack of knowledge most people have about how artists express themselves through art. The art of the past and present is a vast resource for understanding different viewpoints people have about life. Yet many people are closed to this heritage. For example, most people, when looking at James Whistler's painting of his mother, see only an elderly woman seated in a chair. They fail to experience the carefully composed arrangement of black and gray rectangles that give the painting its classical, calm feeling and harmonious design. In school, students need frequent encounters with works of art and artists in order to learn how artists work with media and discover ideas. In this way, we can help solve the lack of public understanding about our art heritage.

Understanding scholar's responses

Viewers of a work of art often ask, "What does it mean?" In a very real sense, what a work of art means is a combination of what the artist created and the viewer's own thoughts about art and life. In other words, the meaning of a work of art results from an interaction between the artist's expression and the viewer's personal response.

The viewer's personal response to any work of art can be influenced by art critics, historians and aestheticians. They are as much responsible for creating our art heritage as the artists. The problem is that many people are unaware of how scholars respond to art.

Critics, historians and aestheticians use rich and precise language for analyzing the qualities of artworks and for interpreting their meanings. The writing of art scholars can serve as a model for using expressive language and metaphor in responding to aesthetic objects and events.

Awareness of art in society

We see art all around us: in public buildings, churches and synagogues; in billboard and magazine advertisements; in bumper stickers and T-shirts; in television and films. Not only are these forms and images expressions of artists' personal ideas and feelings, they are also expressions of society's beliefs and values. They express us. Loaded with subtle but powerful symbolic meanings, they also affect our attitudes about everything: freedom, religion, business, authority, even sex. Although they are pervasive, their social messages are often hidden. Many times we are not even aware of them.

This is the fifth problem: many people are not able to read their visual environment. They are insensitive to the ways in which they are affected by visual forms. Consequently, they become vulnerable to control by forces they cannot understand or change. As consumers of images, as well as things, they are victims. As makers of images, they are merely perpetuators of cultural stereotypes.

We can help students develop the sensitivities and knowledge to decipher meanings embodied in their visual environment. When our students study art in society, they will become people who understand themselves more fully. Their sense of personal and social identity will be enhanced. They will then more likely gain control over who they are, what they believe in, what they value and what they create.

Awareness of society's response

Each day many decisions are made to erect buildings, put up billboards, let slums grow, build freeways, construct public sculptures. How are these decisions made? Who makes them? Unfortunately, the artistic, political and economical decisions that bring art in society into being are little understood by most citizens.

In making these decisions, widely different standards for judging art come into play. What you like or don't like depends on your age, your education, religion, nationality and sex. These differences sometimes lead to conflicts over different conceptions of the public interest, who should be allowed to see what, what kind of buildings can be built and where, and what criteria are appropriate for judging works of art. Thus, the sixth critical problem is to find ways in which diverse, even contradictory, artistic judgments can be brought into harmony for the greatest social and individual good.

In art classes, students can study the variety of possible ways different people interpret and judge art. They can find out what people in the community think about billboards, architecture and environmental sculpture. And in the process, they become more understanding and flexible in their own responses. They are, after all, very soon going to be making decisions that determine the look and feel, the limitations and the possibilities of the world we all work and live in.

The Ohio Art Curriculum Implementation


Ohio's approach to addressing these six problems is through a Balanced Comprehensive Art Curriculum. This curriculum is built on six major goals.

What can students learn?

In the Ohio Balanced Comprehensive Art Curriculum, students can develop various means of personal expression by learning to create their own works of art. This we already teach them to do quite well. Beyond that, students can develop a personal response to art through learning to talk articulately and sensitively to one another. They can also find out about their art heritage by studying how artists express themselves and the manner in which art scholars respond to works of art. And, in an area left almost untouched in art classes, students can learn about art in society by discovering the many ways in which art forms express society's values and beliefs, and how various people in society respond to works of art.

What is an art curriculum for? It can put more artistry in people's lives. It can help them in their search for self-identity. It can help them experience more meaningfully the aesthetic objects around them, and to communicate the experience to others with greater sensitivity and understanding. An art curriculum can give students the tools they need for living in the world of the future. Instead of being helpless victims of visual images in their lives and blind perpetrators of their collective past, our students can become the imaginative, creative and articulate consumers, creators and builders of the future.

PHOTO : Looking at art and communicating their personal responses to it should be an integral part of every student's experience in the artroom.

PHOTO : Many people lack artistry in their lives - a sense of their creative selves. Encouraging all levels of students to express themselves in the artroom can fill that need throughout students' lives.

Jerry Tollifson is the Art Education Consultant for the Ohio Department of Education, Columbus, Ohio.
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Title Annotation:educational and artistic curricula
Author:Tollifson, Jerry
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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