Book Review: Current Streams in American Art Education

Art education is not among the primary concerns of the educational system. One of the difficulties, if it may be called so, is the great variety of arts in which one can be educated. The history of art itself is fragmented. Furthermore, modern technology has led to developments toward cinema, photography, video and visual arts of a technological type. We should not forget that all the arts have a rather complex technological base, so much so that the word “art” comes from the action of the artisan, i.e. “someone who can use the proper tools”. As Elena Polyudova observes, though, in all times and today as well peculiar generational features exist and some educational factors are typical of a specific historical period.

Thanks to her Russian origin, the author can observe the educational system from the outside. She tries to define and confine it in order to study it in depth, thus enacting a process of epoché and allowing for a suspension of judgement. Aiming for a better understanding, the scholar decides not to compare two different systems but just to describe the American system of art education. She immediately places it in medias res by considering only the sociological approaches of the new century. This position allows her to immediately approach the aesthetic experience currently present in the U.S.A. and, through it, to look at socialization and visual culture appearing as the new generations’ main features, and also to include what the scholar calls “museum pedagogy”.

The difficulties in choosing a school for one’s children start from pre-school education (for both fees and programmes). The systems most frequently found on the market for this age group are Montessori and Waldorf. Additionally, school services for early childhood are dissimilar from place to place. In more urbanised and richer areas there is a wider array of pre-school services (and they may also be specifically tailored for different cultures). In other cases there is a more limited offer even as regards the vehicular languages, English and Spanish. The use of specific words also clarifies the tendency to have an umbrella term such as “visual arts”, comprising drawing, painting, sculpture and other forms of crafts. “Performing arts” is another term that includes several types of performing activities (dance and theatre). Then there are “musical arts”, namely instrumental music and choir. All these forms are present at all levels of the educational system.

In the current world, the boundaries between disciplines and skills are no longer rigid, but depend rather on objectives and assessments that are transitory, constructed and revocable. Besides sizeable and flexible cognitive maps, an individual also needs tools to develop, enlarge and restructure them or to increase their powers of discrimination. All human knowledge, and therefore artistic knowledge as well, are subject to acceleration and globalization and consequently also to unpredictability, both in themselves as a whole and in their relations. The complexity of current society is generated by a fragmentation of specialist contents and a subdivision of the different disciplines with their contents, but a growing interdependency is becoming visible among the same disciplines. Education in the time of complexity is then very difficult and for students of every age and school level, cognitive opportunities have now multiplied and differentiated, exceeding the boundaries of any area of learning that the school may reasonably define.

In writing her book, Polyudova abandons comparisons and instead presents a study of the American system where she highlights constant change and focuses on the sociological changes occurring in education in the 21st century. The term “aesthetic experience” taken from Dewey was replaced by ideas such as socialization, visual culture and museum experience. We must not forget that art education is included in the standards of practical skills that are useful for general education and socialization. These standards view arts as interests in the scale of hobbies and supplementary activities present in daily life. As a result, the process of integrating art education becomes a pleasant time to be enjoyed, a bonus of skills for the practice of social adaptation.

Humanitarian subjects as well as the arts present a multicultural educational background whose main objective is creating a special educational context with a neutral topic to study. This is precisely where several issues collide, the first one being the ethnic origin of the different groups. The author examines the artistic training called California Art Standards, one of the examples that present a multicultural environment in the U.S. In California 30% of the population is non-native and made up of sixteen different nationalities. Here Polyudova (page 20) observes: “Not surprisingly, the Standards of this multicultural state modify the Federal Standards from the perspective of the state’s environment”. The reason for this is that performing arts provide children with a way of understanding themselves and the world, their personal experience is useful for creating and communicating through art. The point is the switch from the educational model based on the aesthetic approach (the contents), existing in the 20th century, to the social approach introduced by current standards. “Hence, modern American art education, current for the modern time, having deep and developed traditions in aesthetic education, is changing its direction toward using arts for teaching practical management and social skills in a multicultural society” (page 21). It is important for the teacher to become a facilitator who sustains the whole process of creativity and professional development and intertwines it as a support for the student’s personal goals. Many students use their creative potential in preparation for art college. Furthermore, a high percentage of high school students acknowledges that studying art provides some relaxed enjoyment in their otherwise stressful school life.

As a conclusion we can highlight how in her work Elena Polyudova suggests, with curiosity and intelligence, that we do not limit ourselves to assessing similarities and differences, since differences are often not relevant at first sight, and instead take a different perspective, that of the outsider who “does not judge and evaluate because his or her intention is to ponder on a system in an attempt to understand”. The author wants “to make a narrative analysis rather than give the reader comparisons” (page 1).

Reviewed by Mariselda Tessarolo, Senior Scholar of the Studium Patavinum and previously Full Professor of Sociology of Cultural and Communication Processes at the University of Padua

Current Streams in American Art Education is available now, and can be purchased directly from Cambridge Scholars by clicking here.


Editorial Advisory Board’s ‘Recommended Read’ – May 2018

This month, our Editorial Advisory Board member Professor Clara Sarmento has chosen her ‘Recommended Read’: one of our most exciting publications from 2017. Clara is currently the director of the Centre for Intercultural Studies of the Polytechnic Institute of Porto, where she is a Full Professor with Tenure, member of the Consulting Board, and director of the MA programs in Specialized Translation and Interpreting and in Intercultural Studies for Business. She is a world renowned expert in the fields of Anglo-American and Portuguese literature and culture, anthropology, cultural and intercultural studies, and gender studies. Continue reading

Meet our Authors: Penelope McElwee – March 2018

After a number of years working in the fashion industry as a designer and pattern cutter, including management of both retail and wholesale elements of the trade, Penelope McElwee decided to follow her passion for art and architecture. She embarked on a BA degree around these subjects with the Open University, UK, and followed this with two Master’s degrees from Birkbeck College, UCL, and the Open University. In both instances her theses revolved around the white modern architecture of 1920s and 1930s France. The final culmination of her studies was the challenge of a PhD through Warnborough College, for whom she has additionally written several articles for their journal.

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Event: Leonardo and The Virgin of the Rocks | London, 8th March 2018

Leonardo and The Virgin of the Rocks

Thursday 8th March, 7.00 PM-9.00 PM

Godolphin & Latymer School, Hammersmith, London

Katy Blatt discusses her recently published book, ‘Leonardo da Vinci and The Virgin of the Rocks: One Painter, Two Virgins, Twenty-Five Years’ (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). Leonardo completed fewer than twenty paintings during his lifetime, yet he returned twice to the same mysterious subject: The Virgin of the Rocks. In this discussion, Katy will argue that this one commission holds the key to the most dramatic scientific, philosophical, and psychological transformations of Leonardo’s life.

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Book Announcement: Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect

Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect now available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Hardback, pp280, £61.99 / $99.95

Cambridge Scholars Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect by Malcolm Millais.

This is not a book for architects, but for all those that have suffered, consciously and unconsciously, from modern architecture and have wondered how it came about. This was largely due to one man, an architect called Le Corbusier. Continue reading

Book Announcement: The Post-Industrial Landscape as Site for Creative Practice: Material Memory

The Post-Industrial Landscape as Site for Creative Practice: Material Memory now available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Paperback, pp199, £57.99 / $98.95

Cambridge Scholars Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of The Post-Industrial Landscape as Site for Creative Practice: Material Memory, edited by Gwen Heeney.

This book brings together experts in the fields of art history, visual arts, music, cultural geography, curatorial practice and landscape architecture to explore the role of material memory in the post-industrial landscape and the ways in which that landscape can act as a site for many forms of creative practice. It examines the role of material memory in the siting of public artworks and politically inspired installation art within the socio-economic post-industrial landscape. The post-industrial ruin as a place for innovation in the curatorial process is also investigated, as are social memory and the complexities of inscribing memory into places. A number of chapters focus on photography and its important role in recording memory as transformation, abandonment and erosion. Artists and musicians present personal case studies examining the siting of permanent and temporary artworks which can invoke memory of both culture and place. The land itself and its associated histories of post-industry are explored in artistic terms investigating dislocation, wasted spaces and extinction. Landscape architects and cultural geographers explore the aesthetic of the urban ruin, its natural and human ecologies and the re-wilding of urban spaces. The volume provokes discussion by a group of diverse experts on a very contemporary subject. Continue reading