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Giving Art As a Discipline the Recognition It Deserves
A review by Daniel L. Berek
Plato, in his Republic, decreed that art should be a part of everyone's education. He may have been drawing upon Pythagoras's philosophy that the arts have the power to heal. In the US, it was John Dewey who, in his 1916 classic "Democracy and Education," stated that art needed to go beyond “the stimulations of eccentric fancy and emotional indulgences,” and be available to everyone, including the laboring classes. “Education has no more serious responsibility than making adequate provision for enjoyment of recreative leisure; not only for the sake of immediate health, but still more if possible for the sake of its lasting effect upon habits of mind. Aft is again the answer to this demand.” Professor Dewey went on, in 1934, to elaborate on his theory on the importance of art in education for all people in "Art as Experience." However, in most elementary and high schools art either languished as a recreational activity to produce decorative crafts or as a nice, but not critically necessary activity reserved for students with a talent for creating works. With much fanfare, the controversial 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" underscored the need for school reform, especially in the sciences and mathematics. However, the document also spurred the creation of national and state standards for what is being taught, especially in those subjects deemed "the basics." Author W. Dwaine Greer argues that art should be one of the basic subjects on the same level as the sciences, mathematics, and language arts. Long a proponent of Discipline-Based Art Instruction (DBAE), a project sponsored by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, art is a discipline in itself. What art does is to provide a meaningful visual context in which to recall and apply ideas in other disciplines; it must go beyond rote learning and recalling facts or works of art and enable students to apply their knowledge and experience to new situations both within school and beyond it. Lady Liberty, for example, is not only a work of art, it also evokes in students important ideas and concepts, that is, freedom and what it means to be an American. Although the chapters on establishing a DBAE program, how the existing program came to be, and national standards movements might be dated or less relevant than when the book was published, they do contain some valuable ideas about the place of art in the overall curriculum. The short section on Goals 2000 can be skipped over; after all, does anyone still remember that document? Where the book is strong is in its advocacy of multicultural education and the role art can play. The reader should be aware of another movement in art education, Teaching Artistic Behavior; though it was a movement since the 1970s and in existence during the DBAE reforms, it did not become an official teaching organization until 2001, four years after this book was published. Nevertheless, for an overview of teaching art and recognizing it as a discipline worthy on its own, it does make a good case.