The Death of Art Education (Ep. 013)

In this episode, Andrew shines a light on a pretty serious and worrying thought… the death of art education. While this may seem a bit melodramatic, there are serious shifts underway that are undermining and changing the status quo of art education. Right off the bat, Andrew brings on special guest Danny Gregory whose blog post, “Let’s Get Rid of Art Education in Schools,” had the art teaching world all worked up.

Love it or hate it, the article brings up some interesting points and got Andrew and fellow Art Ed Radio podcast host, Tim Bogatz, thinking about the current reality of art education (7:30). Tim and Andrew discuss advocacy strategies and how art teachers can take a stance in the face of shifting paradigms to champion our programs, whether these programs are more traditional or new and more inclusive to the world outside art (13:50). Full episode transcript below.

 

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Transcript

Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick. Wait a second. Do you hear that sound? It’s the winds of change blowing off in the distance. It’s faint, but I think it could be the end, the end of art education as we know it. Okay, now maybe I’m being a little melodramatic here, but I don’t think that there are very many art teachers out there that have been teaching for ten plus years, twenty for sure, that would argue that art education isn’t shifting. There’s so many new paradigms and charges out there. Stuff we talked about last week, STEM, STEAM, PBL, arts integration, or maybe even, you think about the new National Core Arts Standards, which I love and I think they add a lot of freedom, but those can be a little intimidating to a lot of people.

Add to this the almost guaranteed yearly battle over ever-dwindling art budgets and then state and national educational policies that favor drill and kill tactics and standardized testing instead of true, creative endeavors and real learning. It’s easy to understand why so many art teachers are feeling besieged. Many art teachers are looking out at the current educational landscape, and we don’t really recognize the state of art education right now. Whatever happened to just doing lessons because we like them? Doggone it, if it was good enough for me back in high school, it’s good enough for these kids now.

Whatever happened to art for art’s sake? That can’t be enough anymore. I won’t pretend to know all the answers, but I do know this. As the world around us changes in the face of technology and the new need for creative problem solvers, art education is and will be changing whether you want it to or not. Now it’s time to think about your stance and your advocacy in the face of this shifting reality. I want to circle back on something I said just a second ago about how important creativity is. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to talk with Danny Gregory.

Danny: My name is Danny Gregory. I’m not an art teacher, but I love art teachers. I’m an author. I’m an artist. I’m a blogger. I’m a podcaster. I’m a  bon vivant and boulevardier.

Andrew: Danny is the author of countless books on the importance of creativity. His new book is titled, “Shut Your Monkey: How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Done.” Great title, by the way. Now, Danny recently wrote an article on his blog that set the art education world on fire, and I wanted to get him on to see what he thought about the current state of art education.

Danny: I worry about art education because I see it being cut left, right, and center. I think it is not really relevant to the lives of most kids who are spending their days with their noses stuck in an iPad. Why do they need to use charcoal? Why do they need to use gouache? How does that really fit in? Are they going to carry that forward? I think there’s so many opportunities for are to make a difference in people’s lives, but I feel like the traditional ways of teaching art feel outmoded and irrelevant to the kind of kids I see everyday.

Andrew: As I think about my own understanding of the state of art education, I don’t think it’s really dead, but business as usual, and what we thought of art education previously, if it’s not dead, it’s totally changed and it’s still changing. Specifically, I want to talk about what are those paradigms that are giving us a million little cuts. If you think about us being dead, it’s death by a million cuts. Then secondly, what is the secret to having the best of both worlds? A traditional style and a new style? Here’s the secret, it’s advocacy and taking a stand whatever that stand may be. I think this podcast episode is going to get a lot of us thinking deeply about where we’re at and where the future of art education is now.

In that vein, I’m really excited to share that I will be presenting at the Art Ed Now conference this July 14th. I don’t want this to come off as a shameless plug. Really, I do think that if you enjoy this topic, you will enjoy my presentation called “How to Make Your Art Room More 21st-Century Ready.” We’re going to take some time and really talk about and dissect how to make a classroom that’s more inclusive of the four Cs: creativity, critical thought and problem solving, complex communication, and collaboration. Head on over to theartofed.com and click on the conference tab and you could get in on some of that ridiculously awesome early bird pricing of just $99. Oh, and Tim’s presenting as well, too.

Right off the top, I talked about all the little educational directions that while great, really can undermine and erode how we formerly ran our art education programs. STEAM, PBL, arts integration, while they’re great, they really are changing what and how and why we teach. SLOs and standards-based grading and 21st century skills and the National Core Art Standards, all so great, but also a little bit disorienting and confusing for a lot of teachers out there. These new ways of thinking about art education really are more about mindsets and dispositions and less about skill sets and low-level learning like memorizing and regurgitating facts. While I believe this ought to come naturally to art teachers, I think many of us still really like teaching and assessing skills as assessing skills is way easier than assessing actual learning. It’s that whole debate of process versus product. Assessing a process can be a little bit more tricky.

All of these factors can make it feel like the ground beneath our feet is disintegrating, but fear not. I’m here today to tell you that you need to take a stand and you need to advocate for yourself and your program. Now, everyone’s current reality is a little bit different. If you really love all the lessons you do, and you really love teaching skills and using principles and elements, that’s fine. That’s great, but you’d better work it. You’d better be able to advocate for what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and show how what you do fits into the new educational directives that are being set forward by your district. If you want to be more inclusive of these factors that are changing the face of art education, you can do that as well, but on the flip side, don’t just do that because it’s new and shiny. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What are the students really learning, and how am I assessing this learning?” and ultimately, “How am I sharing what my students are learning?”

Let’s face it. The death of art education may very well occur when there are too many quality art teachers out there who don’t share the vital work that we’re doing. We don’t have the luxury of being a core teacher that can just take for granted that our discipline and our jobs and the learning that we impart on our students will always be in favor. We need to prove that our existence is important all the time. This is a job that we need to be up for or art education and creativity will wither up and die.

All right, so let’s bring on the mortician, the undertaker, the glitter-hating grim reaper himself, Tim.

Tim: Hey, how are you doing tonight, Andrew?

Andrew: Good. I’m doing good. Hey man, we are dying to hear, pun intended there, what would you say is the state of art education now? Are we dead? Are we vibrant and kicking? Up against a rope? On life support? Where are we at?

Tim: Man, I would hope we’re not dead because that’s bad news for all of us listening to this right now. I don’t know. I feel like we are still strong. I feel like we’re still going well, and at some point I think art education is starting to get into that danger zone where we have become more marginalized and it seems to be going that way even more, unfortunately. At the same time, I feel like our community is still really vibrant, like the art education community, and there’s so much sharing and there’s so many good things going on that it really makes me feel like we’ve got a lot of strength in numbers, I guess, and a lot of good things going on when you look at it that way.

Andrew: That’s an interesting point that I never thought about. It’s like, you might feel marginalized in some things. Maybe it’s your budget or you’ve got a crappy schedule, but to think about your PLN and your community and just how rich that can be, so it’s like as one thing kind of is shrinking, the other thing might be growing and really feeding your curriculum or everything you do.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely, and I think one of the cool things with that, let’s say your budget gets cut and that sucks. There’s no two ways about it, but at the same time, it’s so much easier now to find someone else that has gone through that or find someone else that has experience with that, and if you can learn from their experience, you can do some things that really allow you to thrive even if the odds are stacked against you a little bit. If administration sees you surviving and even thriving despite that, they’re going to realize what a quality teacher they have and they’ll be more willing to go to bat for you. I think if we can just share those experiences and help each other get through each of those things then I think in the long run we’ll be much better off for that.

Andrew: You’ve been teaching for a few more years than I have. We had to debate this off air because I’m technically older but you’re wiser I think is how we would say this. How have you seen art ed change since you started your career?

Tim: I think, I don’t know if it’s necessarily changed as much as it has just kind of grown. Again, if we go back to that idea of all the sharing that’s happening and all the resources that are out there, I feel like just as a whole we are significantly better teachers because it’s so much easier to talk to each other and to reference what each other are doing and to share what we’re doing with each other. I remember when I first started teaching, it was so tough to find good ideas whether that be just a few websites that had things out there or maybe a few books here and there. Most of it was just stuff that either you had done yourself back in high school or as an undergrad or whatever else, or you just had to come up with something completely new, and there’s no in-between there.

Now resources are so abundant. There are so many places to go, so many things that you can do that I think we’re all better teachers because of it because there’s so many different ideas out there. It’s so easy to find those ideas and it’s so easy to share your own ideas that I feel like the rising tide lifts all boats cliché I guess, but when we all do a little bit better and share what we are doing to make ourselves better, in turn, all of the other teachers are better as well. I feel like art education as a whole has really strengthened over, I don’t know, I want to say the past seven or eight years.

Andrew: That’s interesting. I think a lot of that that we’re talking about is made possible by technology and how easy and quick it is, but I think of technology honestly as this double-edged sword. It’s great in a lot of ways, but then it can also be detrimental to our program. Thinking about the rise of new educational paradigms out there whether it’s STEM, STEAM, PBL, whether it’s arts integration, whether it’s just a district being nuts, head over heels about standardized testing which in the last twenty years, accountability and data and all this stuff, so there’s all of these educational paradigms. Do you feel like your program or other programs around there have been eroded by all those different things and they’ve kind of like nicked and cut art education with a million little cuts?

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say, honestly. I think that’s something that everybody needs to think about and realize how we fit in. I guess ideally everyone has their own program that just does art for art’s sake and people appreciate it as that is, but in reality, if we’re looking at it pragmatically, that’s not necessarily the case. There’s so many points where you can’t just do art for art’s sake. To make your program survive, to make it fit in, to make it be valuable, a lot of times we’re almost forced into these things where as much as we’d love to just let our kids have all of these tactile experiences and not worry about technology but instead throw on the potter’s wheel and mix some paint and smear some graphite all over the place, that isn’t necessarily where we can go with that because you need to because of administration, because of outside pressures, fit into that STEAM program or fit into that arts integration category, and it makes it difficult to make arts stand alone, but at the same time, what choice do you have? If you’re being asked to do this or being pushed into doing something like that, isn’t art combined with something else better than no art at all?

Andrew: Right. Thinking about appropriate stances in the face of these paradigms that could possibly erode away at your program … I mean, you’ve talked really well about that that we may not be able to save art for art’s sake, but do you feel like we really have to change what we do or do we just have to talk about it and advocate for it better than we have before? It used to be we were just like, “Well, we’re the art department!” But now it’s like, we’re the art department and we have to explain how and what and why we do better than we’ve had to in the past, or are we shifting everything?

Tim: I think it depends on how you want to play the game because, like I said, for each teacher it’s a little different figuring out where you’re going to fit in because that changes from school to school, from district to district, but you need to figure out where your program fits, what you can do best. Then, like you said, sometimes it’s about changing what you do, but sometimes it’s just about explaining what you do better because there’s so few people out there that really understand exactly what we do in the art room and exactly what the benefits are of art. What are we teaching our kids? If we sometimes can just explain what we’re doing and show how it fits in, like, we’re already doing these things and here’s how this fits with what you’re looking for. Sometimes just a good explanation like that, a good form of advocacy like that can really show how you can collaborate, how you can fit in without necessarily changing what you do.

For some teachers, maybe they do want to try and fit in a little bit more. Maybe they want to change … Maybe they want to incorporate more technology or more science to be a part of that STEAM program, whatever it may be. Like I said, I think it’s just up to the individual teacher where in some cases it may be the advocacy effect where you’re just trying to show what you do already and how it fits in, but for other teachers, it may be that you want or that you need to change with the times and get involved with whatever philosophy may be coming. I think it’s just a matter of playing to your own strengths and playing to the strengths of your program.

Andrew: Yeah, and knowing your audience. I’ve always likened being an art teacher to being a comedian. You’ve got to know is this going to work or not? The teachers out there listening to this, they know they’re building, their district, their administrators better. They know what’s going fly and what they need to do to stake their claim and this is what I do. Is it a complete revamp and like, “I’m ditching everything I’ve done before in the face of this new shift of stuff,” whatever that stuff is or is it like, “I’m going to really just talk about how what I do fits what we’re doing now better than I’ve done before,” so that’s interesting.

You’re bringing up a specific thing because we’ve been saying this a couple times, art for art’s sake. Do you feel like … This is a really weird and impractical question, but do you feel like you have a percentage of your curriculum that you feel is art for art’s sake and then the other stuff where it’s like, “Well, I better hit this and when I do this it kind of hits that.” Do you have a percentage of that?

Tim: I don’t know that I do because I guess the way I look at this is art is so flexible and art is so versatile that whatever we want it to do, it can do. It may be a part of a bigger curriculum or it may be something specific to our room, but if you look hard enough, you can probably find what you’re looking for. It may be the lessons you teach or the way you teach them, they probably fit into whatever outside philosophies we’re looking at or whatever outside things that are being put on you, you can find something that you already do to fit in with those philosophies or to fit in with those programs.

I guess the biggest thing for me with that is like I said, just looking at what you want from your program. If you can find the right things and present them the right way then I feel like you can fit in with whatever you may need to do, whatever program, whatever direction it may be going. There should be enough in the lessons that you teach or the things that you do with your kids that you can probably fit in just about anywhere. I think the versatility of art allows us to pick and choose what and how we present and figure out how that’s going to fit in.

Andrew: Thinking about different tracks of art education, because I think the question of is art education dead, that’s kind of … It’s dependent on who you are and for some people it’s alive and vibrant. Some people it’s like, “Gosh, I’m really feeling undercut,” but I do feel like there’s a … We’re kind of talking about two different tracks of art education, what we could consider to be traditional and art for art’s sake and someone who’s looking at it new and fresh and like “What can I do to accommodate x, y, and z?” How do you feel like teachers, because this is tricky, advocate for their program without undermining or delegitimizing people who are in the other track? Does that make sense?

Tim: Yeah, I think so. I think more than anything we just need to stand up for what we’re doing. Like I said, there are probably a lot of people that are interested in fitting in with other programs and interested in integrating more, but there are a lot of us that really do just want to teach art. I think the biggest thing that we can do with that is just, I don’t know, what I call the big three, creativity and higher-order thinking and problem solving and all of these sorts of skills that are constantly being developed in the art room. That’s what everybody’s looking for in just about every subject. I feel like we do that best and whether you are doing the art for art’s sake or looking for the new, more integrated approach, we still have those skills that are developed with creativity, with problem solving, with higher-order thinking skills. No matter which track you take, those are skills that are necessary. Those skills are in demand right now and however you want to advocate for them, hey, we are doing those better than anyone else.

Andrew: That’s great. That’s been coming up a lot on our episodes. What the school districts say they want everyone to be doing, we do better than anyone else. It’s high time that we start saying that and sharing that and promoting and highlighting that and that’s how I think you’re going to have a program that is not up against the ropes, not on life support but alive and vibrant and kicking and just being the poster child for what art can do for students.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of times it is just, I don’t know if I want to say cheerleading, but just saying and showing what we do best. Say, “Hey, these are the skills you’re looking for. You want creativity? You want problem solving? You want higher-order thinking skills? Those are inherent with every single thing that we teach. What we do everyday are those three things. It fits with our subject matter. It fits with art better than anywhere else.” If districts and administrators are looking for those things, we need to show them they can find them in our classrooms every single day.

Andrew: Yeah. Hey man, good stuff. I think we should end it there because you just transformed my opinion of you from this doom and gloom curmudgeon to then you in a cheerleading uniform.

Tim: I don’t think anyone needs to think about that.

Andrew: Probably not. Watch in about a week or so. It will be an Internet meme. Tim Bogatz as cheerleader. All right man, take it easy.

Tim: That’s a good place to leave it there. Thank you.

Andrew: All right, bye. I really hope this episode doesn’t bum anyone out, but I think it’s hard to find anyone out there that would argue that we need to keep doing things like we’ve always done it for the last thirty, twenty, or even ten years. There are too many factors in play that make it so that we can’t just bury our heads in the sand. Number one, take stock of your reality, and then grow. Evolve. Look at ways to adopt new philosophies and new strategies to be more inclusive of all the new educational directives out there. Do the things that our constituents say they want. If they want creativity, if they want problem solving, how do we craft an art education program that provides that and that does that.

You know what? Or don’t do that, but if you don’t do that and you stick to your guns and you double down and you say, “This is what I do,” you’ve got to advocate for what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is super important and super vital. I want to throw it back one more time to Danny to see what he’d like to see happen with the future of art education.

Tim: I’d like to see art education turn into creativity education. Creativity is crucial to our survival as a species, to every aspect of our culture and our economy. We need to teach kids how to collaborate, how to solve problems, how to use their imaginations, how to draw inspiration from lots of different sources, and I feel like there’s no part of the curriculum that includes that. Why couldn’t what used to be called art education turn into that and how crucial and central it would be to kids, to culture, to our society, to the future.

Andrew: Art Ed Radio is developed, produced and supported by the Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. If you want to support the show and you enjoy what we’re doing please subscribe on iTunes, subscribe, leave some comments, and write a review as that really does help us reach new awesome listeners. New episodes of Art Ed Radio will be released every Tuesday and additional content can be found under the podcast tab on theartofed.com. Thanks for listening!

2 years ago
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  • Meredith

    I really like this topic (well really all the heavy topics, you guys hit on a few), mostly because I have been dealing with it in my own HS art room. How do you keep the creativity going when I feel like creativity is dying off? Students have a virtual museum at their fingertips, they want to copy whatever they are looking at on deviant art, instagram or their tumblr feed- they honestly don’t have to leave their house to access art. I feel this wide world of technology that we have bought into is killing the desire to be great and have new ideas.
    I’m actually having my Art 1 students do a paint/mixed media process based workshop right now- the phones are down and the project thus far has been grab the media and make “art for the joy of making art” with beginning of class prompts and techniques that I am facilitating. This is proving to be one of the best lessons of the year (and we’re towards the end with 16 days left) Where was this magic on September one? It’s like one of those lessons where you can feel the vibe in the room and you know you’re nailing it with the lesson. As I said before- where was this on day one and how can I keep this momentum going?
    I heard someone saying on the radio the other day, things change just as quickly as they stay the same. Does that tie into something like, remember the history of what we have been doing so that we can move forward boldly into a changed world of art ed. I want to embrace technology, and I do most of the time, My room is a phone friendly room, students can copy/alter/change/rip off and etc. But somewhere I have this disconnect between authentic art and copy art, which leads to less creativity. Doesn’t the act of merely using a material that you don’t have access to in any other class, lead to creativity or build on a skill?
    I feel like i am rambling, but I do know one thing, I am going to be thinking about my current methods and revamping some things over the summer.

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