International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 6 Review 2

May 5, 2005

Eisner, E. W. & Day, M. D. (Eds.). (2004). Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education: A Project of the National Art Education Association. Mahwah, N. J.:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

888 pp.
$89.95     ISBN 0-8058-4972-6

Reviewed by Teresa Cotner
California State University, San Bernardino

Teacher education occupies most of my professional focus. In these times of standards-based education, my pre-service art education students repeatedly ask one question at different points along their personal trajectories toward appropriating the norms—old and new—of the arts teaching profession: "Why?" "Why do we teach art history in a studio class?" "Why do I need to understand constructivism and deconstruction to teach high school art?" And "Why should I use new terms like‘cultural heritage’ and ‘visual culture’?" The Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education, edited by Elliot Eisner and Michael Day, addresses these questions. It is a comprehensive and welcome addition to the existing literature that I reach for in response to the "Why?" questions. It provides me with responses to prospective arts teachers that are by no means the last word on the subject but nevertheless can begin confidently with, "Because . . ."

The Handbook begins with Histories; continues with Policy, Learning, Teaching, and Assessment; and ends with Emerging Visions of the Field. Each of the 36 chapters is a current review, reflection, and analysis regarding what we know and what we need to think about in the field of art education. The histories are a fresh and enlightening beginning to the text. The end is a collection of eclectic and dynamic visions of the present and future. What lies in between is a diverse collection of papers accommodating and explicating conflicts concerning artistic cognition, philosophies of and revolutions in pedagogy, and assessment. The authors include the field's time-tested and trusted elders, the edgy voices of new leadership, and powerful voices of relative fledglings in the field. In all, the Handbook is a testament to the magnitude, significance, diversity, and resilience of the related fields of arts education and arts-based education research.

As mentioned above, the Handbook provides answers to "Why?" questions. If you seek answers to "How?" questions, you will not necessarily find those here. The editors are clear in their stated purpose: This volume is "an assertion that the field of art education has a body of scholarship" that can contribute "not only to change but also to improvement." The Handbook is not intended to “serve as a body of fixed conclusions" (p. 2). As has always been the case in art education, and many will say should always be, the Handbook leaves the answers to "How?" questions to each educator or researcher.

I enjoyed reading the Handbook. It left me with an overwhelming feeling of pride in being a member of this field. To review this text is a formidable task and I will not attempt to summarize each chapter. Rather, in the spirit of the text itself, I will put forth ideas on how the text might serve the art education community—in particular, how scholars, teacher educators, and anyone with a budding interest in art education might put the Handbook to use.

The first section of the Handbook is on the history of the field. In the first chapter Chalmers asks each of us to think about why we teach the history of the field. He discusses several positions in response to that question. As a teacher educator who consistently includes a history of the field in her syllabi, I find myself now reexamining my reasons for this inclusion, and asking, "What history do prospective teachers need to know, and why?" Chalmers reminds us that there is no one history of art education and that research on the history of art education continually redefines the history of the field. The following chapters in this section do just that. The authors take fresh looks at the 19th and 20th centuries in art education and offer contemporary interpretations. In these chapters, we get an idea of how the times we live in affect what we teach about art and how we frame it for our students.

The Handbook’s section on policy may make you dispirited or even angry, and then ready to do the work needed to continue to keep art in our schools. Federal, state, and local education policy can overwhelm the field and force us down paths not of our choosing. In the face of policy we are sometimes like the Chinese student who stood in the path of oncoming tanks in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989, and would not budge. In one soul-searching chapter, Gee writes,

The harsh truth is that arts education when compared to other societal needs and political interests is not and will not ever be an educational or social welfare priority for state or local governments or for most people of influence. There are simply too many more pressing claims on public or private resources. Arts education advocates promise a fantastic and unattainable assortment of returns in exchange for a fantastic and unavailable span of investment. (p.130)

The views of Gee and others in this section can come across as harsh truths, yet they also provide the call to action that this field may need to maintain presence in American education.

In the policy section of the Handbook you will find the most up-to-date reviews and meta-analyses of art education policy available in one volume. We would all do well to take a close look at them. In contrast to Gee, who is arguably quite correct in her sentiments, the authors of other chapters examine policies concerning effects of learning in art on learning in disciplines other than art. These chapters present a variety of possibilities for future arts education policy.

Research on learning in art is essential to the continued growth of the field. This section in the Handbook offers research-based rationales for why we teach art--and for what we know can happen for our students as a result--that are concrete without being prescriptive. Kindler problematizes the idea of “development in art” and “artistic development.” She reviews research in art education as well as in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. She suggests that artistic development is a cognitive domain that rather than belonging discretely to the field of art comprises cognitive processes across a range of kinds of experience that come together during artistic endeavors. In his chapter on infancy, Matthews investigates such intriguing topics as culture and race, intellectual realism and visual realism, Vygotsky and the interpersonal dimension of learning and development, and play. Some of the most widely known researchers in the area of child development--Wilson, Golumb, Zimmerman and Pariser, and Freeman--explore concerns that spring from their previous work: child art after modernism, three-dimensional artistic development, children’s aesthetic judgment, and artistic development in the gifted and talented child. We find in their chapters 21st century perspectives on age-old concerns. Wilson, for example, moves beyond explaining the tadpole figure to explaining its relationship to visual culture. Zimmerman and Pariser take us beyond recognition of talent and aptitude in art to thinking about what talent looks like in the work of the gifted student. In this century of pluralism, Freeman reminds us why it is important to teach our students that “with different types of pictures, determinants of beauty can be attributed to different variables” (p. 365). This section offers important, current insight into what counts as learning and knowledge in art: insight that can inform teachers' and teacher educators' work with one another, with our students, and with administrators and parents, thus strengthening the position of art in every school curriculum.

What should arts teachers know and be able to teach, and why? How can formal teacher education programs prepare prospective teachers to teach art well? In answer to such questions, the chapters in this section provide research-based recommendations. The topics covered include the demographics of art teacher education; recruitment, certification and retention; the practice of teaching in K-12 schools; the interaction of teaching and curriculum; contexts for teaching art; and teacher education as a field of study in art education. While I envision much of the Handbook to be a text I would like credential-earning masters students and doctoral students to read, the section on teacher education will most profoundly shape the way I teach my college students. This section includes compelling chapters from luminaries such as Erickson and Stokrocki. The chapter I found to offer the most practical information for art educators is the one by Galbraith and Grauer on demographics, which explores the importance of who future teachers are, who their students will be, and what future teachers must do to achieve certification or licensure.

Not surprisingly, the assessment section of the Handbook is riddled with tensions. These chapters show, however, that assessment can complement art and art education. The arts have largely tacit and evanescent norms by which the quality of work is determined. Assessment, expressed primarily as formal or informal criticism, has always been a foundation for how artists understand what they do well and not well. We do not conduct experiments employing established procedures by which we assess the merit of our work. We do not have a book like the volumes that detail current consensus on matters of syntax, mechanics, and usage to tell us when to use the sienna crayon and when to use the burnt umber. The Handbook offers a history of assessment in the arts, including extensive material regarding high stakes testing, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and peer and self assessment. Emerging voices, such as those of Soep and Myford; the familiar voice of Boughton; and the voices of testing specialists Persky and Sims-Gunzenhauser are represented in this section. Among these chapters, the reader will find a combination of the playful and the practical in assessment. Soep, for example, writes that the relationship between art and assessment is “best characterized as awkward, if not overtly hostile” (p. 579) and then goes on to describe playful relationships between assessment and art, including visualizing the ineffable, telling stories, and peer assessment. In contrast, Myford and Sims-Gunzenhauser compare the evolution of the NAEP visual art assessment and the AP Studio Art assessment. These authors describe the practical roles of these two large-scale assessments, finding that both are, at the very least, convincing holograms of accountability (this author’s interpretation of Myford and Sims-Gunzenhauser) in these days when accountability is a high-profile national issue. Perhaps these well-designed holograms will satisfy.

The last section of the Handbook is on emerging visions. As it should, this section includes differing opinions representing the perceptions of a number of the most outspoken and prolific scholars in the field. After an introduction by Efland, Dobbs characterizes Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) from the inception of the concept during the 1960s, to the implementation of inservice DBAE workshops during the 1980s, to the unexpected withdrawal of support by the now-defunct Getty Education Institute during the late 1990s. Barrett offers an autobiographical narrative with the theme of the role, past and present, of art criticism. Efland illuminates theories concerned with imagination and cognition. Parsons examines the promise and perils of integration of art curriculum into the curriculum of the “core” academic subject areas: English language arts, social studies and history, mathematics, and science. Sullivan shares insight into the difficult-to-define realm of art asresearch. And Freedman and Stuhr put a period at the end of the Handbook with a chapter on their most recent thoughts concerning visual culture in art education in the 21st century. In light of several lively debates over visual culture at the 2005 NAEA convention in Boston—there was a suggestion made to change the name of our field to “Visual Culture Education”—this last chapter should not be skipped or skimmed.

This is a book every art educator should read and use. By assembling this host of scholarly essays, Eisner and Day have given the field of art education a comprehensive view of itself, a view both multifaceted and coherent. As new findings are voiced, over the next decade or so, I hope to see the Handbook revised so that it can continue to serve its intended purpose, to assert that the field of art education has a body of scholarship and to contribute to change and improvement in the field. I look forward to using this text in my work as a teacher educator and education researcher for years to come.

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