close philosophy

Applying the craft model in art education curriculum

The modern perspective of art history has not been an effective way to approach art education in a postmodern culture. The craft model is a valid approach because it approaches art history in context of individual cultural perspectives.

Reshaping some of the mainstream ideas in art education is a big job. Art educators have been working with new views on cognitive psychology since the 1950's and situated learning and culturally relevant teaching since the 1980's. As a result art education is moving away from the ever-narrowing grip of the 'Beaux Arts' mentality. Perpetuated since 1800 it is the 'fine arts' in art school establishments in Europe and the U.S. The problem, however, is it has been on a perpetual cycle of narrowing the meaning of art. As it exists today only the most elite are told they can understand. The fine art model is not able to serve schools that place value on embracing the entire community of students.

If art education is going to move beyond the fine art model then 'success' should be redefined in the professional fine art school and art departments in universities. The model for success in the arts should move away from the stereotype of fine artist painting at an easel creating work that patrons visit in a museum. Teachers and textbooks that focus on drawing, painting and modeling as the standard for professionals in the visual arts perpetuate the stereotype in the public schools. Successful art education should aim to produce artists and appreciators who understand art as part of human makeup and socially as a part of every culture. They should approach the discipline ready to connect art to the student's life world.

The fine art model dominates the content of many art history textbooks. White, European male artists are featured prominently while women; minority artists from the U.S. are placed in separate sections. World cultures and crafts are relegated to the back of the book. As the main resource in many art classes it perpetuates the narrow fine art perspective. Art history books that do not portray a tangible, real, living discipline to model in a classroom environment are in need of revision. The arts have to be taught through a new, relevant model of art history. It has to be able to connect with everyone. Art educators are using alternatives to the traditional art history textbooks. Edmund Burke Feldman's book, Variety of Visual Experiences, which is inclusive in its scope and relevant to student's life world, is one such book.

Another obstacle to art becoming a living and vibrant disciple in public schools are public schools who remain committed to traditional methods. They become sad, crumbling institutions with little relevance to their students and community. They do little to help students understand the opportunities in the arts. The insular effects of traditional methods make school a separate entity from life. What you learn outside school isn't allowed in and what you learn inside isn't used outside the school (Dewey 1949). So how do we create a 'flow' of ideas through the walls into the classroom? What can we do to connect the student to art history and art in their communities in a relevant way? How can we move beyond the concept of visiting art in a dusty state funded museum?

Using a new model to teach art based on the traditional crafts instead of the fine art models is valid for art education. (Feldman 1988) Its structure is inclusive rather than exclusive. It grows and expands to include rather than the fine art model, which restricts excluding more and more. Exchanging the fine art model for the craft model expands the traditional, narrow criteria of what can be considered art. The structure of the craft model is a well-organized group of human behaviors and social structures inherent in all cultures. It is the circle of human need, design of useful objects, organization of work, distribution of the work and satisfying consumption of the products of work (Feldman 1988). It provides a very broad framework in which to examine art. It is a framework that applies consistent criteria to any culture and time period. It brings together all of the components of art to be examined from one model. Areas like economics, industrial arts and manufacture are fit together with aesthetics, individual expression, cultural influences and the criteria for beauty and meaning. This simple criteria which brings together meaning and pleasure of artists and consumers (Feldman 1996) helps students and teachers make sense of the complex nature of art.

The craft model in art education fits well with the efforts of the whole school movement. Their energies are focused on building positive experiences for students through a community style school. The whole school movement is committed to building schools based on empowering citizens for democracy, including all, authentic instruction, supportive learning, building a community and partnering with parents and community. So far the movement is represented in schools in Michigan, Wisconsin and Massachusetts with representatives in most all states, Canada and Australia. These schools open the door to look at the entire scope of the community in which the school is situated. The community can then become a resource for the classroom. In the same way, the craft model opens the door to diversity, cultural relevance, social equality and local community influence to the classroom. It increases the chances for plural views of art and local culture. This diminishes the chances for exclusion of minority cultures because of the dominant culture.

The craft perspective also expands the definition of beauty and aesthetic experiences. In contrast to the fine arts criteria which worked by narrowing the focus to exclude more and more, the crafts concept of beauty is different for each culture. In this way more and more art and craft can be relevant and authentic. By basing beauty and meaning on cultural perceptions, the qualities of art can be discussed in context of how they were made and used.

The innate human behavior of making things special can be studied in every culture with the craft model. Ancient cultures 'made special' to express their feelings in profound ways and address vital concerns (Dissanayake 1992) about life and death. The evidence of artifacts from people who gathered for dance, music and ceremony is the beginning of recorded history. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese cultures made art from their belief that beauty brings man close to the supernatural. Other ideas expressed in ancient art were love, death, power, suffering, fear, loss, desire and hope. Today the need for 'making special' remains the same but the reasons seem much less serious. Adornment, power, status and wealth have replaced love, death and the meaning of existence. The industrialized world makes special objects to sell with very little connected meaning. Students should learn why art is made and why it is a vital part of every culture. Students should be able to make the distinction between art created from a deep human need and commercial objects. They should be able to read whether or not object s of art or popular culture has meaning.

The craft model allows for a balanced approach to art education. It places learning what art has been made and why together with how to make art in context with the design for use, distribution and consumption of the work. Placing art production in context socially and economically helps make the experience more valuable to students. By placing an emphasis on creating art in context of student's lives and planning for its use the emphasis on quality of craftsmanship becomes relative to the student.

Creativity comes from a broad, deep place in the personal narrative, in world cultures and the collective consciousness of man. It is part of the basic human need for aesthetic experiences. Each person creates a unique representation of his or her reality. A personal, visual vocabulary grows by tapping into life's experiences. It matures into a personal language filled with truth from the heart. That truth is shared with others and becomes a shared language. The exchange of these languages grows into a tradition within a family, community and culture over time. The arts portray truth through a wide variety of media and messages. Understanding the world through these plural views is a rich and rewarding experience. I hope that students can come to understand their own need to create, develop their own true, personal vocabulary and understand how important it is to experience the truth of other people and cultures through these unique languages.

Table 1

I. Pedagogy Curriculum based on craft model: see philosophy above Community oriented class culture Model democratic class structure Inclusive instruction methods Authentic instruction Supportive learning Partner with parents and community Culturally relevant teaching

Using funds of knowledge Survey of student learning styles Survey of funds of knowledge from student's household

II. Teaching Methods III. Curriculum A. Human need for making special

1.Ancient Greek, Egyptian, Chinese art

a. Role-play ancient ritual and make masks and ceremonial pots b. Begin reading traditional visual language c. Consider what visual elements are part of your own personal visual language

B. Need to design useful objects

1. Craft traditions from single culture perspective; Japanese, Korean, American Indian, Mexican, Celtic. Explore the single culture; compare with current global cultural perspective. Learn to read the languages of a single culture traditional art form

a. Link with traditional in local art form and practice reading the traditional language. b. Plan and create an object of traditional single culture perspective with the end user/purchaser in mind. c. Create another object in the style of the traditional culture with your personal visual language. d. Link to the creation of a single perspective 'community of artisans' in the classroom to support community building. e. Invite local traditional expert in for a talk, return to review students work. f. Consider which form of traditional art sounds interesting to work in. g. Visit a neighborhood outside your culturally dominant group and study the architecture and culture. Explore how it is a single traditional area.

C. Organization of work 1. Study the evolution of work by comparing the folk traditions to the art guilds in Europe through the Academy of Art in France. Discuss the importance of standards in craftsmanship to production and sale. Compare to standards of art and production today. A. Practice reading art objects for beauty and meaning—without work there is no art, without meaning art is only work. B. Plan the organization of student's work so that the complete process of design, execution, distribution and use is considered. C. Consider adding/developing further meaning in your personal visual vocabulary. Design an object within the style of one of the movements studied based on your personal visual language.

D. Rational distribution of work

1. The implications of good distribution are that the art is in the right place. Where art should be depends on the cultural context. Look at the art and crafts movement for deliberate organization of work, poor distribution. Art Nouveau for deliberate planning and excellent distribution and eventual over stimulus. Compare with the goods in our world to find meaning or not. Why do some goods become significant/meaningful to us? Where is all of the art we consume? Discuss art in museums, on TV, the web, coffee shops, our key chains, bumper stickers, lockers, bedrooms/homes. 2. Plan and execute the distribution of student's art in an appropriate manner. b. Continue to work on personal visual vocabulary and occupation preference. c. Discuss the difference between meaning in art and style. Re-design an everyday object based on the marketing strategies of Target. Try using your personal vocabulary as a style. E. Satisfying consumption of the products of work. 1. Look at satisfying experiences within the context of culture. Why is the opera supposed to be satisfying? Go to the opera! Why was the art museum built? Visit and evaluate the success of the experience. Compare with popular activities. Participate in a local community activity. Plan and execute a review of the satisfaction of the experience. Write a review to submit to the local paper.


Dewey John, (1949). Reconstruction in philosophy. New York: Mentor Books.

Feldman, E. B. (1988). A case for clay in secondary education, Clay: arguments for and with, Studio Potter.

Feldman, E. B. (1996). Philosophy of art education. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Dissanayake, Ellen (1992). Homoaestheticus, Where art comes from and why. Canada: Maxwell Macmillan Inc.

Questions or comments here

close philosophy

Robbin Baker, graduate student work, East Carolina University, Art6800 History and Philosophy of Art Education, December 2003.