close philosophy

Using the craft model:

a postmodern philosophy of art education

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.


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