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Art Education Meeting Makes A Little History

January 17, 1987|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

Staging its first national invitational conference ("Discipline-based Art Education: What Forms Will It Take?"), the Getty Center for Education in the Arts drew such a hearty response that it had to turn down several hundred potential participants.

"We are a little more than overwhelmed by the tremendous response from people all over the country," Leilani Lattin Duke, director of the Getty Center, said opening the three-day conference at the Los Angeles Hilton downtown, adding that more than 1,000 had requested reservations. The conference ends today.

About 400 school and arts administrators, principals and government staffers are attending the entire conference, which also included visits Friday to schools in a dozen L.A. county districts where some form of discipline-based visual arts education is taught. Another 300 persons are auditing the hotel sessions.

Discipline-based art education, as Duke defined it, is "an approach that integrates content and skills in four art disciplines: art history, production, criticism and aesthetics."

Keynoter Elliot W. Eisner, professor of education and art at Stanford and a major consultant for the Getty Center, called this "something of a historic conference. I can't remember when the secretary of education, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts have been brought together under one roof."

All three--Secretary William H. Bennett, foundation president Ernest L. Boyer and endowment chairman Frank Hodsoll--are conference speakers, and back a discipline-based program to art education, as opposed to teaching students how to draw.

"Art, no less than philosophy or science," Bennett said Friday, "issues a challenge to the intellect. The great works of music, sculpture, painting, engraving and all other forms of artistic expression, engage the mind, teaching lessons about order, proportion and genius."

"Disciplined-based art education" has become something of a buzz-phrase in both the arts and education, primarily because of the Getty's mission to see it become a regular part of the school curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade. Through its summer Getty Institute, the center has helped train the teachers whose classrooms the conference participants visited.

Duke cautioned that disciplined-based art education is "still very much in its infancy," acknowledging that it can "take many different forms in different schools in different parts of the country. We do not believe in one approach."

Already, she said, discipline-based art education is in 21 Los Angeles County (of 95) districts, adding, "We're learning a great deal in our own backyards in schools that are a real microcosm." Later Duke said privately that the Getty has discussed extending the program to other districts in California with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig.

The conference brought representatives from a wide array of major national organizations, ranging from the American Arts Alliance to the American Federation of Teachers to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Stanford's Eisner noted happily that educational times have changed since the preoccupation with math and science after Sputnik. "Our nation has almost completed its preoccupation with 'back to basics.' People are increasingly realizing that a decent education for their children requires more than the simple skills of learning to read, write and compute."

In 1979, he noted, only one state required a course in the arts as a condition for high school graduation. Now, 20 states do.

"Art is one of the very few subjects in the school's curriculum that gives the child the opportunity to draw upon his emotions as a source of content that allows his imagination to take wings," Eisner said. "It is art that provides the temporary escape from the rule-governed features of an overly verbal and numerical curriculum. And it is art where the child is encouraged to confer his personal vision and signature upon his work."

As for the quartet of disclipine-based art education, Eisner said production "helps children learn to think intelligently about the creation of visual images"; art criticism "develops their ability to see, not merely look at the qualities that constitute the visual world"; art history "helps children to understand something of the place and time" in which works are situated, while aesthetics involves judgment and evaluation.

Eisner spoke of magic, of "images that have sent me to the moon, brought a flush to my face" such as El Greco's "Assumption of the Virgin" or the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth. "No door can be opened without a curriculum having both structure and magic," Eisner said. "Without magic there is no art. Without structure there is no access."

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