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Developments in Art Education 


Predictions for Art Education’s Future Pre-Great Depression

Before the 1929 Stock Market crash, Royal Baily Farnum confidently stated, "Art education in the United States has never been on a firmer footing than at the present time. It faces a future secure in the knowledge that during the past ten years its social, economic and education values have been demonstrated and acknowledged and generally put into practice.” (Efland, 1983)


University Visual Art and Art Teacher Education Program

In the 1930s, there was a substantial increase in colleges and universities teaching visual art and future visual art educators. By 1941, approximately 2/3 of all colleges and universities in the U.S. included similar programs. In 1939, Leon Winslow’s: The Integrated School Art Program instructional book provided one of the first educational curriculum resources that advocated for “creative expression but maintained that art should be taught for broad cultural purposes.” (Efland, 1983)


The Owatonna Art Education Project

 The Owatonna Art Education project, founded at the University of Minnesota, added a community-based focus on art education to the field. “Under a banner labeled "Art, A Way of Life," the project stressed that no differentiation should exist between the fine and the useful arts, that art relates to every aspect of living, and that, in the realm of goals, aesthetic discrimination as it affects everyday living should be developed.”


Art as Experience

John Dewey wrote Art as Experience, describing art as the vehicle for developing general creative abilities.


Augusta Savage—Arts Educator and Activist for Black Communities

Leading up to the Great Depression era, elementary art teacher jobs were scarce. Instead, art lessons were taught to children through “art supervisors” whose roles were to provide access to materials and practices for expression and exploration”. After 1929, many school districts scaled down or cut art programs entirely. The Federal Arts Project (FAP), a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) part of the New Deal programs, employed visual artists in educator roles in the 100+ community art centers established throughout the U.S.” Augusta Savage, a professional sculptor, was one of these artists turned educators. After returning to the States from an extended artist trip abroad, she began to create work in the Harlem community. Eventually, she started to teach self-funded visual art classes. Over time, community members began to donate money to defray the cost of her youth studio classes, and by 1934, “The Savage Studio for Arts and Crafts” became the largest tuition-free art class in New York City. A few years later, she became the Assistant Supervisor of the FAP.  In addition, she created the Harlem Artist Guild (HAG), which advocated for and provided jobs for artists of color. She also became the founding director of the Harlem Community Art Center (HCAC). (Bey, 2017)

Her work profoundly changed the art education profession and gave generations an irreplaceable foundation for “teaching the visual arts to students of color.”


Finger paints were introduced to American children

“Finger paints were introduced to America in April [1936] at the Young America Paints exhibition. An elementary school teacher, Ruth Faison Shaw, first developed finger paints in 1931. The idea of finger paints first came to Shaw when she sent a student to the bathroom to put iodine on his cut. When he did not return, she found him painting iodine all over the bathroom walls. Finger paints allowed children to express themselves creatively in a new way free of restrictions.” (The History of Art Education Timeline)


Children’s Art and Psychological Research

Concepts of art education were heavily influenced by psychology beginning in the 1940s. Child art projects were seen as essential data by many researchers. The work displayed children’s intellectual capabilities and adjustments to everyday life. The explorative use of art materials also “was thought to provide a unique and important means of emotional therapy and, of course, creativity in art,” an idea that was supported by many psychologists, scientists, and educators at this time. (Lainer, 1975)

Art-Making in Public Schools 

There were three main purposes for art making in schools during the 1930s -1940s. Arthur Efland (1983), influential art educator and historian, described these as 1. to gain an appreciation for the arts, 2. for creative expression, and 3. for community engagement. (Efland, 1983) 

1. To gain an appreciation for the arts: 

​“To acquire art appreciation, the students, we are told, do many things by way of practical application. These include drawing, painting, modeling, sewing, costume design, and interior design. They learn "through the making of original works the three art fundamentals-line (shapes and spaces); dark and light (tone mass contrast; and color." They learn that the three factors "rightly used produce the fine art of the world. Wrongly they produce the com- commonplace."


2. For creative expression:

“By the mid-thirties, visual art was described in the following way: "This creative outlet arouses the child to express his ideas freely" …The wise teacher will seek to "encourage the elements of originality, initiative, and creative expression."..."The innate capacity for design and craft is evident at the early stage.”

3. For community engagement:

“By 1940…Appreciation and "understanding of the artistic advantages in community life," the "importance of art in community activities," it tells us, "are growing in importance each passing year." To accomplish community goals, the report stressed "the utilization of artistic resources in the community" developing "a higher level of artistic culture in the community," "contributing to community needs through poster making," activities on safety, the Red Cross, etc., "developing schemes of civic planning," "enlarging the relation of art to industry," "holding art exhibits in public buildings," and "encouraging advanced study at the Cleveland Art School," etc…The emphasis upon the community was also reflected in phrases like "art is an integrating vehicle in the curriculum."

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