top of page
Over the next three decades (1970-1999), a plethora of teaching and learning pedagogies and practices shaped the field of art education as we know it today. Teaching for Artistic Behaviors (TAB) and choice-based art education swept the nation during the 1980s, paralleling the introduction and implementation of Disciplined-based Art Education (DBAE) by The Getty Center for Education in 1980. Art education took a significant hit in 1994 through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Act, requiring statewide mandated testing.

Budget Cuts

In the early 1970s, the National Endowment for the Arts proposed a plan to introduce art to all Americans through public television. TV had become a main part of most Americans' lives, and this plan was a major step forward in art education through televising artistic series which gave the public access to high-quality performing arts. After many years of success, the National Endowments for the Arts faced a setback after two controversial art exhibitions in 1989 by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. This controversy led to the passing of a new regulation for the NEA that prohibited specific material to be funded through the organization, which then cut funding drastically.


From the mid-1970s to the 1980s, communities across the United States experienced a series of economic crises that had a detrimental effect on schooling. This included the cutting of arts and arts teachers, as seen in New York City where 25% of teachers were laid off in 1975-1976. Many schools were no longer allowed to hire arts teachers, and those who remained were transferred to other positions. Similarly, California's Proposition 13 in 1978 had a negative impact on school districts' ability to sustain their arts programs. It is clear that these budget cuts had a huge effect on arts education in the United States during this period. In 1978, Elliot Eisner found that most schools devoted less than half an hour of instruction to the arts per week. This amount was determined by each school district's budget and time constraints. It was common practice that the inclusion of arts education depended on the local decision of each district. Arts instruction was often provided by itinerant arts specialists who visited schools, or by regular classroom teachers at the elementary level. 


In the early 1980s, there was a shift in policy at the federal level, which was mirrored in cuts to arts education at the state and local levels. One of the most significant events was the 1981 reduction of the Arts and Humanities Office, followed by the 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. This report advocated for more attention to basic skills at the expense of arts education, claiming that the American education system was failing to adequately prepare students for the future. 

Standardized Curriculum and Testing

Art educators, researchers, and advocates struggled to establish the continued inclusion of arts during the school day in the 1970s and 1980s.  The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) mentioned previously,  has long engaged in the debate about the need for assessments and quality indicators for arts education. In 1988, the NEA firmly argued in favor of developing tests in the arts to ensure the field's legitimacy and enable curriculum and pedagogical improvement. In 1992, the Arts Education Consensus Project was launched, sponsored by the National Assessment Governing Board, to establish objectives for an arts test to be administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This voluntary test covered visual arts, music, and theater and was administered in 1994. Although it was not used again by the federal or any state government, it remains an important milestone in the development of valid and reliable tests for the arts. And in 1991, the Center for Arts Education (CAE) reported that data collected by the Board of Education (New York) found two-thirds of schools in the U.S. had no licensed art or music teacher. The 1980s’ state-level movement towards curriculum standards propelled the creation of national education goals and standards at a federal level moving into the 1990s. Support from the NEA and Getty Center for Education in the Arts led to the development of the National Standards for Arts Education in 1994. Since the mid-1990s, states have implemented standards for arts education, with some even including guidelines for how much time should be devoted to it each week. However, since the implementation of these standards and guidelines is left to districts and schools, they often interpret them in a broad manner and are pressed for time and space to devote to them. This means that claims of meeting requirements may not be as comprehensive as they could be. In the journal article Art Education in the 1990s: Meeting the Challenges of Accountability (1993), D. Jack Davis described the challenges faced at the time: 


“Accountability is not new to the world of education, nor is it going to vanish. It is here to stay, and our society is placing increased emphasis on it. Clearly, the decade of the 1990s will be one of the major areas of accountability in education. Emphases have and will shift among the three major areas of accountability in education [1. program development and implementation, 2. student learning, and 3. teaching and instructional delivery], but the concern of the public for all three will continue… Art educators must address the concerns for accountability straightforwardly in order to be a viable part of education during the twenty-first century.”

Modern Art and Pop Culture

Modern art and popular culture played a big role in shaping art education during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In the early 1970s, new forms of artmaking like glass blowing and graffiti became popular in the mainstream through artists such as renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and Hugo Martinez, founder of the United Graffiti Artists (UGA) in 1972. In 1981, MTV aired its first music video on national television, giving a platform for visual and popular culture for people of all ages. Later in 1983, the widely influential and popular television show, The Joy of Painting starring Bob Ross aired. While his artwork was not necessarily considered groundbreaking, his show and spirit inspired a new generation of artists. During the late 1980s, we see the introduction of multiple digital art and computer art programs: Windows Paint (1985), Adobe Illustrator (1987), and Adobe Photoshop (1988-1990). Marvel Comics released one of the first comics with computer-generated artwork in 1988. As the twentieth century came to a close, the boundaries between fine arts (such as painting, sculpture, and drawing) and commercial art (like advertising, fashion design, and retail display) had become blurred as Pop Art, and other modern movements were integrated into other art forms. 

bottom of page