Imagine that you are leading a group of fourth grade students to the gallery where you will begin your tour. Listen to their comments:
“Oh, look! It’s much bigger than I thought it would be! And the blue-green is brighter than the print we saw.”
“There’s the picture with “peace’ as its main idea!”
“This museum has decorative arts in it. Remember when we talked about whether they belong in an art museum?”
“Look how many cowrie shells are on that African figure ╤ it must have been valuable to the people who made it.”
The children are making connections. The comments you hear reveal their familiarity with formal qualities of works of art as well as their meanings. ^Beyond that, there are references to language arts, aesthetics, and social sciences. There is a good chance that these children are students of discipline-based art education (DBAE), and that the teachers in their school use works of art to communicate key issues in many other disciplines as well. What must art museum docents know about DBAE, its teaching methods, and their own collections in order to make the right connections?
Disciplined-Based Art Education
DBAE is an approach to teaching art as a subject with lesson content drawn from the four basic art disciplines: art production, art history, art criticism, and aesthetics. Because it is a theoretical method and not a curriculum, DBAE can be adapted to the specific needs and structures of individual schools and districts.
In their art classes, DBAE students not only find creative self-expression in art production, but explore works of art from the points of view of the three other disciplines. In art history, students discover stylistic qualities characteristic of individual artists and schools of art, as well as meanings and values communicated by works of art across space, time, and cultural boundaries. Art criticism enables students to talk and write about works of art, using critical inquiry to describe, analyze, interpret, and make informed value judgments. Aesthetic issues are discussed in questions about the nature, definition, and significance of art.
Ideally, children in DBAE programs learn about applied, craft, and folk art as well as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and architecture. The art that is studied should be representative of many cultures, styles, and periods.
DBAE AND Interdisciplinary Studies
DBAE’s broad-based definition of art and its inquiry-based approach suggest applications in interdisciplinary units of study. These are developed in collaborations between art specialists and classroom teachers. Such is the case in Stark County, Ohio, where teachers plan units based on the theme of “Discovery- Recovery.” Fourth grade teacher Janice Hamilton’s unit on cultural exchanges between the Spanish and Native Americans in 1492 is an example.
At the Florida State University School, science, social studies, math, and English teachers collaborated with art specialist Debi Barrett-Hayes to teach a middle school unit on “Energy.” A final project produced a mural, 8′ x 40′, on the history of human use of energy.
Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools are placing a city-wide emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching strategies, drawing on the DBAE process as an exemplar. Interdisciplinary models for art, language arts, social studies, science, and health were being piloted during the 1992-93 school year.
Plano, Texas, art specialist Ruth Tice worked with classroom teacher Kim Gill to design a course of study for Gill’s second grade class based on two works of art from the Dallas Museum of Art. Using a poster reproduction of Edward Hick’s The Peaceable Kingdom, Ms. Gill involved the children in language arts (identifying words for parts of speech, looking for synonyms and antonyms); literary devices (main idea, personification, narration); science (animals, natural habitats, sounds); and history (William Pitt’s treaty with the Indians). In music class, the children learned the song “Simple Gifts.” Art specialist Tice appeared in their classroom dressed as the artist Edward Hicks and led the children in taking poses to become a “living painting.” After a similarly interdisciplinary study of Frederic Church’s The Icebergs, and comparing and contrasting the two American paintings, the class visited the DMA to see the works in person.
Visual Arts and Whole Language
Courses of study frequently are based on the relationship between the visual arts and whole language as it relates to art criticism. Beginning with a visual examination of works of art, elementary children next progress to verbalization about them, and work up to written criticism.
At Burton Hills Elementary in Fort Worth, art specialist Carolyn Sherburn involved every child, special education through fifth grade, in producing art work and accompanying written work based on the theme of “Dreams.” She taught her art students to look at a picture in the same way they would look at a book. To implement Fort Worth Independent School District curriculum goals, the children learned to use reproductions and original works of art to develop a point of view, to sequence, to generalize, and to summarize. At their winter 1992 PTA meeting. Burton Hills children produced and presented four different “living paintings,” first studying about the artists, then writing scripts, painting backdrops, designing and making costumes, and acting out their roles.
Carole Arnold, art teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, stresses the importance of reading about art and artists in developing writing skills in visual arts. She cites the example of two fourth-grade students who read the book Van Gogh by Mike Venzia and The World of Art reading comprehension card on Van Gogh in art class. A few days later, they appeared in Mrs. Arnold’s room with the Time/Life Library of Art book. The World of Van Gogh. They had read more about Van Gogh and his art, and wanted to discuss the artist in depth.
DBAE AND Multicultural Education
To an increasing degree, multicultural studies are infused into DBAE programs to ensure that art is studied contextually as well as historically. The shift in curriculum is from “What is Art?” to the equally big aesthetic question “What is Art For?” The result is that art is seen as fundamental to societies worldwide and throughout time. Students study how art functions as an agent of transmission of culture and discover that there are many art worlds, none more important than another. For DBAE students, the concept of art changes and widens.
Grade-level themes and subjects such as animals, environments, families, seasonal changes, and patterns can be studied in artistic expressions by people, both ancient and modem, from parts of the world like Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, China, and Alaska. The result is deeper insight into students’ own cultural backgrounds and those of others. To paraphrase multicultural educator Carl Grant, instead of viewing our country as a “melting pot” where all cultures blend together, individual cultural differences are celebrated as essential ingredients in its “tossed salad” citizenry.
DBAE’s Impact on Museum Education
What does this approach to the art education of our young people mean to art museum education programs and their docents? Art museums have long been recognized as flexible learning environments where thematic and interdisciplinary approaches like those mentioned above can flourish. But to serve DBA-educated audiences successfully, decent training must address DBAE approaches and content. The ideal solution is for docents to attend one of the DBAE institutes held at several U.S. sites during the summers. With or without the training, certain components for touring DBAE-trained audiences can be addressed.
Because art criticism is a basic component of their art education, DBAE students are accustomed to discussing art, rather than listening to talks about it. Asking the right questions is essential to the interactive atmosphere in which DBAE students learn best. In school, they learn about artistic choices and contexts for works of art. Only hearing about art’s formal qualities will not satisfy their curiosity about why a piece looks the way it does, or how it functioned in the culture that produced it. Docents’ questions should be formulated to guide critical analysis and interpretation.
More questions should link works on tours, creating threads of comparison to enliven discussions. Why is a certain material used in sculpture from one country and not in another? Why is intense color more evident in one place or time and not in another? Why does an artist paint a portrait of a certain subject, and why is the subject presented in a particular way?
Successful inquiry-based touring results in a lively give-and-take of questions from both the docent and the tour group. This points up the need to be thoroughly grounded in the cultural contexts for objects in the museum’s collections. When dealing with cultures other than our own, whether in a school or a museum, it is essential to know what questions should be asked about each culture’s art, since no single aesthetic can be applied to all. In the best training programs, native speakers serve as translators for their cultures. Aesthetician Marcia Eaton calls this native knowledge “fluency” in a language [of art], and says that “translators” for art of other cultures need to be “bilingual.” Experts in their fields can provide the authenticity and inspire the passion necessary to equip docents to “translate” their art.
Interaction on inquiry-based tours is more productive when docents are familiar with school curriculum. When interdisciplinary connections made at school are repeated on the museum tour, real enrichment occurs. This is possible only when significant communication occurs between docents and teachers. It also presupposes that docents are familiar enough with content from the other disciplines to make the right connection with their collections.
Making the Right Connections
To prepare for DBAE-trained groups, art museum docents as groups and individuals are encouraged to engage in a self-study. Who are your audiences? Do you know when a school group is DBAE-trained? What does that mean in terms of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural connection to the art included on your tour? Who are the experts on your collections? How should your tour be organized, and what questions should you ask? Finding the answers to these questions can help you make the right connections.
Nancy W. Berry is Assistant Professor Of Art at the University of North Texas, where she also serves as a faculty member of the North Texas Institute for Educators in the Visual Arts. Her career includes teaching art in grades K-12. and art and museum education at the university level. She has served as head of education at the Meadows Museum of Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Museum of Art. She was national director of the Museum Education Division of the National Art Education Association and named national Museum Educator of the Year by that organization in 1990.
Publications about DBAE
The Getty Center has produced many publications about DBAE, which are available at nominal cost and several are complimentary.
For more information, contact Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 401 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 950, 9th Floor, Santa Monica, CA 90401 ; and/or Getty Center Publications Distribution Center, P.O. Box 2112, Santa Monica, CA 90407.
Berry, Nancy. “Students Prepared by DBAE,” The Docent Educator 2.4 (Summer 1993): 8-10.