Art Education: Incorporating the Arts into the Social Studies Classroom Post #2

Research and Literature Review

Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) is a theory that developed out of the 1960’s when educators and writers began to see art education as its own distinct discipline (Smith, 1987; Logan, 1963). DBAE became an educational movement in the 1980’s as educators began to view art history as an actual inquiry-based process (Chanda, 2007). “The idea of discipline-based art education acknowledges and builds upon recent developments in the field of art education” according to Smith (1987). Risatti (1987) says that DBAE

“…is of vital importance, not only because it recognizes the fundamental significance of the study of art but also because it sees this study as encompassing the disciplines of art history, aesthetics, and art criticism along with art production. While this may seem unusual, it is the accepted practice in the study of literature, in which students write stories, study historical literature, discuss the nature of poetry and the novel and criticize literature in terms of content and quality. This is what DBAE advocates for the study of art.” (219)

It is only when these ideals are used together that art education is seen as a discipline (Risatti, 1987). Logan (1963) believes that the discipline of art education encompasses all those who use art as a teaching method; from studio teachers to art historians in all levels of schooling. “…the discipline of art education must be inclusive, not exclusive, and it includes every one of us engaged in any aspect of instruction in art.” (14) Everyone from art historians to visual art teachers are included in this realm of art education (Logan, 1963).

Risatti believes that many aspects have to work together to create a true discipline of art education. Risatti says that because so much of our daily world is made up of human creation such as statues, buildings, etc. one cannot understand them without first understanding the visual arts (Risatti, 1987). In order to understand the visual arts, one must have the knowledge of art criticism. Risatti says that

“The discipline of art criticism has the general goal, like all liberal and fine arts, of trying to understand mankind and the human condition…It seeks to inform and educate people (including artists) about art by providing insights into its meaning so as to increase the understanding and appreciate of art and to illuminate the cultural and societal values reflected in it.” (219).

According to Risatti, it is only through this ability to analyze visual arts that anyone, teacher and student alike, can come to an understanding of the world before them.

Chanda (2007) calls this method of learning creative thinking, which she believes goes hand in hand with critical thinking. She says that this is an essential tool when studying art history because one never knows the reality of what the artist was actually thinking or what outside influences affected the final outcome of the work (Chanda, 2007). Chanda states that “Knowledge of past cultural values and thoughts can only be gleaned by creatively thinking about the information presented in the evidence that is uncovered.” (31) Chanda expresses that when studying an image the viewer needs to take into account the various influences that could have had an effect on the artist. Artists may be creating from imagination or from a certain standpoint. Chanda says “…the visual information that is provided is often from a unique viewpoint or perspective that is frequently influenced by the patron and/or the artist’s eye.” (26) In order to be able to successfully analyze an image the viewer needs to be subjective and use their knowledge of the period as well as their ability to creatively think to interpret the art (Chanda, 2007). The skill to think critically or creatively about art leads to each individual coming to their own unique conclusion about the piece and developing a stronger, general understanding (Risatti, 1987; Chanda, 2007).

Smith (1987) believes that art education is most beneficial when aesthetic learning is implemented. Smith states that aesthetic education is the idea of “…a branch of philosophy that investigates a number of questions, concepts, and puzzles that arise in our effort to understand aesthetic topics ranging from the nature, meaning and value of art to the aesthetic character of the natural and humanly made environments. Aesthetics, however, also takes the form of scientific inquiry into the psychological and social dimensions of art, so that there are in effect two kinds of aesthetics: philosophical and scientific.” (8) What is important to gain from aesthetic art education is the ability to distinguish between the knowledge about art and the knowledge of art (Smith, 1987). It is one thing to know about where the art is from or who painted it, but this does little good if the art has never been seen. Smith cites Sibley (1965) stating

“People have to see the grace or unity of a work, hear the plaintiveness or frenzy in the music, notice the gaudiness of a color scheme, feel the power of a novel, its mood, or its uncertainty of tone….Merely to learn from others, on good authority, that the music is serene, the play moving, or the picture unbalanced is of little aesthetic value; the crucial thing is to see, hear, or feel.” (6)

It crucially important to be able to have a personal experience with the art in order to come to any kind of meaningful understanding of it (Smith, 1987).

Chanda believes that the discipline of art education is not used to its fullest degree in the majority of schools. Teachers incorporating art into their classrooms are using only the basic means and do not look deeper into the meaning, social and cultural elements or the general effect the art may have had. (Chanda, 2007) Chanda advocates using art historical inquiry process which “refers to the use of authentic activities (asking questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting, speculating about cause or effect and disseminating knowledge) and approaches that art historians use when studying works of art; this approach goes beyond what is clearly seen in visual imagery in order to reveal not only the denotative but also the connotative meanings that are relevant to the historical and cultural context of the artwork.” (25) Chanda states that by using this method images can become persuasive and challenging tools that help to build an understanding of cultures and strengthen historical literacy. “Applying authentic art history inquiry practices to the study of visual imagery can heighten our ability to recognize how works of art were used to record and disseminate historical ideas and ideals…” (27) Through doing this students can gain a complete and overall knowledge of ideas and beliefs of differing peoples (Chanda, 2007).

However, not all researchers agree that art education is in fact its own unique discipline yet. In a speech given at the Midwest College Art Conference in 1962 Barkan (1963) says that “Art education could become a discipline if it would develop a distinctive structure.” (4) He continues on to say that “…what is lacking in art education, among other things, is a sufficient degree of penetrating and critical argument and debate among differing ideologies.” (4) Barkan believes that art is not its own unique discipline, but instead a varying array of ideologies and styles of teaching (Barkan, 1963). Barkan cites Schwab (1962) stating that disciplines follow ordered structures (Schwab, 1962). Barkan argues that due to the wide extent of beliefs and methods of art; from art history to art criticism and aesthetics it is impossible to define art education as its own distinct discipline. Barkan believes that without being able to become a discipline art will continue to not be seen as a worthwhile educational tool. He says “Lacking this control of a discipline, there will continue to be produced the relatively few sensitive, inspired, and largely intuitively brilliant teachers of art along with a mass of teachers who are not only unable to learn from the masters but, what is worse, who are essentially unable to either recognize or understand them.” (9) Barkan believes that art education needs to be more succinct and understood by the academic community before it can be used meaningfully in a classroom (Barkan 1963).

Though debated by Barkan, the general consensus is that if used correctly art can be an effective learning tool in the classroom. Keeping this idea in mind, how is art applied to the general education classroom? Incorporating arts into the classroom can open doors for more academic learning and invite more creativity into a class (Dowdy & Campbell, 2008) Through using the arts students become more engaged and are better able to use their imagination and recognize multiple perspectives (Gullatt, 2008) Students who are subject to art in general education have also been shown to perform better on tests (Gullat, 2008; Dowdy & Campbell, 2008) In the Homer Central School District in New York State, McGowan (1988) researched how an “Arts-in-Education Project” worked by incorporating arts into all general education classrooms. This project was specialized into four main objectives: (a) specialized arts instruction, (b) infusion of the arts into the general curriculum, (c) arts for special populations, and (d) use of community resources (McGowan, 1988). McGowan looked into how well arts could be used in general education to benefit these four main objectives. His study concluded that art led to a positive atmosphere when there was improved quality of teaching and a variety of activities and lessons centered around using the arts (McGowan, 1988) McGowan stated that “There was a consensus among those interviewed that the arts-in-education approach enhanced students’ creativity, that the experiences were enjoyable to the students, and that students’ self-concepts were affected positively.” (53) On the other hand, the Arts-in-Education Project was unable to successfully integrate arts into the total school curriculum. McGowan found the reasoning behind this to be that there was too little training for the teachers and not enough structure made by the administration (McGowan, 1988)

Fowler (1978) writes how art is an essential tool that is needed in history classes to enhance student learning and understanding. Fowler believes that the arts are not seen as a crucial educational tool because they do not focus on the practical basics (Fowler, 1978). Fowler explains that people have a “…deep-seated conviction that public education must concentrate on what is practical and basic. For this reason, the arts tend to be granted only limited time and limited resources in American education.” (78) Fowler argues that this is wrong, that arts can have a significant impact on the individual learning of students. Fowler says that the arts are in essence infused in all curricula and need to be used in order for students to gain a well-rounded and complete education (Fowler, 1978). The arts can be found in all levels of learning but it takes a well-prepared teacher to make using arts an effective means of education. Teachers need proper instruction in the arts in order to accurately use them in their classrooms, but when done appropriately the arts can have a substantial impact on increasing student learning and participation (Fowler, 1978).

Arts can be used in the Social Studies classroom to deepen an understanding of a particular period. Efland (1987) states that as far back as the Great Depression art was being incorporated into history classes. “Art was often integrated into the social studies, so that children studying the life and culture of the American Indian, for example, might make clay pottery vaguely reminiscent in its design of the work of the Hopi or Navajo…” (59) Chanda says that “Studying past images provides an opportunity for students to construct meanings and acquire an authentic sense of historical understanding. Works of art from the past can tell us how people lived; what they ate; what their religious, political, cultural, and philosophical ideas were; and what historical events were valued.” (27) Fowler goes further to describe all the methods beyond just visual art in which art can be incorporated with social studies: “In high school, students can use the arts to study each period of American history…By singing the music of the period and dancing to it, interpreting events through visual arts, studying films about the period, and dramatizing its literature, debates, and documents, students sense the spirit of the times and enter into it in a personal and emotional way….In this way, the arts reinforce the concept being learned.” (78) Using art as a teaching mechanism in a history classroom is beneficial to students as it helps broaden their horizons and gets them to really start thinking about history in a more personal way (Fowler, 1978; Chanda, 2008).


      The above research has helped me to advance my study of arts in education.  Most of the researchers that I read have very positive things to say about the arts and how they can be used in education and it was inspirational.  I feel a connection with Chanda’s study and hope to implement some of her ideas into my further research.  She had several examples in her article where she showed images and gave examples of what different types of meaning could be derived from them.  She used this as an example to show creative thinking and how images can mean different things to different people and I think that this would be a great learning tool. Through my research, I have gained an expanded sense of what it means to incorporate arts into a general education classroom.  I started with the idea of arts being primarily visual, but have expanded that to mean films, music, drama, and all the other aspects that form the overall general concept of arts.  Using this broader idea of the arts I can envision countless numbers of ways in which to incorporate these into a classroom.   In the next installment of my ongoing series of blog posts about incorporating art into the Social Studies classroom, I will provide lesson plan samples of my own incorporation of art in my classroom. 


• Barkan, Manuel (1963). Is There a Discipline of Art Education? Studies in Art Education, 4 (2), 4-9.

• Bower, Bert, Lobdell, Jim, & Owens, Sherry (2004). Bringing Learning Alive! The TCI Approach for Middle and High School Social Studies. Palo Alto, CA. Teachers’ Curriculum Institute.

• Chanda, Jacqueline (2007). Achieving Social and Cultural Educational Objectives through Art Historical Inquiry. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 41 (4), 24-39.

• Dowdy, Joanne Kilgour & Campbell, Deborah. The Dance of Diversity: White Male Teachers and Arts Based Instruction for Classrooms. The High School Journal, 91 (4), 1-11.

• Efland, Arthur D. (1987). Curriculum Antecedents of Discipline-Based Art Education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 21 (2), 57-94.

• Fowler, Charles B. (1978). Integral and Undiminished: The Arts in General Education. Music Educators Journal, 64 (5), 30-35.

• Gullat, David E. Enhancing Student Learning Through Arts Integration: Implications for the Profession. The High School Journal, 91 (4), 12-25.

• Logan, Frederick M. (1963). Is There a Discipline of Art Education? Studies in Art Education, 4 (2), 10-14.

• McGowan, John J. (1988). A Descriptive Study of an Arts-in-Education Project. Journal of Research in Music Education, 36, 47-57.

• Risatti, Howard (1987). Art Criticism in Discipline-Based Art Education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 21 (2), 217-225.

• Smith, Ralph A. (1987). The Changing Image of Art Education: Theoretical Antecedents of Discipline-Based Art Education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 21 (2), 3-34.