The Four-Legged Chair of Arts Education

- Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Maybe the name isn’t right yet… do we want to talk about arts education in the metaphor of a chair? Maybe, but the idea is what I’d like to explore is this posting.

When arts education advocates get together to talk about arts education, they use the phrase loosely. The field has not yet defined thoroughly what arts education looks like. In our minds we believe we are talking about the same thing, but when we dig more deeply, we find that we’re not always talking about the same thing at all.

So, for discussion, I’d like to present my definition of what arts education should look like in schools. There are four important elements that create a comprehensive arts education. In future discussions, I look forward to discussing “how” we get there. This discussion group has already had good discussions about “why” we do it. For now, we’ll look at “what” it looks like.

1. Certified Arts Specialists in every school building. Specialists are the most critical component of comprehensive arts education. They are in regular contact with students and have access to the non-arts teachers. They are familiar with the local arts community and may already have contacts.

The job of the certified arts specialist is to teach arts skills to students in a well-defined scope and sequence. They are also the coordinators of the other three “legs.”

2. Arts integration in non-arts classrooms. It has been proven again and again that when there is a good match between an art form and a non-arts content area, kids have more fun and learn more through arts integration. Schools that integrate the arts across the curriculum in meaningful ways are successful schools.

The key to meaningful arts integration lies in comprehensive training and in-school planning time on regular basis for arts specialists and non-arts teachers. Without that, the arts integration experience could be counter-productive.

3. Visiting artists in the community. There are at least two benefits to putting kids on buses and taking them to where professional art is being made. It’s important to the civic health of communities for artists and arts organizations to interact with and train their future audiences. And, secondly, it is important for students to see what really good art looks like. It is worth a journey of several hours, if necessary. This is how students build the skills of aesthetic judgment.

4. Bringing artists into the building. Though every community may not have a world-class orchestra or museum, every community has artists. These artists may perform for the school or they may work as teaching artists in the classrooms. They may integrate the arts to the non-arts curriculum or they may teach arts skills.

This is a time for students to have direct interaction and communication with working artists who have been trained to work with students. It is also an effective way for students to understand the habits of mind that artists use in the creation of their work. Students learn that talent alone does nothing, but that practice, failure, self-evaluation and adaptivity is what creates art.

In my view, these are the necessary components to a comprehensive arts education program in schools. I have many ideas about how to reach this goal, but will start a new post for that.

Please let me know what you think about this idea. Have you ever been a part of a school that had all four components?

Find me on Twitter @creativityassoc or on Facebook @#artsed Chat.

Note: Since writing this post on Edutopia (, I’ve agreed with comments that recommend that the back of the chair be the support of parents and the community. What do you think?

"I know very few theater artists who deeply grasp the potential of arts integration as a way to catalyze learning, transform classroom and workshop settings, and turn scho...

Full Bio

Have Something to Say?