Monthly Mentor

Shelly Breaux (December)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Shelly Breaux established the Art Program at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in Lafayette, LA. In her classroom, Breaux focuses on inquiry-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, conceptual thinking, and constructive criticism. She believes in using art as an educational tool, and that art provides her students with a voice and an outlet. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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November 01, 2017

Elements and Principles and their Relationship to DBAE

From: Heather Kaplan

Last year after completing my dissertation, I swiftly packed up my life in Columbus, Ohio to begin a job as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Texas El Paso. Upon surveying the art educational landscape in El Paso I noticed a considerable curricular difference between the content taught in the art teacher preparation program (and inside the districts of El Paso) and what was being studied and theorized in the art education programs that I had attended in both the Midwest and the East coast. Specifically, art teacher preparation and student projects at the district level leaned heavily on curriculum that was driven by the study of artmaking as it pertained to the elements and principles of design. Listening to other new hires in states such as South Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan, I learned that my experience was not unique - that indeed, much of the curriculum being designed and taught, both at the university and district level, centered on the elements and principles of design.

While there is nothing wrong with teaching children the elements and principles of design per se, the elements and principles of design are only a small part of the world of art and art education (and the Texas Art Content Standards). More importantly a curriculum that focuses entirely on the elements and principles of design risks the larger picture of Art, Art education, and even of Discipline-Based Art Education. To be sure, Art, and well-designed communicative composition for that matter, is more than the sum of its parts. That said, it is my intention to use this blog to address other curricular models and to delineate how curricular theory has changed since the inception of DBAE. This post will address the elements and principles and their relationship to DBAE.

DBAE can trace its roots the 1960’s, when all subjects began to examine the basic structure of their disciplines. Even so DBAE didn’t really gain a foothold on art classroom curriculum until the Getty Center for Education in the Arts provided its endorsement and financial support (Eisner, 1990, p. 425).  While the elements and principles often go hand-in-hand with the study of Discipline Based Art Education, they are in fact not one and the same. Rather, Discipline-Based Art Education might better be described as the professionalization of the field of art education through an examination of what practitioners in the arts actually do. According to Eisner, “the four things that people do with art: they make it, they appreciate it, they understand it, they make judgments about it…are parallel to the disciplines of art production, art criticism, art history, and aesthetics.” (Brandt, 1987, p. 7). Thus we have the structure of professional activity mimicked in the four domains of discipline based art education: art making, art history, aesthetics, and criticism. These are the larger structures that constitute the study of a DBAE curriculum, not the mere study of the elements and principles of design. 

While the elements and principles of design can lend us a language with which to practice these four domains they themselves do not constitute a hearty study of discipline based art education (and for all those Texans out there they are only a small portion of the art content knowledge described in the art TEKS Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). In fact the elements and principles of design are only one of many possible approaches to establishing a functional language with which to view, describe, understand, situate, and make art. For other possible languages see: Teaching the Elements of Realistic-Style Pictures by Paul Duncum, Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education by Olivia Gude, and Principles of Possibility: Considerations for a 21st Century Art and Culture Curriculum by Olivia Gude.


Eisner, E. (1990) Discipline-Based Art Education: Conceptions and misconceptions. Educational Theory, 40 (4), 423-430.

Gude, O. (2004). Postmodern principles: In search of a 21st century art education. Art Education, 57(1), 6-14.

Gude. O. (2007). Principles of possibility: Considerations for a 21st century art and culture curriculum. Art Education, 60(1), 6-17.

Duncum, P. (2013). Teaching the elements of realistic-style pictures. Art Education, 66(1) 46-51.

Brandt, R. (1987) On Discipline-Based Art Education: A conversation with Elliot Eisner. Educational Leadership 45(4), 6-9. 


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