Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 11.27.17

New Materialism in Art Education

From: Heather Kaplan

In previous installments we explored DBAE, VCAE, and Big Ideas. Art educators have utilized each curriculum approach to varying degrees. While the other installments took on a more historical view or sense of the present field, this time we will look forward, towards future possibilities for art education and talk about a newer, burgeoning approach to curriculum and instruction: new materialism. While new materialism is in the more nascent stages of research and theorization, there are a few examples of how it can be implemented in the classroom. Because new materialism is currently in its early stages educators who take up the theory may be able to steer and impact the success of this approach.

Looking more closely at the theory behind it, new materialism is a theoretical reordering of humanist and human-centered positioning of subjects and objects. Faced with and in response to 21st century dilemmas, that are quite literally human-made, but are beyond the scope and scale of the individual (e.g. global warming), new materialism looks beyond the traditional humanist concept of the subject/object divide in which the human and non-human are dualistically or oppositionally conceived. Instead, new materialism proffers a relational understanding of humans and objects, one which considers the ways that objects, not just subjects (read humans), have agency or possess the ability to act on and impact others. Hood and Kraehe (2017) relay a sense of how art education curriculums have failed to consider this position in the past, stating:

“Each object,” according to art historian James Elkins (1996), “has a presence – a being” (p. 12). For many of us, this is the attraction of being with art objects and creating things with material form. And yet, ironically, the art education frameworks that are often used to investigate materials and things – including discipline-based art education, visual culture art education, material culture studies, object-based learning, and choice-based art education – overlook the thingliness of things. That is, they do not satisfactorily capture the energetic contributions that material objects make in the creation of art. (p. 33)

Ultimately, Hood and Kraehe (2017) are calling for an art education curriculum that not only assumes that materials have meaning but that begins to account for the ways that “human and non-human, people and things – have material vibrancy and agency”. (p. 33) Likewise, a new materialist art education curriculum might look to the ways that humans and non-humans co-create each other as well as agentic, playful, and explorative learning opportunities (Kaplan, 2016). It might consider how clay works the subject, learner, and artist as much as it considers how the child works the clay.

To learn more about New Materialism see:

Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘New Materialism’ through the Arts

Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter/ The New School

Three Minute Theory: What is Intra-Action?

Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter


Hood, E. & Kraehe, A. (2017). Creative matter: New materialism in art education research, teaching, and learning. Art Education, 70(2), 32-38.

Kaplan, H.G. (2016). Young children’s playful artmaking: An ontological direction for art education (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Ohio State University, Columbus , OH.

Wednesday 11.15.17

Using Big Ideas in Art Education

From: Heather Kaplan

In our previous installment, we discussed the relationship and differences between VCAE and DBAE in order to think about and expand curricular possibilities for art educators. In this installment I will discuss another curricular approach, Big Ideas. Walker (2001) has written extensively about the possibility of using Big Ideas within art education but Big Ideas are not limited to the visual arts. In fact, one of the advantages of Big Ideas is their ability to reach 21st century learners, who are themselves arguably more connected than previous generations, and to create curriculum that is both interconnected and interdisciplinary.

In fact one the real advantages to studying Big Ideas is that it presumes a disposition of interconnectedness and connection making. Big Ideas are by definition, ideas are that BIG, in that they are large and overarching. This means that Big Ideas are bigger than one discipline (like math or art), and that the study of Big Ideas can be done either within a discipline or interdisciplinary and in a more holistic fashion-meaning that an entire grade or school could explore a big idea through its many curricular incarnations.

Walker (2001) claims, “Big ideas – broad, important human issues- are characterized by complexity, ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity… big ideas do not completely explicate an idea, but represent a host of concepts that form the idea.” (p. 1) Because Big Ideas are able to entertain ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity, curricula that use Big Ideas should aim to and will be able to entertain varied understandings and perspectives. Students engaged in this way will be able to, to some degree, direct their own learning, compare and contrast their perspectives against that of others, entertain multiple perspectives, and manage contradiction and ambiguity – skills that are preeminently needed today.

While Big Ideas can be adopted on a large scale (grade level or school-wide), Big Ideas can be effective at the classroom level as well. Walker champions the effectiveness of Big Ideas in art classroom curricula by making clear the professional (or discipline based) connection between ideas and artmaking. She claims that artists are not strangers to Big Ideas, stating  “Big ideas drive an artist’s artmaking over time.” (p. 2) Likewise, the educational resource and public television series Art 21 (Art in the 21st Century) claims that contemporary artists often do not work in a single medium in the ways they might have in previous generations, contemporary artists often work with and through ideas.

Walker helps elucidate how Big Ideas manifest in an artist’s work over time. She points out the difference between a Big Idea and a more pointed, discrete understanding of content. I like to share her example of Andy Warhol to help illustrate the difference. Let’s look closer: According to Walker the content or subject matter of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can prints is the Campbell soup can; however, if we look at the artist’s larger oeuvre, or the entire body of his work, Big Ideas like “the denouncement of the sacred values and ideals of high art” (p. 3) and concepts such as reproduction and multiples, consumerism, and the consumption of fame emerge. While it may require a deeper understanding of art, artists, and meaning-making, studying Big Ideas creates students who are not only able to think deeply about the works they are creating, but it also creates dynamic thinkers who are able to wrestle with complexity, ambiguity, and contradiction in their thoughts and the thoughts of others.

For more curricular information about Big Ideas please check out the following links:

What's the Big Idea? - Missouri Alliance for Arts Education


Walker, S. (2001). Teaching meaning in artmaking. Worchester, MA: Davis Publishing, Inc.

Tuesday 11. 7.17

VCAE: Opening Curricular Connections and Possibilities

From: Heather Kaplan

In our last installment I discussed the difference between the commonly taught elements and principles of design and a more generalized DBAE curriculum. In this post I will focus on the difference between DBAE and Visual Culture Art Education, in the hopes that this will open up ideas and possibilities for your art curricula. 

While DBAE is still the backbone of many formalized state art standards, VCAE is a more recent curricular theory that responds to historical and cultural changes of the postmodern era (Duncum 2015) and of contemporary art (i.e. after 1990). Although, it is arguable that VCAE is still quite similar to DBAE in that it does not displace the four professionalized domains of DBAE, in fact its adherence to this generalized structure is quite remarkable. I submit that, rather than displacing this professional system, VCAE merely shifts the emphasis from art making to criticism, while questioning what is considered within the realm of study and criticism in art education, and it ultimately asks for a broader definition of  who can be considered artistic or visual producers.

One of the biggest differences between DBAE and VCAE is that VCAE seeks to expand the field of study by pushing beyond traditional notions of the “fine” (“fine art” or “fine craft”) to include a larger realm of cultural production. Freedman and Stuhr (2004) define visual culture as “the totality of humanly designed images and artifacts that shape our existence.” (p. 816) Thus, in a comprehensive VCAE curriculum a masterpiece by Rembrandt might be studied side by side with a McDonald’s french fry container. In VCAE, notions of “high” and “low” culture are deliberately being rethought along with how these distinctions convey cultural capital and disseminate power. Ideally, the notion of an expanded field of art maintains that all human cultural production could and should be studied and that (good) design, whether consumed by the elite or the masses, contains not only the elements and principles of design, but also, cultural content worthy of study. What the study of VCAE provides is a criticality regarding the systems of production and how the visual creates meaning and covers or uncovers systems of power. Thus, the study of VCAE is often credited with increased emphasis on aesthetics and criticism.

Some criticize VCAE for this displacement of artmaking in an already discursive (verbal) school day (Duncum 2002). However, proponents of VCAE claim that an expanded study of cultural production better prepares students to deal with an expanded notion of knowledge one that Duncum (2015) refers to as “having no center”. While others state that VCAE prepares students to explore social justice issues pertinent to 21st learning, (Ballengee Morris, 2002a; 2002b; Ballenge-Morris & Stuhr, 2001; Delacruz, 2003; & Freedman, 1994 ) Duncum also asserts that VCAE mimics postmodern thinking and processes in which hundreds of connections are made and remade. He says, “This… enables us to associate one idea with another, one image with another, an idea with an image, an image with a song, a song with a memory, a memory with a movie, a movie with a poem, and so on and on.” (p. 53) Students who engage with learning in this way are not only artists, but they are capable of thinking, rethinking, and creating new connections and making meaning.

For ideas and examples on how to adopt VCAE into your art classroom curriculum the following sites provide curricular examples or describe curricular possibilities, many of which prominently feature artmaking as well as criticism:

For a short overview of VCAE see the following site, Visual Culture Art Education.



Ballengee-Morris, C. (2002a). Cultures for Sale: Perspectives on colonialism and self-determination and the relationship of authenticity and tourism. Studies in Art Education, 43(3), 232-245.

Ballengee-Morris, C. (2002b). Tourist souvenirs. Visual Arts Research, 28(2), 102-108.

Ballengee-Morris, C. & Stuhr, P. (2001). Multicultural art and visual cultural education

Duncum, P. (2002). Clarifying visual culture art education. Art Education 55(3), 6-11. in a changing world. Art Education, 54(4), 6-13.

Duncum, P. (2015). Transforming art education into visual culture education through rhizomatic structures.  Anadolu Journal of Educational Sciences International 5 (3).

Delacruz, E. (2003). Racism American style and resistance to change: Art education’s role in the Indian mascot issue. Art Education, 56(3), 13-20.

Freedman, K. (1994). Interpreting gender and visual culture in art classrooms. Studies in Art Education, 35(3), 157-170.

Freedman, K. & Stuhr, P. (2004). Curriculum changes for the 21st century: Visual culture in art education. In E. Eisner & M. Day (Eds.), Handbook of research and policy in art education (pp. 815-828). Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association.


Wednesday 11. 1.17

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.