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 27, 2017

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.


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