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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« Elements and Principles and their Relationship to DBAE | Main | Using Big Ideas in Art Education »

November 07, 2017

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.



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