Monthly Mentor

Matthew Neylon (July)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Matthew is a graduate of the 2017 NAEA School for Art Leaders and cofounder of CONNECT, an organization that connects art teachers from independent schools around Atlanta with resources and relationships to excel and thrive. He has presented to hundreds of educators and artists annually, on various topics including wellness through the arts, trauma-informed arts education, storytelling, leadership, STEAM/art integration, and curriculum design. Click "GO" to read his full bio.



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October 16, 2019

Situating Art Education as a Discipline

By Aaron Knochel

I’ve described what connective tissues are available within the transdisciplinary body of a discipline or its manifestation in an exquisite corpse curriculum. After reviewing these connections, it might be useful to zoom out a bit to position these connections within a larger discourse of art education as a situated discipline itself.

Art education has a long history of implementation in coordination with other disciplines whether it is through arts integration or interdisciplinary curriculum. As a part of the early 20th century progressive movement in education, art education was promoted within education for its significance to experiential processes (Dewey, 1934) and for the relevance of creative expression to student’s lives (Winslow, 1939). Liora Bresler (1995) describes a resurgence of arts integration in the 1960s and 1970s through Henry Broudy’s (1972) focus on aesthetic education as increasing imaginative perception and Elliot Eisner’s (1982) advocacy for arts learning as expanding the cognitive capacity of learners through the affective and sensorial. In the 1990s, the field of art education began asserting more of its own disciplinarity through Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) to gain status as a part of the core curriculum (Dobbs, 1992; Eisner, 1988).

The opening of the 21st century brought critiques of Discipline Based Art Education coming from visual culture studies perspectives (Duncum, 2001; 2009; Freedman & Stuhr, 2004) and an increased dynamism of how the field is conceptualized “through/with/by/for/ of/in/beyond/as” (Carpenter & Tavin, 2010) a disciplinary coherence. Ironically, this dynamism appears to proliferate within an ever more burdensome era of national standards, narrowing budgets and high-stakes testing. These acts of arts integration as interdisciplinary conceptualizations, whether efforts of cognitive translation, assessing more global impacts of arts perception or understanding experiential impacts of the arts, have often been performed under threats to the field. The need to be more standardized in an era of standardization, the need to access cultural cache and funding support through the tumult of public sentiment, or the need to stay relevant to the diverse methodologies of contemporary art making, all exert pressure on art education practitioners effecting curriculum and understandings of what it entails. One sentiment that continues to be true is Elliot Eisner’s (1999) warning to the field in bending to the pressures of public persuasion:

It strikes me that we do the arts no service when we try to make their case by touting their contributions to other fields. When such contributions become priorities, the arts become handmaidens to ends that are not distinctively artistic and in the process undermine the value of art's unique contributions to the education of the young. (p. 158)

Current calls for arts-integrated curriculum could most certainly be guilty of some of these scrambles for funding and relevancy, but I would advocate that in addition to these very real pressures there be an opportunity to actualize a resurgence of the fundamental importance of making to all performances of learning regardless of the discipline.

I offer the following presuppositions for arts-integrated curriculum that when taken as a foundation may allow the arts to evade Eisner’s (1999) pejorative “handmaiden” status:

  • Transdisciplinary (values disciplinary knowledge crossover, intersection, and specialization)

  • Forming knowledge (understands the different types of questions that disciplines ask and the value of multiple ways of knowing)

  • Embraces complexity (sees the world as having complex, unpredictable, and indeterminate problems without singular solutions)

  • Investigatory and constructionist (engages learners as embodied problem solvers through the process of making and iterative methodologies)


I am careful here to not forget Glatthorn, Boschee, Whitehead, & Boschees’ (2015) distinction between prescriptive and descriptive curricular theories. In my suggestive curricular analysis, it is absolutely possible that through my soft prescription of the significance of my connections may in fact get turned on its head if an actual descriptive analysis of for example a STEAM curriculum were to apply these connections.

Nonetheless, in the posts to come I will try to put these connections to work with some suggestions of case studies that we might consider.

- AK


Bresler, L. (1995). The subservient, co-equal, affective, and social integration styles and their implications for the arts. Arts Education Policy Review, 96(5), 31-37.

Broudy, H. (1972). Enlightened cherishing. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Carpenter, B. S. & Tavin, K. (2010). Art education beyond reconceptualization: Enacting curriculum through/with/by/for/ of/in/beyond/as visual culture, community, and public pedagogy. In E. Malewski (Ed.), Curriculum Studies Handbook  (pp.  244-262). New York, NY: Routledge.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York, NY: Perigee.

Dobbs, S. M. (1992). The DBAE handbook: An overview of discipline-based art education. Retrieved from

Duncum, P. (2001). Visual culture: Developments, definitions, and directions for art education. Studies in Art Education, 42(2), 101-112.

Duncum, P. (2009). Visual culture in art education, circa 2009. Visual Arts Research, 35(1), 64-75.

Eisner, E. W. (1982). Cognition and curriculum. New York, NY: Longman.

Eisner, E. W. (1988). Structure and magic in discipline-based art education. Journal of Art & Design Education, 7(2), 185-196.

Eisner, E. W. (1999). Getting down to basics in arts education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 33(4), 145.

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: NAEA.

Glatthorn, A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B. & Boschee, B. (2015). Curriculum leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Winslow, L. (1939) The integrated school art program. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


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