School art is typically distinguished by the subject matter it denotes: visual art, music, dance, or drama. In this article, I suggest a new distinction among the arts genres used in the school, namely, "child art," "fine art," and "art for children." Rather than being categorized by subject matter, these three genres operate across the various media. Each genre is associated with different contents, pedagogies, and evaluation practices. Each is based on a separate set of ideologies and goals, related to different underlying assumptions about the nature of arts and arts learning.(1) Those assumptions are incompatible with each other on both the ontological level (what constitutes art) and the pedagogical level (how to teach it).
In the first part of the article I examine the day-to-day "operational curricula"(2) of the three art worlds in the subjects of dance and drama (which, when taught by specialists in the schools in which my colleagues and I observed, were taught as one subject), music, and visual arts. There are fundamental differences among these genres--in their out-of-school manifestations as well as in their ideal curricula--but, I argue, the genres are being diluted and their distinctions blurred, and they are sacrificing their potential contributions to one another.(3) In the second part of the article, I focus on the contexts in which the genres operate. Specifically, I examine the contexts of time and space for arts instruction, as well as the communities of practice in which school art functions. I show that each of the components plays a different, though interrelated, role in the dilution of the three genres of school art. In the third part I suggest that the three genres may be strengthened by policies addressing the aforementioned contexts. I argue that similar genres and analogous dilution exist in other school subjects, from language arts to math and science, and that dilution is shaped by the same contexts that shape school arts. That commonality in structures, problem, and cause calls for coordinated action. Accordingly, the development of policies should involve policymakers, teachers, and specialists in each of the genres (e.g., in the subjects of art, science, and math) so that efforts and deliberations may be aligned, informing and supporting each other.
This article is based on two research studies, which examined arts education in elementary schools using qualitative methods. The first, a three-year project, was conducted under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts.(4) The second, a four-year project, was sponsored by the Bureau of Educational Research and the research board at the University of Illinois.(5)
Observations revealed three genres of arts used in the schools: (1) "child art," meaning original compositions created by children in dance, drama, visual art, and music; (2) "fine art," meaning classical works in the different arts media created by established artists; and (3) "art for children," meaning art created by adults specifically for