Digital Art and Online Art Classes

From John Dewey to No Child Left Behind

By: - Oct 26, 2012


For many educators, technology would seem to stand in opposite of a fine arts education. Recent studies suggest bringing technology into the arts classroom may enhance creativity, draw more students to these programs, and  help teach versatile skills that can be used to garner employment in other fields. When coupled with effective and innovative educators, technology can serve to engage students in the history and practical usage of fine art.

In their paper From Dewey to No Child Left Behind: The Evolution and Devolution of Public Arts Education, University of Texas at Austin's Julian Vasquez Heilig, Heather Cole and Angelica Aguilar posit that art is basic to comprehensive education. However, over the years, arts education has frequently been sidelined in order to promote math and sciences in US schools.

After being introduced into classrooms as practical training for industrial employment, the arts entered the classroom of the late nineteenth century through technical drawing and drafting. The rise of a middle class in the coming decades, with leisure time and disposable income, lead to an increased desire for the aesthetic elements of culture, influencing an embracing of the arts by the middle class.

At the turn of the 20th century, John Dewey of the University of Chicago introduced the concept of progressive education into US skills, theorizing that young learners need education that is authentic and allows them to grow mentally, physically and socially by allowing for opportunities for creativity and critical thinking. During the progressive era of the 1920s and 1930s, student-centered, studio-based learning was first integrated into US high schools. However, this changed with the Great Depression, when school funding was cut dramatically.

After another increase in arts funding, for several decades since the 1950s, things changed again with the Reagan era, at which point the arts were “not viewed as serious knowledge itself.” This pattern repeated again after the 1990s gave way to the Bush's No Child Left Behind era, in which accountability of all school resources has heavily influenced curriculum.

Despite schools working with great oversight and in many cases fewer resources, the arts today are still able to flourish in some circles due to technological advances. Online resources  allow digital artists to showcase their work from start to finish through customizable online portfolios. The site also serves as a valuable network for artists to stay in touch and learn from each others’ methods.

Even top university resources are now available online, usually free for both students and anyone else interested in learning. Vanderbilt University's Jean and Alexander Heard Library offers likns around the web, as well as information on museums and galleries, professional organizations, reference databases and even image resources and collections.

Technology has also largely democratized the ability to create art, as electronic musicians and graphic artists can now accomplish with a few keystrokes on a laptop what once required hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of professional equipment. The technology has also served to create a new market for fine arts knowledge, as a demand for graphic designers and digital artists has inspired many students to seek an education in fine arts.

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13% increase in graphic design jobs over the next decade, requiring even more students capable of demonstrating creativity and originality through professional digital and graphic art portfolios.

While fine arts courses should certainly introduce the latest technological advancements to their students, they would be wise to ensure the history and foundations of fine arts are also well established. Even the most sophisticated programs are only effective in the hands of an artist who is aware of the principles of their chosen art form. However, if used to aid art education through direct student engagement, technology can prove exceedingly effective in inspiring student involvement and creativity.

Sophia Foster is a researcher and contributor to Masters Degrees On Line.