Art is an indispensable part of human existence as people explore their creativity through different forms of art. Chen-Hafteck (2007) points at the role music play in people’s lives since their early days. Colbert (2006) mentions children’s storytelling as a type of artmaking and simultaneously a peculiarity of developmental stages. Art is intrinsic in every individual’s life, so it is naturally a part of the educational system as well. Art education is a pathway for children’s exploration of their inner world and the world around them (Roy, Baker, & Hamilton, 2015).
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It is noteworthy that the social component is now regarded as the central aspect defining the utilized methods and contents (Ministry of Education, 2009). As far as methods in art education are concerned, it is possible to identify two major approaches. Some educators believe that children’s activities cannot be limited in any way. Others think that certain borders should be introduced, although more research is needed. I believe some rules and confinements should be utilized in art classrooms to ensure the effectiveness of the process of learning, but students should also enjoy a substantial degree of freedom.
Components of Art Education in the 21st Century
Purpose of Art
Irrespective of the debate on the level of children’s autonomy and exploration of their creativity, there is a certain consensus regarding the purpose of art and the role it plays in the world. Grierson (2011) outlines some of the primary features related to this function. It is necessary to consider three peculiarities of art that are essential for the understanding of art education. First, art is “conceptual and material knowledge through which we know and are known” (Grierson, 2011, p. 338).
The researcher notes that all senses are involved in the development of this kind of knowledge base. Children use different types of materials when creating their artwork and simultaneously learn about their properties. During classes, young learners examine the ways clay can be manipulated. They also try different strategies to create tinges and hues when mixing colors. Children also learn about their own feelings and emotions regarding the material world.
As far as the purpose of learning about the world around them is concerned, children benefit from art education. Teachers use various means to help children to achieve academic objectives and have different approaches to teaching. Art education introduces children to the world of different shapes, substances, and forms through their exploration of materials (Grierson, 2011). Young learners also see the links between the material world and the sphere of culture and symbolism. It has been acknowledged that little learners are exposed to different cultural paradigms, and art can help them read these cultural cues easily (Ministry of Education, 2009; Fuemana-Foa’l, Pohio, & Terreni, 2009). Building on these symbols and rituals, young learners become a part of a larger community.
Secondly, art is also a collection of cultural and historical artifacts, rituals, symbols, and beliefs. Through art, people learn about their ancestors’ beliefs, religion, and conceptual paradigms (Grierson, 2011). In this respect, art can play different roles as children may want to explore their creativity through their attempts to be a part of their cultural group. At the same time, learners may become interested in their cultural backgrounds through their fascination with some art forms. One of the examples in the case of Maria, who was willing to explore the world of kowhaiwhai patterns (Ministry of Education, 2004).
Of course, visual arts exploration is one of the stories as music, dance, drama, and other types of artmaking can bring people closer to their roots. The educational system is bound to the cultural component as, through people’s beliefs and rituals, social links are developed or enhanced.
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Thirdly, art is a way to reveal oneself to others or to provide a representation of the world or others. Basically, the major purpose of art is moving humanity forward, helping people to create and innovate. Art is the platform for development, so children should have the necessary understanding and knowledge to use this platform in their life. Grierson (2011) states that creativity is a product of art and the primary instrument of the evolution of civilizations. Modern society is associated with the focus on the creative power of individuals who make economies succeed. Hence, art education now extends the boundaries of some esthetic development of a person. Art forms mastery is becoming a type of skill needed to move societies to technological advances.
It has been acknowledged that people react differently to various types of art and artworks, but these reactions are often very emotional. Leavy (2015) mentions the ways her daughter or students felt when they were listening to certain pieces of music. Therefore, the emotional load associated with art cannot be overlooked. People do not simply represent the outside world or explore their own selves but also strive to feel a wide range of emotions when being exposed to artworks. Gaining the pleasure of viewing a picture or painting is another important purpose of art. People need art in order to sublimate certain emotions and feel they are humans.
The curriculum is one of the art education components that are widely discussed. Educators and policymakers try to identify the role of art, its place in society, and ways to teach art. Knight (2009) emphasizes that curricula are still based on the dominant cultural paradigm even if the priority is seemingly on diversity in many educational facilities in numerous countries of the western world, including New Zealand. Knight (2009) adds that ideologies shape the way art is taught and understood, although its role in people’s lives is acknowledged.
An illustration of this approach is art education in China, where art is taught through rigid rules and patterns with a focus on ideological principles, rituals, and symbols. In western countries, the principles of equality prevail, and children are taught in terms of the democratic agenda.
The existence of different perspectives concerning art and education leads to various conflicts among educators developing curriculum. According to Parnell (2012), the diversity of ideas and the trends occurring during the process of curriculum creation make teachers collaborate and challenge each other’s methods and approaches. This plurality is beneficial for art education since this collaborative work makes teaching practice learner-centered, based on the most recent advances in the sphere, and culture-focused (Parnell, 2012).
The curriculum becomes the guiding plan that is flexible enough to ensure children’s creative development. It is also vital to make sure that children and their families are also involved in the process of curriculum development (Ministry of education, 2009; Ministry of Education, 2017). Children and families should be empowered to co-create, which will ensure the creative potential of the new generation that is aware of diverse cultural domains that form contemporary society.
Every country has certain educational agenda that shapes its curricula. According to the Ministry of Education (2017), the primary goals and outcomes the system tries to attain include wellbeing, belonging, contribution, communication, and exploration. All these strands are visible in terms of early childhood art education as children are trained to explore while communicating and collaborating with peers, educators, and families.
Terreni (2010) stresses that this approach to teaching and learning is the evolutionary way for the educational system of modern society. Individuals strive to find their way in this world that is becoming highly diverse, especially when it comes to culture. Families serve as safe zones that bring their own visions to the educational environment making it more inclusive. Classrooms are small models of the modern world where educators guide the development of young generations while families are involved to ensure sustainable growth of their children’s personalities.
When considering social ties, it is necessary to address some general elements of art education that help students to become prepared for their future life in society. It is necessary to stress that these elements are mainly supported by proponents and opponents of limits on children’s creativity in art education. Te Whakiri emphasizes that the process of children’s learning and their sustainable development is ensured by the involvement of the family, community, and culture (Fuemana-Foa’l et al., 2009).
It is also important to make sure that the “well-being of their family and community is supported… their family, culture, knowledge, and community are respected” (as cited in Fuemana-Foa’l et al., 2009, p. 25). It is also vital to maintain “strong connection and consistency among all the aspects of the child’s world” (as cited in Fuemana-Foa’l et al., 2009, p. 25). It is largely agreed that education should take place in certain social and cultural contexts.
For example, cross-functional teams of a childhood education student and a child of a local early childhood center made all stakeholders benefit from the activity that involved artmaking and play. Naughton and Lines (2011) claim that the project was specifically valuable for childhood education students who could share their views on their experiences. Students communicated online and collaboratively developed their understanding of art education and ways children could see those teaching techniques. Interestingly, the focus was on improvisation and children’s freedom during music playing. Students tended to express their willingness to give more freedom to learners.
They wanted to see the way young learners used musical instruments or dances to the music as those were reactions that have not been shaped by formal education and training. This collaboration helped childhood education students to learn more about teaching practice, which would make them effective educators in the future. Richards (2018) pays specific attention to the importance of parental involvement in the process as children expressed their joy when they were discussing the artmaking process and the role their parents played in it.
The Nature of Creativity and Its Limits
At this point, it is possible to analyze the notion of creativity and its place in art education. Creativity is not confined to some ideas and movements that come from nowhere. Of course, some may believe that creative zeal cannot be limited, as it is something archetypal and divine (Plows, 2014). However, artists manage to push out “the frontiers of human possibility” by “internalizing the rules so well that it becomes possible to move beyond them” (as cited in Gibbs, 2005, p.8).
Gibbs (2005) claims that a similar approach is to be utilized in teaching art as educators should not follow certain guidelines and principles strictly but have to eliminate any limits. Likewise, young children can explore their creativity, but they need to have some background and boundaries to be pushed. Therefore, children should receive a lot of freedom and be encouraged to be active and creative. Nevertheless, it is essential to provide young learners with instruments to achieve this goal.
The opponents of teachers’ intrusion and any kind of guidance stress that children feel dominated, and their creativity is reduced. Plows (2014) shares his memories regarding his art education at school. The author notes that he saw his art education as torture and the prison for her creativity. The researcher states that educators should not try to bring patterns and scaffolding but offer absolute freedom for their young children’s creative activity.
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Many researchers and practitioners stress that children’s development should take place as naturally as possible at the pace necessary for every child to grasp a skill or piece of information (Nicol, 2016). The Steiner Waldorf Approach is often regarded as an illustration of this natural development where art plays one of the central roles in the formation of children’s identities (Nicol, 2016). Haslip and Gullo (2018) note that the socio-cultural landscape is changing, which calls for the shifts in curriculum and even approaches utilized in teaching art.
At the same time, proponents of certain limits and boundaries manifested through educators’ guidance advocate further research on the matter. Richards (2007) notes that children develop confidence and their creative potential when they are exposed to some patterns and frames. When a child sees a new type of material, the small artist needs time to understand how it works and what can come out. When this child sees another person using this material to create something, this young learner copies the activities.
However, soon, new shapes and forms, as well as stories behind them, emerge, and true creativity begins. Some may say that children do not need to copy anything as they will understand what to do and even come up with new strategies, but they only need some time (Nicol, 2016). However, children of the 21st century do not have much time as the world is evolving at an unprecedented pace.
Importantly, Richards (2007) emphasizes that young children’s views and desires regarding their art-making are rarely addressed, although these aspects should define the way teaching occurs. The author mentions the existing gaps and effective strategies to address them. It is critical to identify the reasons behind children’s artmaking and choices made when creating artworks. Educators have to understand what art actually is for children, which will be instrumental in developing effective teaching methods. This research will also help respond to the questions concerning the level of children’s autonomy.
It is necessary to mention illustrative research conducted by Richards (2009). The researcher invited children to co-create an investigation of people’s behaviors. Her students received digital cameras and brief instructions concerning these devices’ use. Learners were asked to report about their work on making a piece of art. Children were highly motivated to create and share their views and emotions related to the process. Such studies are needed as the way children see art is still obscure.
It is unclear whether young learners find instructions frustrating or liberating. All these questions need to be addressed in order to create effective curricula and ensure children’s development. Another study conducted by Lind (2005) also focused on children’s comments regarding their artmaking. Children revealed their inner worlds and meanings they gave to their actions and movements. It becomes clear that children like the freedom they have in their art education, but they still need some guidance to be empowered and confidence to be free to create.
Art education, like any other sphere, has undergone various changes throughout the decades. Terreni (2010) identifies several stages and focuses on the 20th century. The researcher states that, in the 1950s, the focus was on creativity and the absolute freedom of children. During the 1970-1980s, educators and policymakers concentrated on children’s developmental stages. Students were offered materials and types of artwork based on their stage of development. Although students were given a substantial amount of power, teachers’ guidance became more pronounced. At the end of the 20th century, teachers and other adults started to co-create and co-construct with young children. The primary focus is on social ties and the involvement of the community. The cultural background has become the basis for young generations’ development.
This approach is still employed in many countries, including New Zealand. Teachers are expected to encourage and empower students, but educators will also challenge them to try new materials and forms (Terreni, 2010). In other words, teachers motivate students to explore their creativity but simultaneously show them basic rules and strategies that children will be able to abide by or break when they are confident enough.
Collaboration is seen as the most important element of art education as adults co-create with young children. This paradigm is employed as a strategic framework and is valued by all stakeholders (Ministry of Education, 2004). Children collaborate with their peers and share their views on strategies and tools. Learners also co-create with educators who show the way to push their own and other people’s boundaries. Families are engaged in the processes as parents, and students’ close ones participate in numerous projects and trace the progress of their children.
Gibbs (2005) contemplates the value of reason and intuition in education, especially when it comes to curriculum. The researcher claims that a western educator tends to place a larger value on reason. However, people whose morals are guided by Buddhist or Taoist teachings put an emphasis on “intuitive knowledge” (Gibbs, 2005, p. 11). Although it may seem that the two approaches are incompatible, they can be balanced.
Clearly, the curriculum, as well as every lesson or activity, should have a certain structure so that the teacher could focus on certain educational goals. Nevertheless, these structures (or plans or frameworks) should be flexible so that educators and children could not miss the learning points they would benefit from. In simple terms, a teacher should know what activities will be undertaken. At the same time, the class and the atmosphere may shape the plan making the lesson consistent with the mood and the overall direction of the learning process.
To sum up, I believe art education is the setting for young children’s development and their navigation through the material, spiritual, and conceptual worlds. Although creativity is one of the cornerstones of art and early childhood art education, certain standards and boundaries should be introduced. Children must be encouraged to try new forms and media, but educators should show what can be made with certain forms and shapes.
Young children only start learning about this world, and they are often introduced to various things and activities in early childhood centers. Therefore, teachers should create an atmosphere where they provide guidelines and introduce standards, as well as encourage their students to expand the given boundaries and move forward. For centuries and thousands of years, children learned through observation and repetition, which has proved to be an effective form of learning. Art education abides with this law of natural evolvement of human society and is the platform for pushing the boundaries youngsters are exposed to.
In order to make this approach operational, collaboration should be a characteristic feature of early childhood education. Teachers and families must develop proper relationships to ensure the undisrupted process of learning. The skills and young knowledge learners gain at early childhood centers can be applied in-home- or community-based settings. Students learn about their background, their environment, and themselves with the help of art. They become a part of their communities and find their place in society, which is one of the primary objectives of education.
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