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Shifting Perspective in Art Education
This website supports ways of thinking about and teaching art that are aligned with ideas and practices in contemporary art.  Our approach challenges how art is often taught today in schools and invites art teachers and generalists alike to rethink and re-tool their approach to art.

The site is a collaboration among acclaimed San Francisco State University Professor of Art Education Julia Marshall (Dec. 9, 1947 - Feb. 15, 2022), and educators throughout the U.S. 


Visual interpretation of a Directed Inquiry Trail by Julia Marshall

To learn more about about Julia Marshall and her work with art-based inquiry, follow the links below: 
  • In Memoriam by Mark Johnson, Director of Fine Arts Gallery at San Francisco State University 
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Artwork 
  • Video

A middle school student's artistic response to the questions: What does your hand look like? What does it do? What would you like to teach it to do?

The shift in perspective promoted here is based on these basic tenets:
1) Art is an area of inquiry. That means it is a way of exploring, interpreting and imagining the world.

Art in schools is about learning. This suggests it has a different role from its counterparts in art museums, galleries, streets, public buildings and parks. While it is closest to studio practice, art in education is specific to its context and purpose: school and learning.

Art is about ideas: exploring, interpreting, conveying concepts.
4) Art works through aesthetic and emotional expression. Ideas are interpreted and conveyed in ways that are experiential and engaging. Art connects on a deep personal level.

5) Art is always changing; we must keep an open mind and engage with its changes.

The shift in perspective leads to the following suggestions:
  • Emphasize the conceptual character of art—how it explores and conveys ideas.
  • Organize and articulate art projects in ways that promote critical and creative thinking.
  • Approach skills with materials and techniques as supports for conveying ideas, and teach these things through student exploration (as opposed to training).
  • Provide opportunities and guidance for exploring ideas.
  • Promote multiple solutions and aesthetic responses.
Examples of artwork created when middle school students used creative strategies to represent their ideas about shoes. 

Take it slow. A full-on inquiry-based model could evolve over time out of the more general approach described above. 

Take parts of it.  In the inquiry-based approach are nuggets of wisdom for classrooms that don’t adhere completely to the model. These include but are not limited to: 

• Emphasis on ideas 
• Strong structure (scaffolding and support for ideation and art construction) 
• Promotion of thinking and inquiry over technical and formal training  
• Documentation of and reflection on process and learning 
• Open-endedness 
• Focus on imagination and invention 

All of these traits are essential and not difficult to incorporate. They just require a shift in perspective and some planning. We can’t emphasize planning and thinking ahead enough! Frameworks, particularly the Teaching for Understanding and Making Learning Visible, are very helpful for this.  It may take some work to penetrate and use these frameworks, but in the long run, they will make your projects and lessons richer and more intentional, and they will make your life so much easier. You can find synopses of these frameworks on this site.

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