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“Art deals with the most sensitive of human striving. Art is personal. Art is universal. It is a means of communicating and expressing our perceptions in graphic form. It must be available to all students, in all its aspects."                                                                                                                  —From NAEA’s Professional Code for Art Educators

Michelle Marder Kamhi, in her Wall Street Journal editorial on June 25, 2010, asserts that there is a de facto political assault on art education that would lead to “the study of both ‘visual culture’ and ‘social justice… questions posed by artworks.’” She further suggests that the most obvious example of this political assault is the 2010 Convention theme of the National Art Education Association—Art Education and Social Justice—along with the convention logo, an iconic fist with paintbrushes in hand. Ms. Kamhi makes sweeping generalizations about the field of art education and the leadership of NAEA based on only two presentations from the more than 1,000 peer-reviewed convention sessions.

Throughout history, artists have played a critical role in controversial issues. From Picasso’s portrayal of the destruction of war in his famous Guernica to Judi Werthein’s commentary on illegal immigration in her piece Brinco, artists are unique in their ability to reflect aspects of society back to us. Art offers us a way to see history in the present, and it helps students to extend the better part of our humanity. The reality is that artists continue to reside on the forefront of controversial issues, many of them political. As such, it makes sense that students are shown the various and unique roles of the arts in societies. It does not mean that students should be indoctrinated to any one side of the political spectrum. Rather, a student of art should understand the role of art throughout time to challenge or uphold social mores. What Ms. Kamhi misses in her argument is that discussion of visual culture and social justice are fundamental to a well-rounded arts education and not, as she suggests, an attempt to sway students to a leftist ideology. Education is about introducing knowledge and new ideas, including diverse points of view. Through critical thinking and problem solving in the arts, students develop perceptive skills that can be used to make informed personal choices. The reverse results in the inability to observe the world around them.

NAEA believes that all students deserve a comprehensive, balanced, sequential, and uninterrupted K-12 program of instruction in the visual arts, designed to provide students with skills and knowledge in the arts in accordance with national, state, and local standards. A solid arts education curriculum challenges students to express how they see and feel the world around them. Ms. Kamhi further references a statement on NAEA’s website that “education is always political.” Indeed. Education is always political. Remove arts from the dialogue for a moment. Education is one of the most contentious and political issues in the United States. Education policies play into the election of mayors as well as presidents.  The development of critical and perceptive skills in visual arts studio classrooms for use in and beyond the parameters of schools is significant to the development of students in our society if they are to move beyond being consumers and become citizens who can contribute to our democracy.

Education is political and the arts can be controversial, but NAEA’s mission is neither. The mission of NAEA is “to promote art education through professional development, service, advancement of knowledge, and leadership.” Art educators are encouraged to strive toward rigorous professional teaching standards and efficacy in teacher preparation and professional development, pedagogy, ethics, and inquiry in the field. Throughout its 63-year history, true to its mission, NAEA has held conventions that offer presentations of current research and knowledge in the field and encourage dialogue and debate about emerging issues and trends, reflecting a wide range of viewpoints. In this time of deep budget cuts and priority setting about what is taught to students who must be able to navigate an ever-changing 21st-century world—and a time when arts education is under constant attack—shouldn’t our arguments be about the essential value of arts education?

R. Barry Shauck
Assistant Professor and Head/Art Education
Boston University
President, The National Art Education Association


NAEA’s Strategic Plan embraces the following central themes and ideas, which have guided work of the Association for the past three years:
Learning: Focus on exemplary professional development initiatives that build member capacity to be effective educators, leaders, and advocates for art education.
Community: Focus on building a more cohesive professional community among art educators and museum art educators through enhanced communication strategies.
Advocacy: Focus on communicating the importance of student learning and lifelong learning in the visual arts to art educators, policy makers, parents, and the community.
Research and Knowledge: Focus on expanding access to information on current and emerging policy issues that affect art education.

NAEA’s Position Platform—our public declaration of the views we hold as an association about various topics of concern to our membership—states: “Art educators engage all students in learning that promotes the arts to enrich their lives using examples reflective of the real world and its diversity.” Furthermore: “Quality art instruction inspires students to understand artmaking, the world of objects, the impact of visual images, and performances that incorporate the visual arts.”


National Art Education Association (NAEA)
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