The Role of Art Education as an Independent and Interrelated Subject:

Facing the Crisis of Art Education in Japan

 

Masami Toku

California State University, Chico

 

Introduction

           

            The purpose of this study is to rethink the role of art education in general education based on the crisis of art education in Japan. Can art education experiences in the US suggest new ways to confront the problems in Japan?

            There are many ideas of what the goals of art education should be depending on each country and even each period in each country in order to respond to social needs. However, there are two possibilities for the role of art education in general. One is assuming that art is something special which has a role different from other subjects. Another is to assume that there is art in all subjects and art can be integrated with other subjects. The first idea is typical of art education in Japan. The second idea is close to the recent issues of art education in the US.  In Japan, the role of art education is to encourage the development of studentsf rich sensibilities through making art in order to have a spiritually wonderful life in the future, in a way, which other subjects cannot do. Therefore, the Fundamental Law of Education, which was enacted in 1947, required gfine artsh as one of the required subjects in compulsory education from 1st through 9th grades. Since then the status of fine arts has never changed as one of the most important required courses. Despite this policy of the last fifty years, art education is being removed from the required courses with the movement of reforming general education in 2003. The former role of art education as an independent subject is no longer persuasive that art is one of the most important subjects in general education. Art educators in Japan are being asked to rethink the role of art education. Should the role of art education be an independent or an interrelated subject? What can art education contribute to general education? By adopting the concept of DBAE in the art educational curriculum in Japan, some Japanese art educators are trying to face the changes in practice in the field of art education. Can the concept of DBAE help with the crisis in Japan?

            Depending on the background and social context of each country, the purpose and method of art education will differ. Just as Japan has a national curriculum, the U.S. has diverse art educational curricula. In spite of the idealism that each art educational program holds, the circumstances of art education are not stable, so art tends to be underestimated compared to other subjects. The problems of art education and future goals will be discussed based on the crisis of art education in Japan.

 

Cross-cultural study of art education programs in schools: the difference between the U.S. and Japan (The Art Curriculum of Compulsory Education in Japan)

 

Introduction

            With the development of the human life style, the concept of art education in schools has gradually been changing,. It encourages and supports children to foster their creativity and humanity through their works of art, which contribute to society, The art education in the US, and Japan is not exceptions. Although the principles toward art education in the Us and Japan are almost the same, being learning art in schools is very important for children to help their mental growth, there are some differences between the US and Japan in both the structure of these programs and in administration. My main interest is why the curriculums between the US and Japan are so different. Many reasons exist, but two critical reasons seem to influence the difference. One reason is the difference of cultural backgrounds between both countries. Another is the differences of philosophy toward art and aesthetics in both Western and Eastern societies. However, for this paper, I would like to concentrate on the first reason because most art educations are thought based on Western philosophy in present. Therefore, by comparing the similarities and differences toward art educational programs between the US and Japan based on the differences in cultural backgrounds, I would like to focus on the problems and solutions in both programs and the future directions toward art education of both countries. In addition, art education curriculums of both countries are compared based on elementry schools for referencing.

 

Historical background of education in Japan

Japan has experienced two major reforms in its educational system both occurring simultaneously with a major quantitative expansion, which were the Meiji restoration (1868) and World War II (1945).

            In 1872, five years after the Meiji restoration, the government enacted the gGakusei,h or Fundamental Code of Education, which introduced a primary educational system in a democratic context in Japan. The significance of this event was that it declared support for the principle of education by the new Meiji government. A code was also enacted t declare the ideal of the educational policy, geducation for all people.h The main purpose of education was that the government intended to foster a strong national power through education to catch up with the western world. Unlike England or the U.S.  at that time, the government had not adapted the compulsory education system although the Code recommended six years of primary education for any child regardless of sex, social status, or means. By 1886 three or four years of elementary education were made compulsory. In 1900, the length of compulsory education in elementary school was extended to four years nationwide, and the tuition-free public elementary school system was adopted by law.

            In 1947, after World War II, the new Constitutions of Japan provided the Fundamental law of Education and School Law. Under these Laws, the government began reforming the old education system and developed in 6-3-3-4 structured system under the supervision of the GHQ (General Headquarter of Allied Power). In addition, compulsory education was expanded to include the lower Secondary school education (Junior high school), and the tuition-free education was also extended to the same extent in public schools.

            The fundamental Law of Education required certain subjects in compulsory education. In the elementary schools (1st through 6th grades), there are nine required subjects, Japanese Language, Social Studies, Arithmetic, Science, Life Environment Studies, Music, Drawing and Handicrafts., Homemaking, and Physical Education. In the lower secondary schools, the junior high schools or the middle schools (7th through 9th grades), eight subjects are required, such as Japanese Language, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, Music, Fine Arts, Health and physical Education, and Industrial Arts (for boys) and Homemaking (for girls).

 

The background of art education in Japan

            In Japan, the Ministry of Education has changed totally six times (1947, 1951, 1958, 1968, 1977, and 1989) in theory and practice in the field of art education program after World War II. The first two programs, 1947 and 1951, presented a tentative curriculum in a short period under the control of general headquarters of allied forces. Although American influence appeared in the contents; these programs were based on the practical manner of how to make and create works of art rather than stressing aesthetic attitude. Fundamentally it shifted from the traditional manner of Japanese art education to those that mixed the appreciation of Japanese tradition and Western art education. The third program presented in 1958 took a stand on a gstudent-centeredh curriculum, and focused on cultivating creative and practical attitudes through basic techniques toward art-making and viewing through works of art. The fourth change in 1968 was a gteacher-proofh curriculum. Because of reinforcement in systematic study, the content was divided into five categories; painting, sculpture, design, craft, and appreciation (critique). In 1977, the content of art education programs was drastically cut and reformed into two main concepts of gexpressionh and gappreciationh (included critique). The goal of this curriculum was focused on a synthetic creative-activity though works of art.

            Finally, the revision in 1989 was a reform based on the concept of the 1977 curriculum with added ideas of playing and enjoying the making of works of art in addition to learning the technique of making art products. The goal of art education was to foster the basic ability of productive and creative-activity through expression, appreciation, and critiques, while at the same time fostering pleasure o expression and cultivating rich sentiments in children. Three contents fall into the categories of expression: 1) creative activity based on materials, 2) expressive activity in 2-D and 3-D, 3) productive activity about what you want. The details of the program are presented in three levels in elementary school; the lower grades (first and second grades), the middle grades (third and fourth grades), and the higher grades (fifth and sixth grades).

            Through these changes in theory and practice in the field of art education in Japan, the characteristics of the art educational curriculum in Japan are nation-centered (government-centered), unlike in the US where the focus is on a district-centered curriculum. The reason must be linked to the differences of cultural backgrounds.

           

Teaching Philosophy of Art: How can art education integrate with academic subjects?

 

            Why donft some people like art, in spite of the fact that they used to love art when they were younger children? Many of them used to love and enjoy creating art on paper, with clay, and so on. Nevertheless, some of them seemingly lose their interest in art with ages. When, how, and why do they dislike art? There are at least three patterns.

            First, when I asked my friends who do not like art very much why they do not like art, some of them said that they disliked art teachers rather than art itself. They seemed to lose their interest in art because of art teachersf insensitive words or attitudes toward their artworks. For example, one of my friends explained that the reason why she lost her interest for art was that her teacher made fun of her artwork due to her lack of skill. The art teacher always judged the value of studentsf artworks based on the teacherfs  preference. I have asked my sixth grade students why they do not like art very much. They said that they have found themselves that they were not skillful enough to create art compared to others. One of them said to me, gMs. Toku, I like art. But, Ifm not a good artist.h Thirdly, many people, not only students but even adults, believe that art is not important compared to other academic subjects since art is not important to their everyday lives. Some people might say that they can live without art. What can art teachers do for those students who do not like art? What should art teachers do to not lose studentsf interest in art?

            In a Chinese saying, it is said that there are many talented racehorses, but only a few good trainers who can find and encourage their talent to be a racehorse. I also feel that there are many talented children (even though they do not realize it), but only a few good art teachers who know what and how to teach.

 

                        What about the role of art education? There are many ideas of what the goals of art education should be depending on each country and even each period in each country in order to respond to social needs. Particularly in the U.S., the goal of art education  differs in each state, district, and even in each school reflecting the diverse demographics. However, there are two possibilities for the role of art education in general. One is assuming art is something special which has a role different from other subjects.  Another is to assume that there is art in all subjects and art can be integrated with other subjects. The first idea is typical of art education in Japan. The latter idea is close to the recent issue of art education in the US.

            In Japan, the role of art education is to encourage the development of studentsf rich sensitivity to have a spiritually wonderful life in the future, which other subjects cannot do. A national art curriculum has been developed and implemented based on this concept after World War II in Japan. On the contrary, the purpose of art education at present in the U.S. is becoming more practical than that of Japan: art education should be integrated with other subjects. In brief, by using visual thinking skills such as appreciation, articulation, and observation through art/artworks, one of the goals of art education is to encourage studentsf basic reading/writing skills since art is related to all subjects. Which is more persuasive than the other to promote the value of art education is? Should the role of art education be as an independent subject or an interrelated subject?

            The role of art education does not have to be either one or the other since art education can fulfill both roles. Whether the role of art education should be as an independent subject or an interrelated subject must be reflected by the situation of art education in the society in each country. Therefore, the issue should be how art education can clearly define its role,  since it tends to be too abstract to persuade the public of its importance compared to other subject. Then how can the role of art education be defined as an independent and also an interrelated subject?

            First, Art education is an independent subject with the purpose of finding and developing onefs identity. By creating artwork and understanding different art, one can appreciate the values of diverse cultures. It is indispensable for one to find onefs own identity to live in this world. Those who know themselves can solve problems, which they will face in the future. Art education might not be able to define a single concrete value; however, art education can make us realize how art is meaningful to our everyday lives and help to find onefs identity which is one of the most important things to live in this world.

            In spite of the fact that no art educator would doubt that there is art in all subjects and art is related to all subjects, how many people think this way? Even classroom teachers in elementary schools do not realize that is art in all subjects, although they use visual information as a tool to teach those subjects. As an interrelated subject, art education should emphasize that art can integrate with academic subjects.

In conclusion, through my experiences as an art teacher, classroom teacher, museum educator, and also an art student in the US and Japan, I strongly feel that art is the most important subject to think about myself (my identity) where I am from and where I am going. And I found that art cannot exist by itself and it always related to other things. My philosophy of art is that art is a window to look at other cultures, to understand other values, and finally to find onefs identity. I am also one who survives in this unfamiliar country through art since my artwork allows me to communicate with people. Even though this world is unconsciously filled with much bias, unfairness, and discrimination, art will tell us how to live in this world since art can tell us what our identity is.

 

            How can art education integrate with academic subjects in education?

There are at least two things through collaborations to make all teachers realize how art is important and helpful in teaching other academic subjects in education.

            One is the collaboration with classroom teachers of early childhood and elementary to demonstrate the value of art as a communicative teaching tool, how art is a wonderful visual tool in teaching other subjects. For example, the lab course of art education for education majors should be designed to teach not only the basic technique of art-making and the knowledge of materials, but also the development of a curriculum where visual information is utilized to teach complicated subjects. Most children are visual learners rather than aural learners. If teachers can use visual information properly to teach a particular subject, students will learn more easily than with a simple lecture.

            There should also be collaboration with museum and community to emphasize  the value of visual thinking strategy through art. Visual thinking strategy (VTS) is designed for use by classroom teachers with little or no art training to support the development of childrenfs visual thinking abilities. Children are encouraged to practice how to look at and discuss art under the instruction of classroom teachers. Through careful looking and facilitated group discussion of art, children can develop critical and creative thinking skills as well as logical argumentation during facilitated discussions. These problem-solving skills are important for dealing with new and complex information in many different subject areas.

            In conclusion, regardless of whether it is an independent or interrelated subject, art education should clearly define the role of art education. It is indispensable for art education to collaborate with other fields to emphasize the value of art since art is a wonderful communicative tool to teach and to learn other subjects. Again, we should not forget that art is only one subject which help to find onefs identity.