Cultural Symposium

"The Re-imaging Traditions of Art Education and Educational Reform in Japan"


The Role of Art Education as an Independent vs. an Integrated Subject:

Facing the Crisis of Art Education in Japan


Masami Toku, Ed.D.

California State University, Chico




            In responding to social needs, the role of art education in schools has gradually been changing. We believe that art education encourages and supports children to foster their creativity and humanity through their works of art, which contribute to society. The value of art education in the US and Japan are almost the same, which is that learning art in schools is very important for children to help their mental growth. However, there are some differences between the US and Japan in both the structure and the administration of these programs.


            Dr. Okazaki explained the historical background and the characteristics of art education in Japan. Dr. Ishizaki mentioned the role of art education in integrated studies with the reform of educational system in Japan. Prof. Watanabe introduced his idea of "What is art" based on his experiences as a guest scholar in foreign countries.


Based on my teaching experiences both in Japan and the US since 1989, I would like to explain the differences and similarities of the role of art education between Japan and the US in conjunction with the trend issue of gintegration.h  The following 4 categories will be discussed. (*See transparency/slide 1).


1)      The role of art education: Independent vs. Integrated subject

2)      Differences and Similarities of Art Education as an Integrated subject between Japan and the US

3)      The possibilities of art education under gthe period of integrated studiesh in Japan

4)      Conclusion: Art education as an independent and/or an integrated subject


The role of art education: Independent vs. Integrated subject


There are many ideas of what the goals of art education should be in order to respond to social needs depending on each country and even each period in each country. 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 as an independent subject. Another is to assume that there is art in all subjects and art can be integrated with other subjects as an interrelated/integrated subject. The first idea is typical of traditional 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 has been thought 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 as one of the most important required courses has not changed.


Despite this policy of the last fifty years, the status of art education as one of the required courses is beingthreaten with the movement of reforming general education (K-higher education) in 2002 & 2003. The purpose of the educational reform stated as:


"Ensuring that children, who will be responsible for the future, are able to grow up with robust health in a heart-enriching environment serves as the basis for laying the foundations for the 21st century. Furthermore, in order to develop Japan as a vibrant nation and work toward the objective of establishing Japan as a nation based on creativity of science and technology and a nation founded on culture, it is indispensable to perpetually work to advance reform in education, which forms the cornerstone of all social systems." (Monbusho, 1999)


There are two major changes in this educational reform. One is to redevelop each curriculum in responding to the transition from the comprehensive five and a half-day (Monday through Saturday) to five-day school week (Monday through Friday). The other is that there is a new academic subject of integrated studies in addition to the previous academic subjects. As Dr. Okazaki already mentioned, this integrated studies subject includes interdisciplinary and comprehensive studies such as international understanding, information, environment, welfare and health. Also, the content totally depends on each school unlike other academic subjects in the national curriculum. Therefore, this educational reform is called "the period of integrated studies." (*See transparency/slide 2)


Also, as Dr. Isizaki mentioned previously, these major two changes threaten the status of art education as one of the required courses. The reduced time schedule might cause the diminishment not only of class hours of art education, but also the individuality as the subject of fine arts.


It has been questioned whether art as an independent subject should rank among the most important subjects in general education. Art educators in Japan are being asked to rethink the role of art education. What is the role of art education in integrated studies? What can art education contribute to integrated studies in collaborating with other academic subjects? Finally, should the role of art education be as either an independent or an integrated subject?


Differences and Similarities of Integrated Art Education between Japan and the US


The issue of gIntegrationh in art education is very trendy both in Japan and the US. However, the meaning of and the approach toward  gIntegrationh are slightly different in reflecting the cultural/social background of both countries.


One the one hand, the origin of the issue of gIntegrationh might go back to the 1960s with the sixties discipline-centered reform in the US. The value of art education was diminished and educational reform emphasized math, science, and foreign language. The art educators in the US were forced to reconsider the new role of art education to redevelop its value. As a result, the major art educational curriculum of discipline-based art education (DBAE) was born. The main characteristic of DBAE is the integration of the four principles of gArt History,h gArt-making,h gAesthetics,h and gCriticismh in art educational curricula. This idea expanded to integration within Art, which means the integration of visual and performing arts - art dance, music, and theater. At the same time, DBAE encourages art teachers to integrate art with other academic subjects based on the belief that there is art all in academic subjects in schools. The concept of DBAE spread throughout the nation and became popular during 1980s. Art is seen a great communicative tool to develop problem solving skills with visual thinking ability. (See transparency/slide 3)


On the other hand, integrated studies in Japan does not always means either art integrates with other academic subjects or art can have a leadership role to integrate other subjects.


In brief, it might be possible to say that the main difference in integrated study between the US and Japan is that the integration of art education in the US means simply geducation through art,h while in Japan it means gart within education.h This is the reason Japanese art educators fear the diminishing of the value of art education and losing their own identities as art specialists in schools.


Another question arises. Is this really a crisis for art educators in Japan? The answer is "No." This is a great chance for Japanese art educators to rethink the role of art education. It might be true that classroom teachers and art teachers have not considered of art education due to the system of the national curriculum and the national textbook in Japan. Thanks to the educational system in Japan, it might be true that art educators have been following the national curriculum as a required course without developing it by themselves. Again, I believe that this is an opportunity to reconsider what art education contributes to the development of children's communicative and problem solving skills.


The possibilities of art education under gthe period of integrated studiesh in Japan (How can art education integrate with academic subjects in education?)


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


One is a collaboration with classroom teachers of elementary grades to demonstrate the value of art as a communicative teaching tool, how art is a wonderful visual tool in teaching other subjects. For example, an art education lab course for education majors should be designed to teach not only the basic techniques 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 a collaboration with museums and communities 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. (*See transparency/slide 4)


Conclusion: Art education as an independent and/or an integrated subject


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 ideal that each art educational program holds, the circumstances of art education are variable, so art tends to be underestimated compared to other subjects.


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 subjects. Before this presentation, Dr. Okazaki, Dr. Ishizaki, and Prof. Watanbe have already mentioned the same thing based on their research. Then how can the role of art education be defined as an independent and also an interrelated/integrated subject?


In summary, 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 problem, 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.


            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 integrated subject, art education should emphasize that art can integrate with academic subjects. Many children are visual learners. By using visuals in conjunction with each subject, children's academic skills effectively develop (reading, writing, and thinking skills). These skills are called visual thinking skills.


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, where I am from and where I am going. I have found that art cannot exist by itself, but rather is 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 (the US) 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 we can find our identity through art.