Art Under Attack: The Creative Arts in U.S. Higher Education

May, 2016 - Richard Lubben, TASA President Elect & CAA Education Committee Chair

With the implementation of the new Texas higher education core curriculum in the fall 2014 semester, most studio and performing art courses are no longer options for many college students wishing to fulfill their undergraduate general education creative arts area. With the exception of two colleges, students in Texas public institutions are now generally required to select from a very limited list of purely lecture courses such as art appreciation, art history or music appreciation. This decision by state policy makers took most Texas college art departments by surprise when requests to include studio art courses in the general education area were denied in 2014, and again for the last two years. As Texas colleges and universities are busy preparing for continued declines in studio enrollment after new requests to include studio art courses in the 2016-­‐17 core curriculum area were denied once again, many art faculty remain concerned about the future of the arts in U.S. colleges and universities.  

After substantial discussion with art administrators and curriculum specialist in Texas over the last three years, it appears that many policy makers believe that the sole purpose of a studio art course (courses such as painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, etc.) is to train students to be practicing artists, and that students taking a studio art course will only learn "craft" techniques and technical skills. The College Art Association Education Committee and the Texas Association of Schools of Art disagree with this likely uninformed interpretation of the purpose of studio art education, and urge policy makers to understand that studio art classes should not be mistakenly perceived as the acquiring of narrow skills, techniques or procedure specific to a particular occupation or profession. In my experience, undergraduate studio art courses are intellectual courses that are not primarily focused to train students to become practicing artists, just as English composition is not intended to train students to become professional writers. Cognitive skills, particularly critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving are developed and reinforced in studio art courses and help students toward their goal of being successful, productive and gainfully employed citizens regardless of their field of study in college, or in their chosen career. 

Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in creativity and education, discusses the misconception about creativity in his Adobe TV interview, “Why is creativity important in education?” He says, “There’s an assumption that’s often made, which is simply not true, when people think about education. And the assumption is that life is linear, that you can anticipate and foresee and predict the lives that people will have. And that assumption shows itself in the way that that school curriculum is managed, how it’s narrowed to certain disciplines that are thought to be more useful.” He goes on to say, “When you talk to politicians about why schools are like this currently, often they’ll say it’s in the interest of the economy. This strikes me as very ironic, because if you speak to business leaders, they say they want people who are creative, who can innovate, who can think differently, who can work in teams and who can communicate.” These skills and abilities Sir Robinson speaks of are all cultivated in studio art courses.

Furthermore, art faculty and department chairs have speculated that the states interpretation of appreciation and analysis;” which is a prominent course requirement in the description for the creative arts core area, is another incorrect justification for studio art course exclusion. The words “appreciation and analysis” are found in the official state course descriptions of the three lecture based courses that are currently approved statewide for the general education core area (art appreciation and art history I & II); however, not found in other studio course descriptions. Perhaps there is an assumption that appreciation and analysis does not occur in courses unless it is listed in the course title?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “appreciation” means an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something.   The word “analysis” is a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other. Having taught art appreciation, art survey and a variety of studio art courses I can confirm that studio courses do have high levels of appreciation and analysis in the course content, perhaps even more so than lecture based courses.

According to a 2014 survey regarding the creative arts core issue ( taken of 167 Texas higher education art faculty and 55 art department chairs by the Texas Association of Schools of Art (TASA), 95% of the survey’s faculty participants agreed that undergraduate studio art courses fulfill the higher education accrediting agency’s (SACS) statement of purpose by benefiting non-­‐art majors, introduces a breadth of knowledge and reinforces cognitive skills and affective learning opportunities for each student. Additionally, after reviewing the Texas Core Curriculum Statement of Purpose that includes the wording “advance intellectual and practical skills that are essential for all learning”, 89% of the art faculty survey participants agreed that college students would be best served by including studio arts courses in the general education core option. An overwhelming 93% of art faculty surveyed indicated that studio course should be returned to the core option. The answer remains unclear to many, why was the decision made to exclude studio art courses from the Texas general education option when art educators overwhelmingly agree it is not in the student’s best interest to exclude this option?

Faculty responses to the question: Following the Texas Core Curriculum Statement of Purpose, students would be best served if studio art courses were included as a creative art core option. (+/-­‐ 0.1% margin of error)





Faculty responses to the question: Studio art courses should be returned to the creative arts core option in Texas. (+/-­‐ 0.1% margin of error)





Studio art courses make up a large percentage of the total art sections offered at Texas colleges. Excluding dual enrollment sections for high school students, the studio courses made up approximately 50% of the total art sections at my home institution in spring 2014. A typical freshman level studio course will usually contain between 50% and 75% non-­‐art majors.  With the exclusion of studiocourses from the general education core option, many Texas art programs have already felt significant reductions in studio art enrollment over the last two years, (37% at my institution in 2014). Art programs are also expecting to experience declines in the percentage of new art majors statewide as colleges, especially community colleges, often recruit art majors through studio courses. By excluding these types of courses as an option in the general education area, many students may never have the opportunity to discover his or her creative talent, or engage in the broad range of problem solving, creative thinking and collaborative activities experienced in studio courses.

Hopefully this is only a temporary setback for higher education and will not lead to more policy makers deciding the fate of studio and performing arts across the United States. With overwhelming support from college and university art faculty, administrators and associations, I urge policy makers to take a hard look at the

importance and value of creativity for all students in our ever changing global economy and workforce. As put so articulately by Adobe Education in the Explore Creativity in Today’s Classroom, “creativity isn’t an elective anymore, it’s our future.