EDUCATIONAL THEORY Fall 1990, Vol. 40, No. 4 0 1990 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Art, Aesthetics, and the Pitfalls of Discipline-Based Art Education
By Donald Arnstine
A point of view called discipline-based art education has captured the imagination of a great many art educators. The disciplines upon which art education is said to be based are four in number: art history, art criticism, aesthetics, and the production of art. This approach is a sophisticated conception of art education that is broader and richer than many of the approaches that dominated the field in the past.
The aims and assumptions of discipline-based art education (hereinafter, DBAE), its logical consistency, and its practical utility all deserve careful examination. But in the initial section of this article I must yield to the temptation to deal with it in political terms: as a move to insure the survival of art in the school curriculum. In section two, I will discuss the problems that result from conceiving of art education as a balanced presentation of four different art disciplines.
Despite the breadth and the academic posture of DBAE, it contains some very serious shortcomings from an educational point of view. In section three, it will be shown how an emphasis on fine art in DBAE can become a form of escapism that may inhibit students understanding of their own culture. Section four will show how an emphasis on fine art can hinder the efforts of art educators to refine the tastes that students already have.
The most serious shortcoming of DBAE, explored in section five, is the likelihood that its academic orientation will interfere with young peoples enjoyment and under- standing of the aesthetic dimension of experience. This means that DBAE may, quite paradoxically, turn art education into the enemy of the aesthetic.
Finally, in section six, I will suggest an alternative to DBAE that makes use of some of its worthwhile features. Throughout the discussion I use the terms art education and education in the arts interchangeably, although the former term refers specifically to education in the visual arts and is the focus of DBAE. My use of both terms reflects the fact that the present discussion applies equally to education in other forms of art and the visual arts.
Schools have taken a beating in the media since the early 1970s. Complaints about low achievement scores and low SATs have driven all but the standard academic courses out of college-preparatory curriculums. Students interested in the arts have difficulty finding courses to take and finding the time in which to take them. In todays buzzwords, schools now emphasize rigorous academic programs that develop cognitive skills through study of the disciplines. So where does that leave the arts?
This emphasis on the academic leaves the arts on the outside, looking in. Unless it could be shown that the arts really are cognitive enterprises themselves, worthy of rigorous academic study in their own right. Then exams could identify able students
Correspondence: Department of Education, College of Letters and Science, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616.
1. The program is comprehensively described in Gilbert A. Clark, Michael D. Day, and W. Dwaine Greer, Discipline-Based Art Education: Becoming Students of Art, Journal of Aesthetic Education 21, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 129-93. This article was the centerpiece of an issue of the journal that focussed on discipline-based art education.
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41 6 EDUCATIONAL THEORY
and provide evidence that others deserve to fail. No more automatic passes for art students. Art could then be counted for college admission alongside the traditional academic courses.
DBAE conceives of art education as just this sort of cognitive enterprise. Yet one suspects that this is a purely political posture, since it seems to misconstrue the very nature of art. After all, most people would agree that art appeals, first and foremost, because it is decorative and that it is often expressive as well. But to teach art as if it were characteristically or essentially cognitive would seem to miss the very point of art.* Is DBAE willing to go that far to keep art in the curriculum? Political motives have caused people to do stranger things than this, and anyone with a serious concern for art should appreciate a move to keep it alive in the schools.
But not everyone will appreciate this move. As I will argue below, it is conceptually muddled. But it is also politically counterproductive. DBAE is not likely to save art and all that it connotes by treating it as an academic study and thus taking the heart out of art education. It is bad enough that our system of schooling has subordinated education to a competition for admission to selective colleges? The system has taken the heart out of the academic subjects, turning them into routines in phrase recognition for the purpose of passing standardized tests. Anyone with a serious concern for art must find it depressing to imagine art educators reconceptualizing art so that it, too, will become as organized and standardized and deadly as what passes for math and science in the curriculum.
Advocates of DBAE may call this a caricature of their program, so I will abandon the political interpretation of it and pursue a more academic, conceptual, and evaluative analysis. How, then, does DBAE conceive of art and of the aesthetic in experience, and what sort of an education would it provide?
The four components of discipline-based art education - art production, art criticism, art history, and aesthetics - remind us that learning about art involves a great deal more than looking at pretty pictures or trying to paint them. This approach aims to provide a broad historical and cultural context as well as sound principles and critical standards that could give a richer meaning to art and a discriminating apprecation of it. Vincent Lanier observed, DBAE is more than a conception of curriculum; it is also and perhaps more importantly a conception of purpose, and that purpose is intrinsic rather than de~eioprnenfel.~ That is, the teaching of art in its varied contexts is aimed at engendering skills and understandings about art and is hardly concerned at all with recreation, therapy, or general emotional and intellectual development - concerns traditionally associated with art education since the days of Viktor Lowenfeld.5
The multidisciplinary approach of DBAE does raise a practical problem. At the present time, our universities produce very few people who are competent in the domains of art production, art history, art criticism, and aesthetics. Perhaps art teachers can be retrained in summer workshops, but the observation of Maurice J. Sevigny must be heeded: DBAE is at an impasse unless a major redesign of teacher education courses and requirements is implemented to realize the goals of DBAE.6 Will teacher education be redesigned for this purpose? If the answer is It ought to be, then we
2. See Ralph A. Smith, Professor Feldman and the NAEA Take Aim, Art Education 35, no. 5 (September 1982): 17, 18.
3. See Donald Arnstine, The Deterioration of Secondary Education: Media Images, Admin- istrative Nostrums, and College Pressures, Teachers College Record 85, no. 1 (Fall 1983): 9-26.
4. Vincent Lanier, Discipline-Based Art Education: Three Issues, Studies in Art Education 26, no. 4 (1985): 253.
5. Viktor Lowenfeld, Creative and Mental Growth (New York Macmillan, 1947). 6. Maurice Sevigny, Discipline-Based Art Education and Teacher Education, Journal of
Aesthetic Education, loc. cit., 109.
DBAE: PITFALLS 41 7
will have to confront a conceptual difficulty in the idea that art education must embrace all of the four disciplines.
Gilbert A. Clark, Michael Day, and W. Dwaine Greer write that neglect of learning in any of the four art disciplines will result in an incomplete understanding of art. Therefore, a balanced treatment of the four disciplines is a goal of DBAE. A program that consistently emphasized learning from one art discipline and placed the others in a supporting or subordinate role would not have the balance sought in DBAE.7
Attention to a variety of perspectives in art education cultivates richness and depth in teaching, but the notion of balance seems quite arbitrary. Children and adults can effectively produce art without attending to its history, to formal criticism, or to aesthetics. To forge an unbreakable link between academic studies and the production of art could be practically inconvenient as well as politically dangerous. The budget cutters in education are sure to say that, since we cant afford the time or the cost of teaching all the four art disciplines and since were told that they must all be taught in a balanced way, then all of them will have to be cut from the curriculum. Imagine an artist, a critic, an historian, and an aesthetician, all chained together at the edge of a cliff. Give one of them a push, and they all go over the edge.
Conceiving art education as embracing four spearate but balanced disciplines also incorporates some conceptual errors. Aesthetics, art history, and art criticism are not simply independent inquiries on all fours with one another. Clarity about aesthetic matters is fundamental to the informed pursuit of the other disciplines. Without being grounded in some conception of the aesthetic, art history becomes a chronology of artifacts, selected arbitrarily or on the basis of tradition. And without the guidance of aesthetic considerations, art criticism is little more than the elaboration of personal taste. The effort to pursue art education from several perspectives promises com- mendable richness, but the commitment to balance promotes confusion and distortion rather than the understanding of art. A view of art education that lines up art production, art criticism, art history, and aesthetics like a row of tenpins leads one to wonder whether the advocates of DBAE understand art and aesthetics well enough to tell others how to teach it.8
One of the most important functions of schooling is to acquaint the young with the culture in which they live. The arts are especially suited to help in this task, since nothing reveals a culture more clearly or significantly than the arts that it produces. This is true most particularly of the arts that are popular in a culture: whether it be the stained glass of the fourteenth century, Shakespeare in the seventeenth century, or the movies of today.g
But there is a tendency in discipline-based art education to emphasize the use of the fine arts in schools. In contrast to the potential educative power of the popular arts, the masterpieces of fine art in Western culture are likely to turn students attention away from the culture in which they live. This is because fine art either exemplifies cultures of the past, with which students have little familiarity and virtually no involvement,
7. Clark, Day, and Greer, Discipline-Based Art Education, 171. 8. The Getty Center for Education in the Arts, which has formally adopted DBAE as its official
program, has been sensitive to a number of criticisms levelled at DBAE. In response, it has published an in-house document intended to answer them. This document offers a response to the charge that DBAE requires equal time for each of the four disciplines. But the response, like many others in the document, is so ambiguous that a reader may suspect that political considerations overrode any serious intellectual, aesthetic, or educational concerns. See Per- ceptions of Discipline-Based Art Education and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts (Los Angeles: The Getty Center for Education in the Arts, April 1988).
9. See, for example, Susanne K. Langer, Problems of Art (New York Charles Scribners Sons, 1957), 72, or Langer, The Cultural Importance of the Arts, Journal of Aesthetic Education 1, no. 1 (Spring 1966): 11; or John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Minton, Balch, 1934), chap. 14.
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41 a EDUCATIONAL THEORY or it reflects the values of the tiny subculture which buys (often as an investment), sells, and displays the work of contemporary fine artists.
If art education is to offer some cultural insight to students, it must utilize the arts that are directly expressive of the culture in which students live. Yet critics have charged that DBAE focusses exclusively on traditional Western fine art. While I do not believe that DBAE necessarily demands this, some of its advocates can be construed as supporting such a view. For example, while Clark, Day, and Greer are ambiguous in some places about the role of fine art in schooling, they write that art objects are created with the express purpose of providing vivid, intense experiences uncluttered by the contingencies of daily concerns. In the greatest works of art, there- fore. . . properties can be found that evoke aesthetic experience in its purest form.* This hardly settles the ambiguity, but it does suggest that the fine arts would play a focal role in DBAE.
It is no accident that some works of art are regarded as masterpieces. Students ought to become acquainted with these works (although little can be said for an acquaintance with the inadequate reproductions that are often found in schools) when they are ready for them - that is, when they can genuinely enjoy them, appreciate them, and be moved by them. But until then, students will acquire greater value from art and greater insight into their own culture if schools utilize the popular arts: comics, fashion, movies, rock music, and so forth. There is nothing particularly new about this idea.13 and it should not be difficult to find plenty of examples of popular art that have high artistic quality as well as serious social significance. What work of fine art, for example, is as artistically rich and addresses as broad an audience as Spike Lees Do the Right Thing?
Despite the role that popular art might play in offering students insight into their own culture, it has been explicitly omitted from consideration in the writings of DBAE proponents like Clark, Day, and Greer and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts. To omit from schools the arts that exhibit, celebrate, and criticize the values and the practices of our own culture is to turn students attention away from that culture. This is contrary to any rational conception of education, and it constitutes implicit support for the social status quo.l4
This unfortunate consequence of focussing on fine art in schools also leads people to believe that fine art is special, in the sense that only it can afford aesthetic quality to experience (see the above citation from Clark, Day, and Greer). But the aesthetic in experience is not confined to the fine arts, and this is readily understood by anyone who has enjoyed the shifting colors of a sunset, the way the presentation of a meal enhances its enjoyment, the kaleidoscopic detail of a Disney animation, or success in struggling with a difficult problem. The aesthetic appears in any felt consummation in experience which follows the development of tensions that appear when discrepancies have been perceived in the world or in ones purposeful activitie~.~ Fine art is a potentially rich source of aesthetic quality in experience, but only for those who are
10. Robert Bersson, for example, makes a good case for broadening what is studied in arts courses, but he claims that Elliot Eisner and Ralph Smith advocate the exclusive use of masterpieces of fine art in the schools. I could find no support for this,claim in the writings to which Bersson refers. See Bersson, Why Art Education Is Neither Socially Relevant Nor Culturally Democratic: A Contextual Analysis, in Art in a Democracy, ed. D. Blandy and K. G. Congdon (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987), 82, 83.
11. Clark, Day, and Greer, Discipline-Based Art Education, 135. 12. Ibid., 140. 13. See, for example, Donald Arnstine, Learning without Teaching: Aesthetic Impact and the
Popular Arts, in Culture as Education, ed. V. Crockenberg and R. La Brecque (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1977), 173-207; or Vincent Lanier, The Teaching of Art as Social Revolution, Phi Delta Kappan 50, no. 6 (February 1969): 315.
14. Robert Bersson offers a similar and much more extensive argument for this point. Bersson, A Contextual Analysis, 78-90.
15. See Donald Arnstine, Learning, Aesthetics, and Schooling: The Popular Arts as Textbook in America, Educational Theory 27, no. 4 (Fall 1977): 261-68.
DBAE: PITFALLS 41 9
ready for it. Getting ready involves learning to see, in the arts with which one is familiar, why some instances are of higher quality than others.
This broader conception of the aesthetic enables us to understand that any sort of everyday experience - of working, of leisure activities, of our relations with others - can be suffused with aesthetic quality. That these everyday acts usually do not afford aesthetic quality is a function not so much of the activities themselves as it is of the conditions under which they are undertaken. These conditions (of our working, of our recreation, of our social relations, etc.) are largely institutional. To understand how institutions operate - like our workplaces and our economic system, our schools, and our education system - is to understand the connections between our activities and our institutions, which is to say, our culture.
A dominant focus by art educators on masterpieces of fine art is thus an escape from our everyday activities and offers no insight into the social and institutional contexts of those activities. At this time in our world, those contexts demand change. But without examining the aesthetic and the potentially aesthetic dimensions of everyday experi- ence,16 we cannot cultivate any different expectations about it. Thus, we tend to accept it, with all its inadequacy.'? This acquiescence precludes development of the ability and the disposition to correct the social and institutional contexts of our everyday activities. So in another way, exclusive concern with the fine arts as sole transmitters of the aesthetic reinforces the social status quo.
The foregoing discussion is not an argument against the use of the fine arts in arts education, but only an argument against their playing a leading role. Still, their defenders may say, as Clark, Day, and Greer and Ralph Smith have said,'* that the best chance of fostering aesthetic experience in students is through the use of the fine arts. This is, however, a mistaken view, and in this section we will see how DBAE that emphasizes fine art can in schools actually become the enemy of the aesthetic.
In order to refine students' taste, we can either acquaint them with masterpieces from the past or present, or offer them insight into the aesthetic enjoyments they are now having. To achieve the latter aim, educators must attend to arts and activities within the present experience of students. While one can try to select examples of fine art that fit the maturity of a given group of students, a focus on masterpieces necessarily ignores what has aesthetic quality in students' present experience. This focus makes it impossible to develop or refine the kinds of experiences students are currently having. Whatever masterpieces we offer them, our students will not stop going to movies or listening to rock music. In failing to help them refine those tastes, an art education based on masterpieces of fine art becomes the enemy of aesthetic growth.
Perhaps the feature of DBAE that most clearly distinguishes it from other approaches to art education is its dominantly cognitive, academic orientation. Consistent with the Getty Center publications, Clark, Day, and Greer write: "Art is viewed as a subject with content that can be taught and learned in ways that resemble how other subjects are taught in schools. Teachers are expected to teach their students by using written,
16. See Michael Owen Jones, "Making Work Art and Art Work: The Aesthetic Impulse in Organizations and Education," in Art in a Democracy, 124-37.
17. An undergraduate at my university explained to me why he had not complained about having to take a series of mind-deadening but required courses: "I figure you've got to play the hand you're dealt." Failure to examine the conditions of one's experience does lead to acquies- cence. Some political leaders aim for this, but educators should not.
18. Ralph A. Smith, "A Right to the Best: Or, Once More, Elitism versus Populism in Art Education," Studies in Art Education 26, no. 3 (1985): 169-75.
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sequentially organized curricula, and student progress is verified through use of appropriate evaluation method^."'^
This cognitive emphasis was articulated a decade ago by Gilbert Clark and Enid Zimmerman, who aimed to clarify the content or the knowledge outcomes that would mark a unique discipline of art education. They wrote that the ideal end state is defined by achievement of highly sophisticated understandings and skills related to four professional roles in the discipline of art.*O This approach would require what Harry S. Broudy called an academically respectable and credible curriculum which could be prescribed for all high school students. And Elliot Eisner wrote that the arts are cognitive activities, guided by human intelligence, that make unique forms of meaning possible.**
There is a very important sense in which this approach to art education makes sense, and it is surely an improvement over spontaneous, intuitive, and emotionally driven approaches. Dewey wrote that any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence in production of works of art is based upon identification of thinking with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs and words. To think effectively in terms of relations of qualities is as severe a demand upon thought as to think in terms of symbols, verbal and mathematical.23 Fifty years later, Nelson Goodman (who initiated Harvards inquiries into art education called Project Zero)24 echoed this view in speaking about the receptive (rather than the productive) side of art: Coming to understand a painting or a symphony in an unfamiliar style, to recognize the work of an artist or school . . . is as cognitive an achievement as learning to read or write or add.25
To acknowledge the cognitive dimension of experiences that have aesthetic quality is one thing. But it is something else to claim that the arts are dominantly cognitive activities or that an education in the arts is fundamentally a matter of acquiring cognitive understandings.
However much thought may be involved in the arts, they are not cognitive activities in the sense that mathematics, physics, and some kinds of philosophy are cognitive activities. The latter are all undertaken with the intent of producing a result which has value independent of the process by which it is produced. But the arts have no self- sufficient conclusions that stand apart from the whole of which they are parts. The production and enjoyment of art take place not for instrumental purposes, but because of the way in which art can enhance the immediate, felt quality of experience. Other modes of experiencing may operate, and other values may be found, but if the enhancement of the quality of experience IS absent, then art has failed to function as art. The mosaics in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna are exquisite works of art, but they are very unlikely to appeal to eighth graders in Los Angeles. And if they do not function aesthetically for these students - if they do not enhance the quality of their experience -then they do not function as art for them.
Let us now return to the dominantly academic approach to art promoted by DBAE. With its preselected, written-out, sequentially organized curriculum, with its lessons and its evaluation procedures that resemble what is done in other school subjects, and with its almost relentless focus on knowledge outcomes, the activities offered by DBAE give us no reason to think that they could be experienced aesthetically by students.
19. Clark, Day, and Greer, Discipline-Based Art Education, 131. 20. Gilbert Clark and Enid Zimmerman, Toward a Discipline of Art Education, Phi Delta
21. Harry S. Broudy, Curriculum Validity in Art Education, Studies in Art Educafioh 26, no.
22. Elliot W. Eisner, The Role of the Arts in Cognition and Curriculum, Phi Delta Kappan 63,
23. Dewey, Art as Experience, 46. 24. See Howard Gardner and David Perkins, eds., Art, Mind and Education (Urbana: University
25. Nelson Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Kappan 63, no. 1 (1981): 53-55.
4 (1 985): 242.
no. 1 (1981). 48.
of Illinois Press, 1988).
Press, 1984), 146.
DBAE: PITFALLS 42 1
This confronts us with an imposing paradox. If students who are being educated in the arts do nor have experiences that are aesthetic in qualitx then they cannot have any idea of why they are being asked - or required - to study the arts. They will literally not know what they are studying.
For the students, our academically presented masterpieces are only collections of pictures (or symphonies, or poems, etc.) that other people told them they ought to like. DBAE aspires to emulate the instructional procedures common to other school subjects. But dont its advocates realize that, for students, geometry is just a collection of axioms and corollaries that other people told them to memorize and manipulate?
The academic approach of DBAE, with its emphasis on cognitive procedures and cognitive outcomes, will create enormous obstacles to the appearance of aesthetic quality in students experience. But what would be the point of art education if the aesthetic were absent? Here again, art education threatens to become the enemy of the aesthetic.
A sound approach to art education should do justice both to the integrity of the arts (which is one of the main purposes of DBAE) and to the quality of the experience of students (which gets little attention in DBAE, although it ought to be a primary concern of educators). Space allows only some suggestions for such an approach. These suggestions will be divided into three parts, the first two aimed at maintaining the integrity of art and of art teachers and the third aimed at fostering aesthetic quality in the experience of students.
1. The idea of balance among the four art disciplines (art production, history, criticism, and aesthetics) should be abandoned. They are not parallel inquiries, and the production of art is not an inquiry in the ordinary sense of the term at all. Art work should, of course, be encouraged whether or not it is accompanied by theoretical inquiries. But even more important, we must acknowledge that the benefits of creating art can be gained in creative work outside the visual arts (a fact seldom noted by art educators)26 and outside the arts altogether. The same reasons for encouraging creative work in art hold for encouraging it in math and science. (If it is objected that math and science require for creative work more sophistication than school children have, then the objectors understand neither math, science, children, nor what it means to be creative.) Not everyone can be creative in a single, arbitrarily selected area (art). The encouragement of creativity in all areas of the curriculum would have far greater and more widely distributed educational benefits than would the insistence that all students engage in the production of art every year of their school careers.
When the interests and maturity of students allow, it makes sense for them to pursue art history and aesthetics. But it must be kept in mind that a small black-and- white reproduction of Botticellis Primavera is not likely to thrill very many students, and without the thrill they may be unable to discover reasons of their own for studying it. It may be better to leave the study of art history to those students who show an interest in it.
Aesthetics, too, may be stimulating for only a few precocious students, since most college undergraduates find it heavy going. There is much to gain by having students pursue questions like, what makes this art? without engaging them in the formal study of aesthetics. Platos cautions about the premature teaching of philosophy should be taken more seriously, since we already teach children to say much that they do not understand.
Finally, the promoters of DBAE appear to misunderstand art criticism, for they refer to it as a discipline. If one wanted to collect examples of undisciplined writing, she
26. This is not a trivial point. If music and English and other arts educators demanded as comprehensive a curriculum as do the proponents of DBAE, the school curriculum (and budget) would expand beyond all tolerable limits.
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would need look no further than the prejudice and dogma that appear under the heading of art criticism in our leading newspapers and art journals. But since we all make choices and judgments about the arts, DBAE is well advised to urge the expansion and improvement of students critical abilities. This can be done through disciplined conversation that insists upon explicit reference to the work being criticized - even though art criticism is not a discipline and cannot be presented to the young in a systematic way.
2. The breadth of DBAE is one of its strongest virtues. But instead of serving as a guide to the instruction of children, that breadth should guide the preparation of art teachers and art specialists. These people could then develop their own programs in art education, both for children and for the inservice education of their colleagues.
Good reasons can readily be found for expecting art teachers (if not all their students) to have skill in art media, a background in art history, familiarity with aesthetics, and critical skills. But because aesthetics embraces many different and often conflicting viewpoints (a matter left unmentioned by promoters of DBAE) and because tastes and interests differ, we can expect these art teachers to develop, under our tutelage, very different approaches to the teaching of aftz7 This diversity would be healthy for the schools, although it might not be so regarded by advocates of DBAE who favor a single, prescribed, grade-articulated curriculum in art education for everyone.
3. All teachers should be encouraged to select materials that are within the range of students experience or that are attractive to them. But art teachers are especially obligated to select materials with these criteria in mind. For it is inconceivable that a student could experience any enjoyment of art, acquire any understanding of it, or develop any taste in it, if the art to which he or she were exposed were unattractive, alien, boring, or offensive.
This is not a plea to pander to the tastes of children. It is just a reminder that we are obliged to confront the existence of those tastes. Greater understanding and discrimination cannot be acquired by the young when we blithely ignore the tastes they already have. But by helping students to understand their own abilities and preferences better, teachers can help them develop their skills, broaden their tastes, and sharpen their discriminations. In these ways students will get greater enjoyment and richer meaning from the arts, and that, I submit, is what we are aiming at. Yet no authority standing outside the classroom can make the careful choices of materials that will suit a given group of students. The classroom teacher is best suited for that task, using whatever resources (e.g., colleagues, DBAE curricula) are available. And since one of the most potent of these resources is the students themselves, teacher-pupil collab- orative planning of the art curriculum, anathema to DBAE, is an effective way to insure a program of high quality and lasting impact.**
27. See Elliot W. Eisner, Educating Artistic Vlsion (New York: Macmillan, 1972). 176. 28. Ibid., 164.