Teacher's Guide

Literature Review

The following are excerpts from outstanding works on arts education. Bibliographic details are listed at the end.

Support the Joy of Seeing

From "The Art of Seeing," by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly & Rick E. Robinson (The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1990).

Conditions for the aesthetic experience (pgs. 139 -)

Freedom from distraction (both distracted by outside inputs or internal discomfort at attention focused on the self). Students should feel connected to the viewing space. Their beliefs and attitudes and artworks should be valued if they are to value the work of others. Perhaps a studio atmosphere of working, discussing artists should be cultivated?

"Seeing takes time." What is important is that the viewer be able to control the length of the interaction with the artwork. "It takes a long time to actually see a painting" (147). "Seeing art" as opposed to viewing it, tends to be a solitary experience (or with a friend or the artist).

The viewer's frame of mind when approaching a work of art has a huge impact. To look actively is needed to experience a work fully (p. 157).

"The contemporary viewer is simply not interested and attentive enough to face the challenges presented by the art object... it's as if the viewer has to have courage enough to undertake the task of dealing with objects seriously and attentively; it is only then that the aesthetic experience can occur" (p. 158) [, an experience] which is like an "interpersonal dialogue, friendship, and love" (p. 149). ... you have to be able to put part of yourself aside and allow the experience to take place.

"Given that the encounter with art often requires both considerable work and the use of a whole range of skills, it should come as no surprise to learn that support is also necessary, some form of encouragement and direction that might lead viewers to engage themselves with a measure of conviction. Role models, for example, may be instrumental in this context, 'watching how other people do it, people I respect' ... 'it is important to have reinforcement from people who have come to believe in me, whom I respect as well - that kind of reinforcement gives me the permission to trust my instincts' (p. 161).

"to supply the viewer with the support and confidence to confront works of art openly and honestly" (p. 162).

Conclusions from Csikszentmihaly & Robinson:

It should be communicated [to the student] that viewing art is its own reward, a chance to embark on an adventure that will challenge their senses, their emotions, and their knowledge.

"The viewer ought to be made to feel that there are no right of wrong responses to the objects displayed. Rather than promote one correct way of responding, the museum [or teacher] should try to encourage a sense of adventure, of openness. After all, the artists who created the works on display more often than not were themselves iconoclasts searching for new values and new forms of expression. At the same time it should be made clear that viewing art is a complex, challenging proposition" (p. 174).

Ways into the works should be provided: things that highlight the "perceptual, emotional, cognitive and communicative content of the works" (p. 175).

Learners must control their interactions because "...the felt quality of the experience may be the same (ubiquitous centering of attention, sense of clarity, wholeness, freedom, etc.) for every aesthetic encounter, but the details that make the experience possible are infinitely varied" (p. 177-78).

The rewards of "seeing" art are "feelings of personal wholeness, a sense of discovery, and a sense of human connectedness" (p. 178).

General Strategies Drawn from a Review of the Literature

Value Student Expressions and Experiences

Dimension of Thinking #1 (from Robert Marzano) suggests that students' underlying attitudes and perceptions regarding the learning environment, the content, and themselves be valued and validated if they are to go on to engage the planned learning experiences.

Keep the focus on developing the aesthetic experience over knowledge acquisition.

Teachers should overtly model "seeing art" and then share their enjoyment of the process.

Personalized timeframes must be some part of the teaching method. Even with the typically compartmentalized and on-task attitude toward classroom time management, for students to truly see a work of art, they must be given leeway in how much time they allot to "looking."

Intimacy and privacy must be cultivated for students to truly achieve an aesthetic encounter with a work of art.

Remember that the experience is at the whim and motivation of the seer; without this you have nothing.

Raise the notion of putting the self aside to allow the work room to express itself. As much as students need to be validated, the artists' creations also warrant this respect.

Highlight the interconnected humanness that comes from seeing art. Draw in emotions, ideas, themes, history, etc.

Realize that even though the content of paintings and student interpretations may differ, if students are truly engaging in aesthetic experiences, the overarching goal of "learning to look" has been served.

Create a Community of Seers

Develop a "network" of mentors + peers who value seeing (teachers can tap into an E-mail listserver or newsgroups, use collaborative partnering with other classes, videoconference with professionals/college students, or connect to world wide audience through a Web presence).

Work to overcome the given passivity toward viewing engendered by television and videos.

Engage in active viewing and a lot of it.

Create classroom and online exhibitions of students' favorite works.

Provide students with successful "seeings" on which to build.

Communicate and model that viewing art is its own reward.

Illustrate that viewing art is a complex, challenging proposition.

Accentuate the sense of discovery and adventure to be had in viewing art actively.

Use questioning as the primary strategy. Let students engage and offer answers! (see Perkins)

Use a Clear Strategy for Viewing Art

A paraphrased except from David Perkins' "Art as Understanding" (in Art, Mind and Education, Howard Gardner & David N. Perkins, University of Illinois Press, 1989), suggests to,

"look for "Aesthetic Effects" (the things that carry the 'kick' or 'oomph' in artworks). This taps into the "inner relations" of aesthetic experiences rather than the "outer relations" of art history (p. 121). Look for motion (or stillness), mood, personality, and surprise to hook into the aesthetic effects.

Also, consider using Perkins' recommendations for promoting "Satisfying Looking:"

  1. Give looking time!
    • at least 3-5 minutes.
  2. Make looking broad and adventurous.
    • Position yourself. Find a good distance, where the work becomes a whole.
    • Let your eyes work for you. Remember to have a "hungry eye."
  3. Make looking deep and clear.
    • Let what you know inform your looking.
    • Let questions emerge.
    • When the flow stops, look away for a few seconds, then look back. This refreshes the eyes.
  4. Make looking organized.
    • Tell yourself when you notice interesting features.
    • Label the features in words to yourself.
    • You can look for what awaits in the art - features meant to be seen. And you can look for what hides - the technical devices that help the work achieve its intended impact.
    • As you keep looking you will resee features that have become familiar. You are getting to know your way around the work. Enjoy this mastery.

Acquire Background Knowledge

Provide a window into a few key works for elementary grades.

Juxtapose paintings to promote seeing.

View both breadth (a array of images) and depth (one artist's work).

Use a Discipline-Based Arts Education approach to develop a fuller appreciation.

Repeatedly view and summarize works so that quality and connections can be seen.

Develop Aesthetic Experiences

Accentuate the personal, deep, human, connection for teenagers (cultivate and describe the aesthetic experience).

Keep returning to the image.

Always look for the "point of entry," the emotional/intellectual hook that challenges the viewer to engage his or her skills (things that highlight the "perceptual, emotional, cognitive and communicative content of the works").

Develop a specific and graduated set of challenges.


Csikszentmihaly, Mihaly & Robinson, Rick E. "The Art of Seeing." The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts. 1990.

Perkins, David N. "Art as Understanding" in "Art, Mind and Education." Gardner, Howard & Perkins, David N. University of Illinois Press. 1989.

Perkins, David N. "The Intelligent Eye: Learning to Think by Looking at Art." The Getty Center for Education in the Arts. 1994.

December 1995.
Last revised February, 2014
By Tom March, tom at ozline dot com