Culture and the Arts in Education: A Rev,Culture and the Arts in Education: Critical Essays on Shaping Human Experience is a collection of essays written by Ralph Smith selected from his nearly three decades of work in aesthetic education. In this antholo

Culture and the Arts in Education: A Review Essay
Janet R. Barrett

Culture and the Arts in Education: Critical Essays on Shaping Human
Experience is a collection of essays written by Ralph Smith selected
from his nearly three decades of work in aesthetic education. In this
anthology, Smith presents his case for viewing the arts as humanities
through their emphases on creation, communication, continuity, and
criticism. This view is embodied in an excellence curriculum built
around the study of masterworks and the cultivation of percipience,
or “the ability of persons to experience works of art for the sake of
their constitutive and revelatory values, by which I mean the ways in
which the experience of good and great art holds potential for
shaping the self in positive ways while simultaneously yielding insight
into human existence and natural phenomena” (p. 14). In addition to
obvious implications for art education, Smith also explores how
music education might be construed and taught as one of the

Art educators are well acquainted with the writings of Ralph A. Smith, professor
emeritus of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Smith’s contributions to art education and aesthetic education are notable and wide-ranging,
including many authored and edited books, and his leadership as founder and editor of the
Journal of Aesthetic Education from 1966 to 2000. Numerous tributes to Smith’s work cite how
he has remained steadfast to his well-articulated vision of excellence through various cycles
of reform in art education. Culture and the Arts in Education: Critical Essays on Shaping Human
Experience is a compilation of essays that span nearly three decades from 1977 to 1995. These
provide a valuable introduction to Ralph Smith’s views or a useful compendium of
characteristic ideas for those already familiar with his work.
The essays—which trace their origins to various keynote speeches, invited addresses,
book chapters, and articles— are arranged in broad thematic groupings rather than in
chronological order to foreground the salient concepts, arguments, and issues that have
animated Smith’s thinking. The preface provides a sense of the context in which the original
pieces were written. Smith justifies the relevance of these ideas to current discourse by
noting that in comparison to the sciences, where timeliness is critical, “the dynamic of
communication in the arts and humanities is more relaxed” (p. xxiii). He also addresses how
key notions recur throughout; this repetition is not distracting when the essays are read in
sequence. There are thirteen chapters, divided into four sections: Background and Vision,
The Artworld and Art Education, The Arts and Humanities, and Art and Diversity.
Background and Vision
In this section Smith provides a rationale for situating arts education firmly within
the humanities. The four chapters in this section trace the roots of this perspective as well as
provide a road map for studying diverse conceptions of aesthetic education. In chapter 1,
“Arts Education as Liberal Education,” Smith revisits the Greek notion of culture, or Paideia,
which serves as the bedrock for understanding how study of the arts leads toward the ideal
of the formation of human character. Poetry, dance, drama, vocal and instrumental music—
alongside geometry, arithmetic, rhetoric, and logic—were viewed by the Greeks as the
“materials with which one composes a self” (p. 4). To study these disciplines is to examine
the values and expressions of the human condition. For contemporary Western culture, this
Greek ideal constitutes a robust call to transfigure the self through the arts, establishing the
humanities as the means and the context for inducting the young into educated society.
Smith cites the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who cautions schools to resist
“dancing to the tune of relevance” (p. 8) by staying true to their primary mission, which is to
stress “stability, concentration, form, discipline, excellence, creativity, and civilization” (p.
10). The congruence of the arts with the humanities is established through instilling
communication (akin to languages and literature), continuity (parallel to history), and
criticism (in line with philosophical studies). In this first essay, Smith begins to lay out the
Barrett: Culture and the arts in education: A review essay 3
foundation of a program of study that would be most suited to students in the middle and
secondary grades, the function of which is to cultivate the self through the development and
refinement of “percipience in matters of art and culture” (p. 14).
In the second chapter, Smith compares how four philosophers—Monroe Beardsley,
Harold Osborne, Nelson Goodman, and Eugene F. Kaelin—define the nature of aesthetic
experience. Smith considers each thinker’s primary emphasis in turn to elucidate this
fundamental concept. These emphases include: “for the quality of gratification it provides;
for its stimulation of direct perception for its own sake; for its contributions to new
perspectives on the world and self, or to understanding; and for ensuring the free
functioning of the institution of art” (p. 19). The comparative analysis underscores Smith’s
view that “excellence in art implies the capacity of works of art at their best to intensify and
enlarge the scope of human awareness” (p. 19).
The nature of aesthetic experience, the qualities of that experience, and the potential
of art works “to invite aesthetic experience of a fairly high magnitude” (p. 35), comprises the
substantive opening of chapter 3. Smith uses brief excerpts from literature and art criticism
from Harold Osborne, Sherlock Holmes, Pepita Haezrahi, Harry Broudy, and E. F. Kaelin
to illustrate a continuum of experience, moving from the simple awareness of fleeting
qualities of everyday life to the deeply arresting, multivalent experience of interpreting
Picasso’s Guernica. A justification for the arts on the basis of their capacities to arouse
aesthetic experience seems especially relevant for arts education at this particular time. In a
brief section on policy and general public attitudes toward the arts in the United States,
Smith warns educators and policymakers to avoid the “vigorous and incautious
instrumentalism” that is often used to promote the arts, promising that they will “humanize
the grey fortresses of learning, help teach basic skills, integrate a compartmentalized
curriculum, reduce the early school-leaving rate, and much, much more” (p. 34). His call for
caution reminds us that these perennial motives to justify the arts are as ubiquitous as the
arts themselves.
The fourth chapter is organized to present familiar dichotomies that recur
periodically in the discourse of art education, and that are often used uncritically to promote
“new” initiatives. Smith sets up tension, however, by enclosing the “versus” between the
opposing ideas in quotation marks (process-centered “vs.” product-centered aesthetic
learning; instrumental “vs.” noninstrumental uses of art; high culture “vs.” popular culture).
In doing so, his analysis leads the reader to the conclusion that in many cases, no dichotomy
exists, or that the polarities are sufficiently multidimensional or ambiguous to render the
quotation marks unnecessary. Through discussion, Smith’s position comes into clearer focus
in the dialectical territory between the poles. For example, although the developmental
nature of learning in the arts is a paramount concern for educators, Smith’s humanitiesbased
interpretation rests on the notion that “value resides principally in the completed work
of mature artists” (p. 50). This orients study toward understanding complex works rather
than in the emerging artistic expressions of students. He also dismisses proposals to build

upon student interests and preferences as a basis for selecting educative experiences by
arguing that the judgments and tastes of mature and experienced teachers best reflect the
cultural heritage.
The Artworld and Art Education
The second section draws from Smith’s earliest writings. The 1970s was a time
during which many disciplines and fields considered and worked through implications of a
cognitive view of mind, prompted by the publication of Jerome Bruner’s seminal work, The
Process of Education, in 1960. Chapter 5 reflects this historical perspective as Smith defines
aesthetic concepts and describes concept acquisition with reference to the theories of
Ausubel, Kuhn, Novak, and Toulmin. The influence of CEMREL, an Aesthetic Education
program sponsored by the University of Illinois during the 1960s and 1970s, is felt as Smith
offers an agenda for research and development in art education that reconciles the broad
artworld, educational policy, and aesthetic appreciation and skills (Chapter 6). In the opening
of chapter 7 (the earliest in the collection, first appearing in 1973), Smith refers to the
“mindblowing cults of instant sensation and militant anti-intellectualism” (p. 88) that made
teaching critical analysis in the schools a particularly difficult enterprise. Nevertheless, Smith
addresses the nature of criticism, and offers two types of activities to engage students in
thoughtful work: exploratory aesthetic criticism (through phases of description, analysis,
characterization, and interpretation); and argumentative criticism, which elevates the
standards of critique to those held by experienced critics.
Chapter 8, “An Excellence Curriculum for Art Education,” may be viewed in the
wake of A Nation at Risk, a report that had considerable ramifications for public education in
the 1980s and thereafter. The tide of criticism that challenged public education in that era
prompted educators and professional associations to respond with curricular proposals and
strong arguments in defense of educational ideals. Smith, drawing upon to Matthew Arnold’s
call for excellence as that which raises up the underprivileged through universal education
and schooling, responded to an invitation in 1987 by the National Association for Art
Education to write Excellence in Art Education: Ideas and Initiative. The book’s focus was
criticized by some as elitist; in this essay, Smith answers that criticism by explaining how the
notion of excellence is congruent with democratic ideals. He enumerates four propositions
that guided this work, that “excellence in art education is a commitment to general and
common education from kindergarten through the twelfth grade” (p. 100); that excellence
requires the “study in a number of contexts in which students learn to perceive art, to
understand it historically, to appreciate it aesthetically, to create it, and to think about it
critically” (p. 102); that teacher preparation should be altered to devote more time to
“substantive work in the humanities, in particular to historical, philosophical, and critical
studies of art” (p. 103); and that “a commitment to excellence implies an acknowledgment of
the claims of traditional as well as contemporary culture” (p. 105). At the close of this
chapter, Smith describes the power of art to dislodge the ordinary and lift individuals toward
Barrett: Culture and the arts in education: A review essay 5
transcendent encounters with outstanding works, a stirring rationale for widespread arts
The Arts and Humanities
In the third section, Smith addresses more specific guidelines for realizing these
aesthetic and democratic principles through the curriculum. He begins by arguing for the
necessity of art education, because such a program develops finely tuned abilities to
apprehend great works of art. He also lists dispositions of mind that attend the serious study
of the arts, including the acquisition of finely honed capacities for appreciating and
identifying artistic excellence, the cultivation of critical thinking, and greater awareness of
“cultural alternatives,” as he describes that there are “right and wrong ways to celebrate
cultural diversity” (p. 117). Smith draws upon the work of Walter Kauffman in literary
theory to examine how a dialectical approach to multiculturalism in art education offers
students opportunities to reflect on their own cultural assumptions, compare and contrast
diverse value systems, and maintain open-mindedness when studying art of a different
The most specific and detailed overview of a humanities-based curriculum appears in
chapter 10, “Toward Percipience,” in which Smith draws from work he conducted with
Bennett Reimer in 1992 to produce the NSSE yearbook. He builds on componential views
of human knowledge, as well as a multidimensional view of the features of art works, to
propose a five-phase curriculum. The phases, which begin in kindergarten and extend
through the serious study of art in high school, are organized to foster students’ abilities in
perceiving aesthetic qualities, developing perceptual finesse, developing a sense of art history,
engaging in exemplar appreciation, and, once students refine their perceptual abilities to
respond to art, culminating in critical analysis through a senior seminar.
In chapter 11, “Teaching Music as One of the Humanities,” Smith raises a number
of issues to be addressed if music instruction were to be oriented toward this aim, including
whether music criticism should be adopted as the primary model for a humanities-oriented
curriculum; how an emphasis on criticism relates to historical understanding, performance,
and creation; and how cognitive theories of musical understanding complement this
approach. In this chapter, Smith also speaks most directly about teachers’ capabilities and
goals, stating, for instance, that a teacher of music appreciation who builds a curriculum
around musical masterworks holds the principal goal of cultivating “musical percipience in
young people to the point where they will be able not only to enjoy and participate in music
at a respectable level of comprehension but also to engage in intelligent conversations about
it” (p. 144). Smith frames the argument for criticism by building on distinctions that Leonard
B. Meyer made between art and science. The work of the humanist-theorist, or critic,
resembles that of a scientist more than an artist in that the theorist’s principal task is to build
explanations, principles, and generalizations, often deriving these from the art works
themselves. These principles illuminate “relationships in works of art as they are experienced

as beholders” (p. 142). The humanistic impulse focuses on particularities, the distinctive
features of a select work of art, and the way these unique qualities engender aesthetic
response. Humanist-critics and teachers therefore both occupy a “middle ground—between
the composer and the performance of a work on one side, and the audience for the work on
the other” (p. 144), and so draw from multiple sources to guide their work, although in
differing degrees of depth. Traditional emphases within music education on performing and
listening would not be supplanted by adopting this curricular direction, but rather augmented
through the inclusion of historical and critical understanding. The theories of Peter Kivy,
Nelson Goodman, and Monroe Beardsley are employed in a discussion of musical meaning,
and whether music’s distinct abilities to move listeners through the growth and continuation
of sonic ideas can help situate music within the humanities. Smith concludes the chapter
with a brief allusion to the shape of a humanities-based music curriculum, which parallels the
proposals for art study listed above: exposure to music, perceptual training, historical inquiry,
the study of masterworks, capped by a senior seminar focused on the creation of an
elementary philosophy of music.
In the penultimate chapter, Smith discusses Harry Broudy’s book Truth and Credibility:
The Citizen’s Dilemma, an elaboration of his 1980 lecture for the John Dewey Society. Smith
takes up the discussion of how the arts can contribute to the remoralization of society by
strengthening imagination and character. I found his erudite elaborations on Dewey’s calls
for social change and Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowing most compelling in the prospect
that the values embodied in the arts, and strengthened in classrooms through the study of
exemplary works, leave traces in the imagination that guide persons toward justice and
compassion once they have left formal schooling.
Art and Diversity
Although cultural diversity is a theme that appears throughout the book, the last section is
comprised of just one chapter foregrounding the relation of the self to art in cultural
contexts. This brief postscript offers Smith’s commentary on one of the literary critic Lionel
Trilling’s last essays, “Why We Read Jane Austen.” In that piece, Trilling mused on his
students’ enthusiasm for reading Jane Austen, remarking that students were in effect using
the novels to seek answers to their own contemporary dilemmas, thus strengthening their
sense of self through art. Trilling contrasted this use of art works with what the
anthropologist Clifford Geertz had written about the role of Javanese cultural forms in
“induc[ing] its members to become as much as possible like works of art” (p. 167), thereby
relinquishing individuality to the larger artistic enterprise. In the preface to this collection,
Smith reveals why he chose this essay as the coda, using these cultural distinctions as an
invitation to the reader to ponder the dialectical tensions of life and art.
Barrett: Culture and the arts in education: A review essay 7
Culture and the Arts in Education puts forward a strong rationale for the inclusion of
the arts in the curriculum by giving readers a grand tour of Smith’s central points: that the
arts can be constructed as humanities, and thus are essential within education through an
emphasis on communication, criticism, continuity, and creativity; that pursuing such a path
rests on experience with art works that are worthy of being deemed excellent, and that the
cultivation of percipience should be the cornerstone of curricular efforts. Smith deftly
reviews a panorama of ideas that characterize intellectual discourse in the past few decades
and one of the strengths of the collection is the way in which it points the reader toward key
figures in aesthetic education, cognition, the humanities, and the arts. He leads the reader to
consider or revisit the work of Monroe Beardsley, Albert William Levi, Leonard Meyer,
Harry Broudy, Bennett Reimer, Matthew Arnold, and others. Individuals interested in
tracing key notions in aesthetic education would find many intriguing leads from the study of
these essays.
Smith’s writing also provokes critical reflection and counterpoint with current
discourse in the field. Given that masterworks comprise the centerpiece of a curriculum for
percipience, I was surprised that relatively few works or artists are given substantive
discussion to illustrate in tangible or vivid ways how such a curriculum would engage
students in the development and refinement of critical capacities for judgment. From a
curricularist’s standpoint, this would have been a useful addition, but given Smith’s prolific
writing and influence, examples can no doubt be found elsewhere. In the foreword,
Geahigan states that “the locus of study would be exemplary works of art, both traditional
and contemporary,” yet there are few instances in which the perplexities and conundrums of
contemporary art are used as a means to engage readers in critical thought. A tension
develops in the preface when Smith discusses postmodern curricular theory, often specifying
that his reservations with such views center on “destructive, radical forms of
postmodernism” (p. xxiv), and cautioning that problems arise when art education is used to
foster social change. Yet, several times, Smith cites a roster of questions that can be used for
examining a work of art deeply and thoroughly. Among these questions are: “What is its
place in the culture in which it is made? What is its place in the culture or society of today?
What peculiar problems does it present to understanding and appreciation?” (p. 126).
Although Smith argues that the central function of art education is not to forward the
sociopolitical meanings that works embody or convey, it seems that these very questions lead
teachers and students to numerous instances of art works that were created to provoke such
meanings, such as Picasso’s Guernica, the works of Goya, or in music, Penderecki’s Threnody
for the Victims of Hiroshima. Postmodern curriculum thought acknowledges the power of art
works to challenge and transform points of view; it engages students in recognizing and
forming judgments about the social and political meanings of art works. Perhaps this is an
example of the “softer” or more constructive postmodernism that Smith supports, but these
clarifications are certainly worth pursuing through lively dialogue in classroom settings. 8
Smith’s Excellence Curriculum has a particular focus on secondary schools. His well
articulated vision of high school students engaged in informed critique of art works and the
development of rudimentary philosophies of art invites comparison with the current state of
high school programs (here, I speak primarily from knowledge of music education). Parallel
to the predominant focus on production in art education, music education has also
privileged performance over other forms of engagement in secondary music education.
When music, like art, becomes an elective in students’ course-taking patterns, participation in
bands, choirs, or orchestras is the typical mainstay, and sometimes the only avenue open to
students. While these ensemble experiences are vibrant and significant in students’ lives,
there is a growing interest within music education to offer a greater diversity of courses at
the secondary level, based on the premise that students will seek additional study in music
only if the offerings remain relevant to their musical interests outside of school. A few high
schools have responded to the need for diversification by scheduling music technology,
composition, or popular music classes, or in some areas, ensembles not typically found in
school settings, such as mariachi or African drumming groups. Questions about the capacity
of these expanded offerings to meet Smith’s curricular visions arise while reading. How does
the inclusion of an expanded array of genres and styles cohere with the pursuit of arts as
humanities that Smith describes? How do various cultural forms (like the example of
Javanese and Balinese forms in the last chapter) challenge our tacit notions of excellence?
How does the immediate relevance of these studies to students’ school experience transform
into a continuing search for the arts once they leave school? In what ways can the arts
curriculum become more comprehensive to engage students in diverse artistic roles while
maintaining values of lasting importance? What kind of stability can arts education provide
given the kaleidoscopic shifts of ideas and society that characterize postmodern society?
Ralph Smith’s body of work, as represented in this anthology culled from decades of
scholarly contributions, raises questions about the role of the arts in education that are made
even more pressing in this current measurement-driven era in public schools. These essays
contribute to our understanding of the centrality of the arts in human experience, the
fundamental assumptions on which we claim this position, and the role of schools in
providing meaningful arts education for the young.
About the Reviewer
Janet R. Barrett is Associate Professor of Music Education at Northwestern University
where she teaches courses in research methods, curriculum development, general music
methods, and the arts in education. Her research interests include curriculum studies,
interdisciplinary approaches in music education, and professional development in music
teacher education. She is a co-author of, Sound Ways of Knowing: Music in the Interdisciplinary
Curriculum (Thomson Wadsworth), and Looking In On Music Teaching (Primis/McGraw-Hill),
and has contributed chapters to the New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning
Barrett: Culture and the arts in education: A review essay 9
and the International Handbook of Research in Arts Education. Barrett serves on the editorial
committees of the Bulletin of the Council for Research of Music Education and the Mountain Lake
Reader. She is past president of the North Central Division of the Music Educators National
Conference, and currently serves on the executive committee of the Society for Music
Teacher Education. Barrett holds B.M. and M.A. degrees from the University of Iowa and a
Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to her appointment at Northwestern
University, Dr. Barrett served as chair of the Music Department and professor of music
education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

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