Art in schools: Considering the profession of teaching secondary art

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Hope Irvine


Public school, Art teachers, Profession

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Education


This study explores the meaning of art and art teaching through their institutional context, the public school. The ongoing question of whether an art teacher should be a teacher or an artist results from the unclear definition of art teaching as a profession. Qualitative research methods are used in order to generate detailed descriptions and multi-layered interpretations. Analysis of long-term interviews with five high school art teachers reveals how a certain body of knowledge or set of skills becomes a discipline and what the professional work of teaching art involves.

Analysis of the informants' curricula shows that as art became a school subject, its content was constructed with the dispositions of a discipline, such as knowledge, language, code, and tradition. Vocabulary, rules, and learning were emphasized more than other aspects of art, such as creativity, imagination, and expression. The art teachers tried to demystify art by shaping it as dependent on the learned skill of seeing and by setting a boundary for this elusive content. In order to be a justifiable school subject, art has to be testable as well as teachable. Although the art teachers all expressed uneasiness about grading students' artwork, grades were valued as the means of validating art as a serious subject. The art teachers' accounts of grading on effort and progress are radical statements, considering the institutional context of public schooling and the social norms of objectivity and efficiency. Teaching art was also accomplished by showing caring, in conversations and interpersonal relationships. This study describes how art teaching involves professional decision-making about the validity and significance of art as a discipline and of emotional and personal engagement in relationships with students.


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