Saturday, January 18, 2020

Themes in Art. The Stuff of Life

Screenshot of E. Delacruz's Pinboard: "Themes in Art: The Stuff of Life". January 2020.

APA reference for this blog post:
Delacruz, E. M. (2020, January 18). Themes in art: The stuff of life [Blog post].

Why Themes?

Themes in art are those (purportedly) universal ideas found within the arts and humanities (works of art, literature, film, dance, theater, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, science, etc.) Emanating from living life itself, these ideas, or themes, convey the meanings, values, and aspirations of their creators, and because they get at the basic stuff of life itself, they reflect the questions, aspirations, and fears of humanity itself. Designing art making and art learning activities around themes, which incorporate all kinds of possible meanings and motivations, rather than around media, techniques, subject matter, or the so-called "elements and principles of art" just makes sense these days. Readers of the recently popularized Understanding by Design (UBD) framework for curriculum planning will recognize these themes as Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings, shaped by Essential Questions (McTighe & Wiggins, 2012). But a thematic approach to art curriculum planning has been around a long time, way before UBD hit the education scene.

In fact, when allowed or encouraged to do so, art teachers have embraced such an approach for many years.  For example, in 1996, I co-wrote with art educator Philip Dunn describing some of the ways that art teachers utilized thematic planning. We observed two examples from the 1990s. At the "DBAE: Integrating the Arts Institute" held during summers in South Carolina, which Philip organized and hosted, and where I taught, "teams of arts teachers work together to develop complementary units of study, organized in a variety of ways around selected works of art that deal with central ideas: themes in the humanities, concepts (including, but not limited to, design concepts), social and environmental issues, great eras, artists, or cultures" (Delacruz & Dunn, 1996, p. 76). And the Getty-sponsored Florida Institute for Art Education, also held during summers and where I taught, was organized around the construction of interdisciplinary curriculum units called CHATs (comprehensive holistic assessment tasks). A CHAT was a thematic instruction/assessment unit focused on a central work of art and developed with multidisciplinary connections. Notably, in addition to exploring the themes and meanings embedded in a work of art, and making art based on a thematic approach, a CHAT unit was designed "to help students develop critical thinking and writing skills, foster an appreciation of their own cultures and the culture of others, enhance their abilities to work cooperatively with others, and foster sociability, self- management, and self-esteem" (Delacruz & Dunn, 1996, p. 77).  For specific examples of art lessons that engage themes, see Kay Alexander's and Michael Day's Discipline-Based Art Education: A Curriculum Sampler, published by the no longer in operation Getty Center for Education in the Arts in 1991, and listed in the references.

Although readers knowledgeable about the history of k-12 art education theories and practices may not see the connection, I find a strong connection between some of the approaches to curriculum planning and art making in the k-12 classroom emanating from the DBAE movement of the 1980s and 1990s and the currently popular Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) movement. For example, in "Develop Theme-Based Lessons for a More Authentic Experience" (n.d.), TAB art educator Ian Sands asserts that artists are inspired to make art based on their experiences and interests, and not with a starting point to their art making being questions like "I’ll work in 1 point perspective today. What should I create?" (Sands, n.d., para 2). For Sands, "Theme teaching begins by presenting the student with a question or topic to inspire thought. The student considers the theme and then generates a series of possible solutions. From these possibilities, the student selects a final idea for his or her project" (para 3). Readers interested in TAB will find a useful listing of TAB writings and resources in my earlier blog post "Learner Centered Teaching Approaches in Education and Art Education, circa 2020". 

What Themes?

Themes are about life, so it's pretty much anything goes here. Common stuff-of-life themes include: 

Place, Identity, Family, Consumption, Time, Memory, History/Histories, Legacy, Stories, Dreams, Secrets, Desire, Loss, Death, Humor, Play, Escape, Companionship, Romance, Protest, Ecology, Paradox, Compassion, Fantasy, Power, Structures, Systems, Transformation, Fiction, Balance, Boundaries.  The list is endless. See the Art21 website at for exploration artists who have incorporated some of these themes/ideas in their work.

Continuing the endless list...

Other themes found in the arts and humanities include (but are not limited to) Sustainability, Ecosystems/Bio-Regions, Urbanization, Gentrification, The Ages/Eons, Rites of Passage, Rituals, Celebrations, Cycles of Life, Kinship/Belonging, Assimilation/Resistance, Sense of Place/Mapping, Borders/Border Crossing, Local/Global, Nationalism/Transnationalism, Hybridization, Stereotypes, Heroes and Leaders, Freedom, Dignity, Capabilities/Disabilities, Truth/Deception, Objective/Subjective, Social Justice/Social Issues/Social Change, Conflict and Adversity, War, Poverty, Tragedy, Suffering, Love/Hate/Jealousy/Expressing Feelings, Awe, Revelation, Myths, Allegory/Parable, Irony/Parody, Spirituality, Sacrifice, Afterlife, Transitions, Dreams, Altered Realities, The World/Universe, Other World/Celestial, Subliminal/Ethereal, Microscopic, Cyberworlds/Cyborgs/Human-Machine, The Future, The Past, The Subconscious/Inner Worlds, Predictability/Chance, Nonsense/Absurdities, Contradiction, Taste/Fads/Trends/Fashion, Beauty/Ugliness, Pop Culture/Kitsch, Public/Private, Inner/Outer, Age/Growth/Evolution/Metamorphosis, Order/Disorder, Chaos, Stability/Instability, The Everyday/The Special, Conformity/Non-Conformity/Disruption, Communication…. the list is as extensive as the stuff of life

Life is big, broad, bold, complex, messy, multidimensional, blah blah etc. It matters little whether we call a thematic approach a UBD-inspired Big Ideas approach, a TAB-oriented artist-and student-based approach, or the older DBAE approach with its insistence on modeling k-12 art lessons after the thinking and practices of artists, art historians, art critics, and heaven-forbid, philosophers of art.  The point of a thematically oriented art program of study is to engage learners in thoughtful and informed explorations of the stuff of their lives and the creative expression of their thoughts and feelings about that stuff. In other words: Art = life. Education = the things we do to engage learners in the examination and creative expression of their lives.

Themes vs. Subject Matter

Themes are the big ideas, motivations, values, and questions posed in art works. They convey the human experience and underlie specific subject matter or topics in works of art. For example, the subject matter of Edward Hopper's painting, "Nighthawks" (1942), is an urban diner scene, or more descriptively, three people sitting at a diner late at night in a dimly lit downtown area of town. The theme, or big idea of this painting is, as Hopper himself noted, "the lonliness of a large city" ( Viewers may further ascribe additional meanings to this painting, including "human isolation and urban emptiness" ( Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" (1974-1979) is a grouping of thirty-nine place settings commemorating important women in history and arranged on a triangular table. Each place setting consists of "embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms and rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honored" (Brooklyn Museum, n.d., para 1). The subject matter is as the title suggests, a celebratory dinner with table settings for 39 guests. The themes or big ideas of this work tap into feminist ideas of history, power, disruption, and affirmation, challenging the exclusion of women's accomplishments in history, dismantling distinctions between high art (typically created by men) and low art or craft (typically created by women), elevating women's traditional domestic arts or crafts (sewing, weaving, embroidery, china painting) to the level of "high art",  and the power of collaboration when women meet in numbers and work together on common goals (hundreds of women worked on "The Dinner Party") (Brooklyn Museum, n.d.).

Many educators have made distinctions between themes and subject matter. I find writings about this distinction, offered by history, literature, and writing educators  (Bjork, 2019; Ideas of the Twentieth Century, n.d.; Pressfield, 2016) to be particularly clear and useful.

Also useful are writings about themes from the professions of history education (Ringelspaugh & Palmer, (n.d.), science education (Science for all Americans Online: Common Themes, 1990; Rogers, 2000), social studies (The Themes of Social Studies, 2017), and my personal favorite, the world of science fiction (

Again, Why?

Why is a thematic approach desirable in art education? Art has form (materials), structure (design, composition etc,), function or utility (what it's used for), context (when, who, where?), meaning (what it's about), and motivation (why its created). The "aboutness" and the "why" of art deserve  attention in our teaching. I close this blog post with a question. 

Q:  Why do we do anything other than a theme-based approach in K-12, and for that matter, post-secondary art education programs of study?

A: When art programs, university and then K-12, were coming in to their own in the US (1800s and forward) highly influential art educators believed and claimed that the elements and principles of design needed to be taught, and as a result, the elements and principles approach became and remained the focus of art programs of study until only recently (for a great chronicling of the history of art education in the US see Mary Ann Stankiewicz's 2001 The Roots of Art Education Practice). Regarding why art programs of study K-12 through the university bachelor's degree have been and continue to be organized around studio media (drawing, painting, ceramics, photography, digital arts, etc.) rather than some other organizational structure, I suspect that it was due in part to mis-perceptions about artists' practices as being limited to specific media (one was a painter, one was a sculptor, one was a printmaker, etc.), but more likely it was a logical (think inside the box) way to configure studio spaces for teaching.
Old habits are hard to break.

For some resources on themes in art and the humanities, see my Pinboard at


Alexander, K., & Day, M. (1991). Discipline-based art education: A curriculum sampler. Getty Publications. Available at

Bjork, M. (2019, September 7). What is the theme of a story? And why does nobody agree? [Blog post for Michael Bjork Writes].

Brooklyn Museum. (n.d.). The Dinner Party.

Delacruz, E. M. (2020). Themes in art: The stuff of life [Pinterest Board].

Delacruz, E. M., & Dunn, P. C. (1996).  The evolution of DBAE. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 30(3), 67-82.

Ideas of the Twentieth Century. (n.d.). Philosophical Themes in the Novels.[Course Handout from the course Ideas of the Twentieth Century]. University of Texas at Austin.   See also

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by Design® framework [Online White Paper]. ASCD.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Chapter 2—The Themes of Social Studies. (2017), National Council for the Social Studies.  See also: The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History. (2017). National Council for the Social Studies.

Pressfield, S. (2016, February). The Difference Between Subject and Theme [Blog post].

Ringelspaugh, M., & Palmer, M. (n.d.). 7 Themes [Webpage for Online History Course: American Experience.

Rogers, S. W. (2000). The use of themes in science. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Sands, I. (n.d.). Develop theme-based lessons for a more authentic experience.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). The roots of art education practice. Davis.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Art Education: What's the Big Deal?

Written by Elizabeth Delacruz, December 2019 & January 2020
(Sometimes I add to some of my blog posts over time.)
I wrote "Art Education: What's the Big Deal" for anyone, especially art teachers, looking for resources about advocating for art education. It seems that we have to keep telling folks why art and art education are important. I have accumulated a bunch of links to resources that may be useful toward this lofty goal. Readers wanting to see my list will find them (about 50 linked sources) after my "Art Education: What's the Big Deal" essay.  I will add to my list as time permits.

Detail from "Milking the Red Herring" E. Delacruz. Digital image. 2013. 

APA citation and reference for this page:
(Delacruz, 2019)
Delacruz, E. M. (2019, December 30). Art Education: What's the big deal? [Blog post]. Retrieved from  

Art Education: What's the Big Deal?

"Art Education: What's the Big Deal?" (Delacruz, 2020) utilizes excerpts from two articles that I wrote nearly a decade ago. As I reflected on the nature and value of my work as an art educator I first wrote "Entrepreneurial Strategies for Advancing Arts Based Public Engagement as a Form of University-Sanctioned Professional Activity in the New Creative Economy" (Delacruz, 2011a) and shared in that article strategies I had developed to advocate, aka, seek support, for my professional endeavors from those with the power to advance my work. Specific entrepreneurial strategies that I described in that essay include risk toleranceadaptabilitysocial networkingleveraging, and creating synergy

The second article that informs "Art Education: What's the Big Deal?" (2020) was originally the text of my acceptance speech given in March of 2011 at the annual conference of the National art Education Association on the occasion of receiving the United States Society for Education through Art (USSEA) 2011 National Ziegfeld award. As I reflected at that time on the spate of attacks on teachers in the broadcast media and amongst politicians and the public, I just had to respond, resulting in my 2011 speech and subsequently published paper, "The Teacher as Public Enemy # 1, a Response..." (Delacruz, 2011b). The excerpt below states my concerns at the time, concerns, I should add, that I still have today. As I noted at the time:

My speech was written over the winter and into the Spring of 2011 amidst an unprecedented escalation of highly publicized attacks by politicians, the media, and ordinary citizens on public workers and teachers in particular; the outlawing by some states of teachers’ collective bargaining rights; increased (questionable and largely unchallenged) reliance on standardized testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness; and massive government and corporate efforts to privatize public education. The enterprise of public education was shifting right before my(our) eyes, and business as usual (merely being great teachers and public servants) was no longer sufficient. (p. 5)

Wanting to say something hopeful for the future, in my "The Teacher as Public Enemy # 1, a Response..." essay I suggested four frameworks to guide us in our endeavors as art educators: (a) asserting the value of teachers as public intellectuals in their own communities; (b) adopting entrepreneurial strategies to strengthen both our aims and work; (c) networking through new digital social media; and (d) establishing common aims in service of civil society across our diverse disciplines and communities of practice (Delacruz, 2011b).  Readers of this essay "Art Education: What's the Big Deal?" (Delacruz, 2020) may notice that I offered overlapping strategies in my two original essays from 2011, networking and entrepreneurship, in particular. I would argue here that the strategies I offered in 2011 have withstood the test of time and bear a second look today.

First, it is important to understand how where we work impacts how we work as art educators. Our specific advocacy strategies will vary, depending on where we work and with and for whom we work. As I noted in 2011, "Sites for our work include schools, early childhood and senior care facilities, museums, recreational facilities, nature preserves, hospitals, prisons, libraries, playgrounds, programs for the disabled, community organizations, cultural centers, businesses, governmental agencies, and the Internet, to name a few" (Delacruz, 2011a, p. 3).  Specific actions in advocacy for our art education programs that work well in an elementary school may not be most advantageous for a recreational facility, a library setting, or a post-secondary educational institution. Nevertheless, the general strategies I suggest hold true regardless of where we work. It's all in how exactly we apply these strategies, and that's a decision best left to each of us in our own professional contexts.

As I observed in 2011, we are not alone in our endeavor to make a case for the arts in society. I found the writings of economist Richard Florida and writer Daniel Pink particularly insightful and proactive. Florida's, Pink's, and numerous other writings at the time talked about social, economic, and cultural life in the 21st century and brought together emerging notions about human and social capital, creativity, and entrepreneurship. These writings focused on what had been labeled at the time as the creative economy, which scholars and economists described as "new social, spatial, ecological, and economic arrangements, the potential for wealth and job creation, and the characteristics, preferences, and skills of people who work in creative industries" (Delacruz, 2011a, pp. 3-4). In Florida's analysis (2002) creative workers (those educators, writers, artists, designers, musicians, architects, entertainers, scientists, and engineers, along with a broader group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields) share common characteristics: they are educated, they work and play hard, and they value creativity, individuality, and diversity), and they generate new ideas, new technologies, and new creative content that has economic as well as cultural/aesthetic value (Delacruz, 2011a). Daniel Pink (2007) further described the skills and characteristics needed by these kinds of creative workers in the 21st century as high concept/high touch.

According to Pink, high concept skills include the ability to create artistically and emotionally satisfying products, to detect patterns and unexpected opportunities, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention. High touch skills include being able to empathize, to understand subtleties in human interaction, and to engage in the pursuit of purpose and meaning. The idea also promulgated by these theorists is that creative people, industries, and institutions are a major impetus in the global knowledge economy, and that the creative individuals driving and shaping this new economy have a high preference for technology, talent, and tolerance for diversity (Florida, Gates, Knudsen, & Stolarick, 2006). Countless reports and policy documents around the globe, in essence, support this view. (Delacruz, 2011a, p. 4)

Taken together (from  both of my 2011 essays) I have identified four strategies that may be useful to those wanting to advocate for art education. I describe each of these strategies below. The final strategy, entrepreneurship, has subcategories/strategies. I conclude my essay with a commentary about belonging in a community of practice, an idea I learned from a doctoral student in Kinesiology, Dr. Jesse Rhoades, as he was completing his dissertation at the University of Illinois where I was working at that time.

Some Strategies

     1. Develop and Assert our Role of Teacher as Public Intellectual. We need to reassert how we envision ourselves as teachers. After teacher/educator Marilyn Cochran-Smith (2005, 2006) at Boston College, I see teachers as local “public intellectuals” in their own communities. Teachers have many of the same skills and dispositions that public intellectuals in civic life have, and they play a vital role in the life of a community. Both teachers and public intellectuals pursue cross-disciplinary understandings. Teachers and public intellectuals have the ability to communicate well to general audiences, and they encourage their audiences to ask difficult questions—questions such as “Why?”, “Why not?”, and “What if?” And they consider both ethical and pragmatic implications of actions and inactions—local, regional, and global, understanding that it’s not an us/them scenario; rather, we’re all in this together. Intellectual rigor, inquiry, imagination, and civic engagement permeate everything teachers do (Delacruz, 2011b).

     2. Utilize Digital and Social Media to our Advantage. New social media is a game-changer in the enterprise of education. Despite adherence in this country to a social Darwinian myth of rugged individualism, and despite the seductive belief that one can “do it yourself,” the fact is we just can’t to this alone. Peer-to-peer teaching and learning, creative and cultural production, design thinking, and problem-solving are now immensely more powerful through collaboration in online social networks (Delacruz, Carlos, Danker, Flugelstad, Roland, & Stokrocki, 2011). In the early years of the 21st century, Henry Jenkins, former Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and USC media and communications scholar, and his colleagues described something quite remarkable happening online; something they saw to be a distinct and still emerging form of human intellectual and social evolution (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2007). These media scholars described the rich and powerful online behaviors and the knowledge it produces as a form of distributed cognition. I rather liked that concept at the time, and I like it even more today. It is not just about working together across geographic, cultural, and disciplinary enclaves; rather, it’s both the individual and the collective. It’s about synergy, and the power of we.

     3. Being Global Citizens that Contribute to the Global Commons. I have long advocated  for a notion of the commons (the public sphere) and the pursuit of global civil society (Delacruz, 2005, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c).  As I wrote in 2011, "in olden days, the commons was the meadow, the park, and the public square. These were our shared places that were decidedly public, accessible to all, and, importantly, requiring careful stewardship. Today, our commons, or common public assets, include green spaces in our municipalities, the air we breathe, protected wilderness habitats, outer space, the Internet, architectural and artistic monuments, the global knowledge commons, and public education" (Delacruz, 2011b, p. 5). Our very survival now depends on this stewardship. It requires the joint efforts of civil society, which has been broadly defined as that realm of public and private individuals and entities working for the common public good. “Business as usual” clearly cannot continue (Delacruz, 2011b). We need to come together across ideological, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to craft new solutions for old problems. Communications scholar Howard Rheingold (2007) observed that the tools for cultural production are now in the hands of 14-year-olds who know more about emerging technologies than their teachers. Rheingold’s point was not just that kids are tech-savvy; rather it’s that because of this fact, teachers now have a new and more important role to play: teaching ethical behavior and cultural citizenship. We need to excite students about the notion of being a globally connected and ethically charged citizen as a means of facilitating our creative, educational, and civic goals as a society and as world citizens (Delacruz, 2011b).

    4. Entrepreneurship. We need to borrow from a framework already well-regarded in the world of corporate capitalism, the language of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial disposition refers both to a conceptual outlook and a cluster of behaviors that include the following: (a) ability to understand particular needs in particular contexts; (b) to discern meaningful patterns; (c) to think big; (d) to innovate; (e) to envision something new and useful; (f) and the ability to conceptualize, design, and carry forward concrete plans of action with specific intended outcomes (Delacruz, 2011a). Entrepreneurs are good at creative problem solving, social networking, and resource development. Impediments are challenges to overcome, and fear of failure does not truncate entrepreneurial thinking. Most importantly, entrepreneurs, like art educators, create something of value to others (Delacruz, 2011b).

Entrepreneurship, for me in 2011, as an art educator working in the university sector in art education, included risk toleranceadaptabilitysocial networkingleveraging, and creating synergy. I believe that these strategies are still useful and that they are important for art educators working in other professional contexts. I briefly describe each of these strategies below (excerpting from my 2011 "Entrepreneurial Strategies for advancing Arts Based Public Engagement as a Form of University-Sanctioned Professional Activity in the New Creative Economy" essay).
Risk tolerance. Risk tolerance refers to the capacity to thrive within risky ventures. It involves overcoming fear of failure amidst questionable institutional support and/or implemented with individuals or organizations we may not know very well. It also includes making educated guesses that our intended audiences (learners, parents, community members, other teachers, administrators, etc.) will find our endeavors to be beneficial. Risk tolerance requires development of interrelated personal dispositions and skills that include belief in the value of this work, a high sense of self-efficacy, willingness to defer other goals and rewards, a capacity to withstand setbacks, and adaptability to varied and changing conditions. 
Adaptability. Adaptability is central to our public-oriented work. As we seek and receive information and feedback from learners, administrators, community members, we adapt our work strategies and products to meet their needs and expectations. These adaptations make our work responsive and relevant. When we meet impediments or encounter setbacks we scale-back, seek alternative routes to our goals, sometimes put on the back-burner or abandon projects and initiatives in favor of those more likely to be successful, and tailor our specific communications to address the expectations of specific audiences and/or stakeholders. This sometimes means clarifying and even redefining/redescribing what it is that we are doing, and doing so in straightforward language, without hype or our own propaganda, that is likely to be understood and accepted by our intended recipients. Adaptability involves thoughtful responsiveness to specific situations and reformulating plans when needed. It requires attention to what is actually going in our endeavors, which are almost always riddled with many dimensions, constantly moving parts, and competing agendas. 
Networking. I can’t say strongly enough how important it is to develop affiliations with like-minded individuals, including individuals in other sectors or disciplines. I sometimes informally refer to these individuals as kindred spirits, in there are individuals who "get" what we are doing, why we are doing what we do, how we are making a difference in the lives of students, schools, communities and the world (for that matter), and how important it is for people to do the things we do. It is immeasurably valuable to be have and nurture professional relationships with kindred spirits. That's one of the big things that art education workshops and conferences facilitate, that is, the opportunity to meet with kindred spirits and develop professional friendships. It may also to to our advantage to link our professional activities to similar work that appears to be valued by stakeholders and those who have some degree of say-so or power over our professional work (administrators, politicians, community members, etc.). Collaboration is a characteristic identified as important to both entrepreneurship and networking. It is a strategy that enhances social capital (a concept used in sociology, economic, political and cultural studies to describe how varying types of inter-human relationships impact individuals’ and groups’ power, knowledge, skills, access to resources, and ability to achieve particular aims). As I wrote in 2011, social capital is increased in relationships where trust, cooperation, and mutual interests are high (Fukuyama, 1999). Having social capital is recognized as essential for individual empowerment (Ferragina, 2009), professional advancement (Hamblen, 1986), and civic participation (Putnam, 2000). 
Leveraging. Studies of entrepreneurship mention the ability to capitalize on opportunities, to network, finesse resources, and turn challenges into assets as behaviors frequently exhibited by entrepreneurs. I view these behaviors as leveraging, a behavior intimately interrelated with developing one's social capital. In leveraging, we develop opportunities by strategically asking for assistance and by maximizing minimal financial and personnel resources. We connect to, share information with, and ask for things (like institutional support or funding) from individuals in leadership positions. This includes both articulating the public benefits of our work and generating positive publicity and therefore good will toward our institutions/workplaces. We spotlight both our programs/endeavors and our colleagues in positive ways in press releases, and we utilize respected broad cast media, scholarly sources, and local documents to support our claims about the value of our work to the organizations and institutions we serve. We also acknowledge, thank, and credit individuals, departments, and units in host organizations and institutions for their contributions and support. Press releases and executive reports should explicitly mention these units, departments, and individuals. 
Creating synergy within and beyond our community of practice. We need to capitalize on opportunities to connect and collaborate (see all of the above). Art educators working in all sectors of our practice need to champion, support, mentor, and collaborate with one another who are located in and around our communities, as together we refine our own tools, strategies, and resources for developing reasoned and persuasive political speech, and for tapping into influential power structures at the local and state levels. This is a grassroots endeavor, fraught with difficulties and setbacks. We have our vote, our voice, our intellectual skills, our compassion, and each other in our collective endeavors to inform and shape the public debate over education. Moreover, our professional associations, publications, conferences, and social media give us greater opportunities to engage these issues in concert with one another. We are, in fact, what social learning theorist and business consultant Etienne Wenger (2006) identifies as a “community of practice” (http://www. We are a multifaceted, many-layered, amply talented community of practice dedicated to common aims and engaged in learning from one another in furtherance of these common aims.
Some Final Thoughts: What does it mean to be part of a Community of Practice?

     Being part of a community of practice means that despite the sometimes isolating, lonely, unrecognized, misunderstood, or unsupported nature of our work as art educators we may also be uplifted and inspired by our community of practice, or rather, I should say, our multiple communities of practice. These communities include our local, regional, state, national and international professional associations and arts organizations; our colleagues, artists, teachers, supporters, and arts activists in and around our own workplaces; community organizations, governmental agencies, art museums, libraries, park districts, universities and community colleges, art guilds, and businesses involved in doing work for the greater public good (civil society). Our communities of practice also include, to some degree, our immediate friends and families insofar as they are aware of and supportive of our professional aspirations and activities. We need to connect, collaborate, and champion one another, to nurture, love, and take care of one another in our seemingly impossible mutual mission to make a real difference in the lives of those we teach and to help create a better world. As I've said at the end of a few other papers I've written over the years, "we're all in this together".
Author Endnote      

I learned about the community of practice literature from Dr. Jesse Rhoades (see when I was a member of his dissertation committee at the University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign) many years ago. Jessie was completing his dissertation study about physical eduction teachers, and his dissertation  completed in 2010 and entitled "National Board Certified Physical Education Teachers: A descriptive analysis" (see talked abut communities of practice. Jesse earned his PH. D. from UIUC in Pedagogical Kinesiology. He was involved in teacher education, as was/am I and he asked me to be a member of his committee after taking a course that I had developed and taught at the University of Illinois called "Writing for Publication". I wrote and promoted "Writing for Publication" to students across the UIUC campus, in any discipline, to work on any paper at any stage of development that they wished to work on. We formed out own little interdisciplinary community of practice, reading and responding to one another's work-in-progress and nurturing one another along the way. In effect, Jesse's participation in my little course, so many years ago, has made a lasting impact on how I understand my work as being intricately connected to the work of others, so much so that I even wrote about it several times in 2011 (Delacruz, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). 
References for the above essay  (Note: if anyone wants any of my articles listed below and does not have free access to them, many of them are available to download from my website in my "Work and Play section, at
Delacruz, E. M. (2011a). Entrepreneurial strategies for advancing arts based public engagement as a form of university-sanctioned professional activity in the new creative economy. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 12(Interlude 1). (Links to an external site.) 
Delacruz, E. M. (2011b). The teacher as public enemy # 1: A response in these most uncivil times. Art Education, 64(6), 5-10.
Delacruz, E. M., Carlos, J., Danker, S., Flugelstad, T., Roland, C., & Stokrocki, M. (2011c). Do-it-Yourself professional development through online personal learning networks as a 21st century form of self-initiated, non-hierarchical participation in communities of practice. Canadian Art Journal9(2), 38-53.
Delacruz, E. M. (2009a). From bricks and mortar to the public sphere in cyberspace: Creating a culture of caring on the digital global commons. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 10(5).  
Delacruz, E. M. (2009b). Art education in the age of new media: Toward global civil society. Art Education62(5), 13-18.
Delacruz, E. M. (2009c). Globalization: Mapping the terrain. In E. Delacruz, A. Arnold, M. Parsons, & A. Kuo (Eds.), Globalization, art, and education (pp. x-xviii). National Art Education Association.
Delacruz, E. M. (2005). Art education in civil society. Visual Arts Research31(2), 3-9. 
Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. Basic Books.
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. (2007). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for  the 21st century. MacArthur Foundation. 
Pink, D. (2007). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Berkley Publishing Group.
Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction [Website].  

Advocacy Resources

Quotes about the importance of the arts

What Michelle Obama said
What others have also said

National organizations engaged in advocacy for arts education

NAEA. Explore the National Art Education Association Advocacy website! (Links to an external site.)
NAEA selected works regarding advocacy:
Arts Education PartnershipThe Arts Education Partnership at Education Commission of the States is a national coalition of more than 100 education, arts, cultural, government, business and philanthropic organizations that was created in 1995 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.

Arts Ed Search. ArtsEdSearch is the nation’s hub for research on the impact of the arts in education. This site offers an extensive list studies on the impact of the arts in education. The site also offers a  useful search tool for finding resources

National Endowment for the Arts.
International Journal of Education in the Arts. (Links to an external site.)
International Journal of Art & Design Education. (Links to an external site.)
Selected readings for anyone looking for material about the value of art and art education 
Barnum, M. (2018, May 30). The ‘shadow education system’: How wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out. Chalkbeat: Education News. In context. Retrieved from

Baum, S., Oreck, B., McCartney, H. (1999). Artistic talent development for urban youth: The promise and the challenge. In E. Fiske (Ed.). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning (pp. 64-78). Arts Education Partnership & The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Bertling, J. G. (2015). The art of empathy: A mixed methods case study of a critical place-based art education program. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 16(3), 1-26.

Betts, J.D. (2006). Multimedia arts learning in an activity system: New literacies for at risk children. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 7(7).

Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, F. R., Dörfler, A., & Maihöfner, C.  (2014). How art changes your brain: Differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art evaluation on functional brain connectivity. PLoS ONE, 9(12): e116548. Retrieved from

Boske, C. (2012). Sending forth the tiniest ripples of hope that build the mightiest currents: Understanding how to prepare school leaders to interrupt oppressive school practices. Planning and changing, 43(1), 183-197.

Bowen, D. H., Greene, J. P., &  Kisida, B. (2014). Learning to think critically: A visual art experiment. Educational Researcher, 43(1), 37-44.  

Bresler, L., DeStefano, L., Feldman, R., & Garg, S. (2000). Artists-in-residence in public schools: Issues in curriculum, integration, impact. Visual Arts Research, 26(1), 13-29.

Brouillette, L., & Graham, N. J. (2016). Using arts integration to make science learning memorable in the upper elementary grades: A quasi-experimental study. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 12(1).

Brouillette, L., Childress-Evans, K., Hinga, B. & Farkas, G. (2014). Increasing the school engagement and oral language skills of ELLs through arts integration in the primary grades. Journal of Learning through the Arts, 10(1).

Brown, E. D., Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337–346.

Brown, E. D., Benedett, B., & Armistad, M. E. (2010). Arts enrichment and school readiness for children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 112-124.

Burger, K., & Winner, E., (2000). Instruction in visual art: Can it help children learn to read? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 277-293.

Burton, J. M., Horowitz, R., & Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 228-257.

Burton, J. M., Horowitz, R. & Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 228-257

Carger, C. (2004). Art and literacy with bilingual children. Language Arts, 81(4), 283-292.
Catterall, J. S., Dumais, S. A., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2012). The arts and achievement in at-risk youth: Findings from four longitudinal studies. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved from  

Catterall, J. S. (2009). Doing well and doing good by doing art: The effects of education in the visual and performing arts on the achievements and values of young adults. Imagination Group/I-Group Books.

Catterall, J., & Peppler, K. (2007). Learning in the visual arts and the worldviews of young children. Cambridge Journal of Education, 37(4), 543.

Clover, D. E. (2006). Culture and antiracism in adult education: An exploration of the contributions of arts-based learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 57(1), 46-61.

Craig, D., & Paraiso, J. (2008). Dual Diaspora and barrio art: Art as an avenue for learning English. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 4(1).

Craig, C. (2002). A continuing inquiry into the school as parkland metaphor. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 3(4).

Crawford Barniskis, S. (2012). Graffiti, poetry, dance: How public library art programs affect teens. The Journal for Research on Libraries and Young Adults, 2.

Cunnington, M., Kantrowitz, A., Harnett, S., & Hill-Ries, A. (2014). Cultivating common ground: Integrating standards-based visual arts, math, and literacy in high-poverty urban classrooms. Journal for Learning through the Arts: A Research Journal on Arts Integration in Schools and Communities, 10(1). 

Duma, A. L., & Silverstein, L. B. (2014). Cross-Study findings: A view into a decade of arts integration. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1).

Eckert, G. (2012). Art and how it benefits the brain. Self-Help Healing Arts Journal. Retrieved from:

Ede, A. R., & Da Ros-Voseles, D. A. (2010). Using the Reggio exhibit to enrich teacher candidates’ perceptions of how children construct and represent knowledge. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 31(3), 222–231.

Eisner, E. W. (2004). What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education? International Journal of Education & the Arts, 5(4). Retrieved from

Eisner, E. (1978). What do children learn when they paint? Art Education, 31(3), 6-10.  * Still relevant today!

Elpus. K. (2013). Arts education and positive youth development: Cognitive, behavioral, and social outcomes of adolescents who study the arts. Washington DC: National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved from  

Erickson, M. (1995). Second and Sixth Grade Students’ Art Historical Interpretation Abilities: A One-Year Study. Studies in Art Education, 37(1), 19-28.

Freedman, K. (2007). Artmaking/troublemaking: Creativity, policy, and leadership education. Studies in Art Education, 48(2), 204-217.

Fink, R. S. (1976). Role of imaginative play in cognitive development. Psychological Reports, 39, 895-906.

Gay, H., Patterson, M.,  Rollins, J., &  Sherman, A. (2011). The arts and human development: Framing a national research agenda for the arts, lifelong learning and individual well-being. National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Gasman, M., & Anderson-Thompkins, S. (2003). Renaissance on the Eastside: Motivating inner-city youth through art. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 8, 429-450.

Goldstein, T. R., & Winner, E. (2012). Enhancing empathy and theory of mind. Journal of cognition and development, 13(1), 19-37.

Goldstein, T. R. (2011). Correlations among social-cognitive skills in adolescents involved in acting or arts classes. Mind, brain, and education, 5(2), 97-103.

Grace, A. P., & Wells, K. (2007). Using Freirean pedagogy of just IRE to inform critical social learning in arts-informed community education for sexual minorities. Adult Education Quarterly: A Journal of Research and Theory, 57(2), 95-114.

Graham, M. A., & Zwirn, S. G. (2010). How being a teaching artist can influence K-12 art education. Studies in Art Education, 51(3), 219-232.

Greene, J. P., Kisida, B., & Bowen, D. H. (2013). The educational value of field trips. Education Next, 16.

Halverson, E. R. (2010). Artistic production processes as venues for positive youth development (WCER Working Paper No. 2010-2). Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Educational Research. Retrieved from

Hardiman, M., Rinne, L., & Yarmolinskaya, J. (2014). The effects of arts integration on long-term retention of academic content. International Mind, Brain, and Education Society, 8(3), 144-148.

Hardiman, M., John Bulla, R. M., Carrana, D. T., & Sheltonb, A. (2019). The effects of arts-integrated instruction on memory for science content. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 14, 25-32. Retrieved from
Harris, M. A. (2007). Differences in mathematics scores between students who receive traditional Montessori instruction and students who receive music enriched Montessori instruction. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 3(1).

Heath, S., & Wolf, S. (2005). Focus in creative learning: Drawing on art for language development. Literacy 39(1), 38-45.

Hetland, L., & Winner, E. (2001). The arts and academic achievement: What the evidence shows. Arts Education Policy Review, 102(5), 3-6.

Holloway, D. L., & LeCompte, M. D. (2001). Becoming somebody! How arts programs support positive identity for middle school girls. Education and Urban Society, 33(4), 388-408.

Ingram, D., & Meath, M. (2007). Arts for academic achievement: A compilation of evaluation findings from 2004-2006. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement. Available at

Kang, R., Mehranian, Y., & Hyyatt, C. (2017). Incorporating an Image-Based, Multi-Model Pedagogy Into Global Citizenship Education. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 18(23).

Kang Song, Y. I. & Gammel, J. A. (2011). Ecological mural as community reconnection. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 30, 266–278.

Kaimal, G., Drescher, J., Fairbank, H., Gonzaga, A., Junkin, J., & White, G. P. (2016). Learning about leadership from a visit to the art museum. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 17(6).

Kisida, B., Greene, J. P., & Bowen, D. H. (2014). Creating cultural consumers: The dynamics of cultural capital acquisition. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 281–295.

Kisida, B., Bowen, D. H., & Greene, J. P. (2017). Cultivating interest in art: Causal effects of arts exposure during early childhood. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. (Online publication, December 2017).

Kisida, B., Bowen, D. H., & Greene, J. P. (2016). Measuring critical thinking: Results from an art museum field trip experiment. Journal of Research of Educational Effectiveness, 9(1).

Krensky, B. (2001). Going on beyond zebra: A middle school and community-based arts organization collaborate for change. Education and Urban Society, 33(4), 427-44.

Lachman, R. (n.d.). STEAM not STEM: Why scientists need arts training. The Conversation [Online]. Retrieved from

Lazzari, M. M., Amundson, K. A., & Jackson, R. L. (2005). “We are more than jailbirds”: An arts program for incarcerated young women. Affilia: Journal of Women & Social Work, 20(2), 169-185.

Lowe, S.S. (2001). The art of community transformation. Education and Urban Society, 33, 457-471.

Luftig, R. (2000). An investigation of an arts infusion program on creative thinking, academic achievement, affective functioning, and arts appreciation of children at three grade levels. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 208-227.

Malin, H. (2012). Creating a children’s art world: Negotiating participation, identity, and meaning in the elementary school art room. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 13(6).

Mason, C. Y., Steedly, K. M., & Thormann, M. S. (2008). Impact of arts integration on voice, choice, and access. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 31(1), 36.

Mason, M. J. & Chuang, S. (2001). Culturally-based after-school arts programming for low-income urban children: Adaptive and preventive effects. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 22(1), 45-54.

Miller, J. A., & Bogatova, T. (2018). Arts in education: The impact of the Arts Integration Program and lessons learned. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 14 (1).

Milgram, R. M. (2003). Challenging out-of-school activities as a predictor of creative accomplishments in art, drama, dance and social leadership. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(3), 305 – 315.

Moga, E., Burger, K., Hetland, L., & Winner, E. (2000). Does studying the arts engender creative thinking? Evidence for near but not far transfer. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 91-104.

Moody, E., & Phinney, A. (2012). Community-engaged arts for older people: Fostering social inclusion. Canadian Journal on Aging, 31(3), 55-64.

Nelson, B. (2011). “I made myself”: Playmaking as a pedagogy of change with urban youth. Research in Drama Education Journal, 16(20) 1-17.

Oreck, B. (2006). Artistic choices: A study of teachers who use the arts in the classroom. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 7(8).

Pellico, L., Friedlaender, L., & Fennie, K. P. (2009). Looking is not seeing: Using art to improve observational skills. Journal of Nursing Education, 48(11), 648-653.

Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual ageRiverhead Books.

President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH).  (2011). Re-Investing in arts education: Winning America’s future through creative schools. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). Retrieved from

Prigoda, E., & McKenzie, P. (2007). Purls of wisdom: A collectivist study of human information behavior in a public library knitting group. Journal of Documentation, 63(1), 90 – 114.

Rajan, K. B., & Rajan, R. S. (2017). Staying engaged: Health patterns of older Americans who participate in the arts. Washington. DC: National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved from

Respress, T., & Lutfi, G. (2006). Whole brain learning: The fine arts with students at risk. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 15(1), 24-31.

Rose, D. S., Parks, M., Androes, K., & McMahon, S.D. (2000). Imagery-based learning: Improving elementary students’ reading comprehension with drama techniques. Journal of Educational Research, 94(1), 55-63.

Rostan, S.M. (2010). Studio learning: Motivation, competence, and the development of young art students’ talent and creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 261-271.

Seltzer-Kelly, D., Westwod, J., & Pena-Guzeman, D. (2010). Deweyan multicultural democracy, Rortian solidarity, and the popular arts: Krumping into presence. Studies in Philosophy & Education, 29(1), 441-457.

Simpson Steele, J. (2019). Where are they now? Graduates of an arts integration elementary school reflect on art, school, self and others. International Journal for Education & the Arts, 20(11), 1-23.

Snyder, L., Klos, P., & Grey-Hawkins, L. (2014). Transforming teaching through arts integration. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1).

Sosin, A. A., Bekkala, E., Pepper-Senello, M. (2010). Visual arts as a lever for social justice education: labor studies in the high school art curriculum. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 6(1), 1-23

Spina, U. (2006). Worlds together… words apart: An assessment of the effectiveness of arts-based curriculum for second language learners. Journal of Latinos & Education, 5(2), 24.

Stevenson, L., & Deasy, R. J. (2005). Third space: When learning matters. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

Taylor, H. A., & Hutton, A. (2013). Think3d!: Training spatial thinking fundamental to STEM education, Cognition and Instruction, 31(4), 434-455.

Thomas. M. K., Singh, P., & Klopfenstein, K. (2015). Arts education and the high school dropout problem. Journal of Cultural Economics, 39(4): 327-339.

Vaughn, K., & Winner, E. (2000). SAT Scores of Students Who Study the Arts: What We Can and Cannot Conclude about the Association. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 77-89.

Wandell, B., Dougherty, R. F., Ben-Shachar, M., & Deutsch, G. K. (2008). Training in the arts, reading, and brain imaging. In C. Asbury & C. Rich (Eds.) Learning, arts, and the brain. Dana Foundation.

Wiessner, C.A. (2005). Storytellers: Women crafting new knowing and better worlds. Convergence, 38(4), 101-119.

Wilhelm, J. D. (1995). Reading is seeing: Using visual response to improve the literary reading of reluctant readers. Journal of Reading Behavior, 27(4), 467-503.

Wilkins, J.L.M., Graham, G., Parker, S., Westfall, S., Fraser, R.G., & Tembo, M. (2003). Time in the arts and physical education and school achievement. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(6), 721-734.

Williamson, P. A. & Silvern, S. B. (1992). “You can’t be grandma; you’re a boy”: Events within the thematic fantasy play context that contribute to story comprehension. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 7, 75-93.

Winner, E., Hetland, L., Veenema, S., Sheridan, K., Palmer, P., Locher, I., et al. (2006). Studio thinking: How visual arts teaching can promote disciplined habits of mind. New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the arts, 189-205.

Winner, E., & Cooper, M. (2000). Mute those claims: No evidence (yet) for a causal link between arts study and academic achievement. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 11-75.

See also