Fine arts - American EducationThose arts concerned with the creation of works whose function is primarily aesthetic, as opposed to the practical or utilitarian arts. The fine arts include painting, print making, sculpture, music, literature, poetry and dance and are designed to teach students creative expression and appreciation of beauty, good taste and cultural differences. A relatively new academic discipline in historical terms, most of the fine arts were taught through apprenticeships prior to the 19th century, when they were added to the curriculum of women’s academies. At the time, men’s studies focused on philosophy, religion, the natural sciences, classical and modern languages, history, political science and other practical arts.
Originally called aesthetics, the fine arts gradually entered the men’s curriculum in the mid-19th century as men’s colleges and universities concerned themselves more with development of the “complete” gentleman. Toward the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the evolution of educational goals to include development of the “total child,” including the child’s creative abilities, helped make fine arts an integral part of elementary school education in the United States.
The growth of the MUSEUM as an educative institution in the late 20th century spurred popular interest in the fine arts and led to an explosive growth in studies of fine arts at every level of education, from kindergarten through graduate school. At the same time, however, soaring school budgets and consequent increases in property taxes produced widespread taxpayer revolts against spending on what the public perceived as unnecessary luxuries. The result was a sharp cut in school spending on the fine arts to the point where, by 1994, nearly half of all U.S. public schools had no full-time arts faculty members. In New York City, one of the world’s centers for the creative arts, two-thirds of the public schools offered no art instruction. Nationwide, art instruction ranged from sophisticated programs, in states such as Minnesota, to virtually none in areas of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
In an effort to reverse the decline, the U.S. Department of Education issued a set of voluntary national educational standards for the fine arts. The standards were part of the far-reaching Goals 2000 of the federal government to raise educational standards of American public schools. The Goals 2000 standards for the fine arts applied to dance, music, drama and the visual arts and sought to ensure that elementary school students understood how to use symbols and ideas in visual arts; that middle school students mastered improvisation and harmony; and that high school students were proficient in identifying and analyzing cultural influences in dramatic work. The standards were drawn by representatives from the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Music Educators National Conference, with input from a wide variety of artists, musicians, dancers, actors, teachers, parents and business leaders. Each discipline has achievement levels tied to various grade levels. The standards in music, for example, call for fourth graders (9–10 years old) to be able to sing on pitch and in rhythm; for eighth graders to know breath control and how to sing in small and large ensembles. High school graduates should be able to sing music written in more than four parts and be able to perform a varied repertory. Schools adopting the standards use a test approved by the National Assessment Governing Board to test student proficiency at the end of fourth, eighth and twelfth grades.