Art Education | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Art Education

Three Standing Figures
William Berczy, circa 1781-82, watercolour (courtesy NGC).

Art Education

Art Education is a term that has referred historically to the intensive training given to artists for professional or personal purposes. The three principal contexts for this instruction have been within the apprenticeship system, in specialized institutions such as art academies or art schools, and, more recently, as an aspect of a wider curriculum offered in colleges, arts and crafts schools, universities and private educational institutions.

In this century, with increased public access to art processes and the changing definition of a work of art, two other developments affecting art education have occurred: the establishment of professional pedagogical specializations and degrees in art practice, art history and theory, and teacher training within the universities, and the evolvement of programs initiated by art institutions such as museums and galleries to educate the general public and to help them understand and appreciate the changes that have occurred in the field of art.

Art education in Canada during the colonial period was largely based on the apprenticeship system, and the earliest recorded example of a school of arts and crafts is that of St Joachim, established in New France around 1668. Apprenticeship was first introduced to the colonies in the decorative arts and woodworking fields such as cabinetmaking, tinsmithing, ironmongery and silversmithing. These were skills in great demand in the new communities and also helped in the repair of objects imported from Europe. Sculpture and wood carving for church decoration was also taught in these early studios.

Apprenticeship, in which a master artist would train a young student in exchange for assistance, is intrinsically a conservative system in which knowledge and traditions, techniques and processes are passed on to the apprentice through methods relatively unchanged over generations. Although these artist-craftsmen were rarely innovative, there was some use of the new techniques and stylistic changes to be found in European work.

The apprenticeship system served a purpose: it established traditions and conventions of local practice, while preserving cultural values and aesthetic styles that had been transferred from Europe to the colonies. Some of the most important early centres of creativity owed their existence to the apprenticeship system, and in Quebec members of family dynasties such as the Levassseur and Baillairgé families dominated the production of sculpture and the design and building of architectural projects for well over a century. In silversmithing, a craft that was essential to church decoration in Québec, there is a connection leading from Laurent Amyot to François Sasseville and Pierre Lesperance. In the Maritimes, the cultural reference was the silver produced in England and in the American colonies.

This influence can be seen in works by Peter Norbeck, Michael Septimus Brown and Thomas Brown. In painting during the 19th century, an important master-apprentice lineage can be found in Québec, beginning with Joseph Légaré to Antoine Plamondon, Louis-Philippe Hébert and on to Théophile Hamel and his students Napoléon Bourassa and Eugene Hamel. In photography, the studio of William Notman trained many of the important photographers working in the mid-1800s, including John Fraser, who later set up a branch in Toronto. These early photographers were instructed in the techniques of photography but also of colouring prints and several were able to continue in the field of painting as well. Notman's Montréal studio was an example of the master-apprenticeship system that evolved into a business that not only trained students in the field of photography but enabled them to acquire a skill that could earn them a living.

Many of the earliest painters working in Canada during the 17th and 18th centuries, such as Frère Luc, Louis Dulongpré, William von Moll Berczy, Thomas Davies and George Heriot, had been trained in Europe or Britain and brought those long-established traditions with them (see Painting). Some of the European-trained artists travelled to different parts of the colonies, often taking the opportunity to give instruction in drawing and painting to the colonists. However, by the 19th century with the growth of towns and cities, artists who had immigrated to the colonies were able to set up systems of art instruction open to the public and advertised courses and the abilities of the artist-instructors in the newspapers.

Most artists relied on commissions for their livelihood, but others such as William Eager in Halifax and George Théodore Berthon in Toronto became well-known teachers, although there is little information concerning the content of their courses on drawing and painting. Each of the courses advertised was designated by medium, genre and style, and drawing was basic to all instruction. Following the approach used in the academies, the students were expected to copy the work of established artists. In this way they learned the pictorial conventions found in engravings of well-known works or in examples provided by the art teacher. For the most part, art education was available only to the more privileged classes who could afford such instruction, either from a private teacher or through courses offered in academic institutions.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, art education programs had been introduced into the schools in both Upper and Lower Canada, based on the principle that drawing is as essential as instruction in reading and writing, and should be taught to all children to stimulate the child's visual vocabulary. The Dominion Drawing Books were used, which systematized and standardized both the methods of instruction and the materials used.

In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution brought with it a new awareness of the relationship between form and function in manufactured objects. The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, which flourished in England and Europe after 1860, can be found in the establishment of a number of schools in Canada that specialized in applied art and technology, such as the Conseil des arts et manufactures and Joseph Chabert's Institution nationale in Montreal in 1870. Such colleges were aimed at bringing artistic techniques and the application of aesthetic principles to the urban working environment, and included freehand and technical drawing, decorative painting, lithography and wood and clay sculpture.

These courses tended to emphasize accuracy and technical qualities rather than individual expression and imagination, and this contributed to a widening gulf between fine and applied art. Both the École du meuble, founded in 1937 in Montreal, and the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art, founded in Calgary in 1926, were educational institutions dedicated to the connections between design and art, supported by the National Industrial Design Council which was formed in 1946 under the leadership of Donald Buchanan. In most of the professional art schools that have emerged during the 20th century, courses in design have become incorporated into the curriculum along with studio courses in the fine arts.

In the late 19th century another system of art education developed through schools founded and directed by artists' societies such as the Ontario Society of Artists, the Art Association of Montreal and the Royal Canadian Academy. These courses, taught to artists and amateurs alike, were modelled on the European academic approach which emphasized respect for tradition, the hierarchy of different media and genres, and above all, the supremacy of drawing as a basis for all art practice.

Without access to major masterpieces, art schools collected plaster casts, photographs and engravings of European works as the basis for instruction. Even the Toronto Normal School under Egerton Ryerson collected copies of this kind to instruct teachers for the schools. Some of the European-trained teachers, such as William Brymner at the Art Association of Montréal school, George Reid at the Ontario College of Art and John Hammond at the Owens Art Institute of both Saint John and Sackville, New Brunswick, were well-known teachers and were able to influence students for several generations. In the hope of attaining professional status, many would-be artists travelled to Europe and the United States to study and to see important works of art in the museums and private collections.

During the first part of the 20th century professional art schools were established across the country, in some cases offering innovative programs in their effort to encourage the growth of Canadian culture and to cultivate public taste. The Ontario College of Art - now the Ontario College of Art and Design (1912), the Nova Scotia College of Art (1925) - now theNova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Winnipeg School of Art (1913), the Banff School of Fine Arts (1933), now the Banff Centre for Continuing Education and the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (1925) the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design - are some of the major institutions offering courses in the fine arts, design and other art fields, such as photography, performance art and computer animation as part of their contemporary curriculum.

With the changes and shifts in modern art practices after World War II that placed value on the individual artist's subjective expression, most art schools across the country tended to put less emphasis on traditional processes and more on personal, innovative and exploratory approaches. Seminars, symposia and workshops brought professional artists together from many parts of the country to exchange ideas. The Emma Lake Artists' Workshops, established in 1955 by the University of Saskatchewan, and the Banff Centre have provided professional artists with the opportunity to work with others in their field.

Through the help of grants from the Carnegie Corporation during the 1920s and the Depression, Canadian universities were able to establish art departments, offering both fine arts and art history. The first BFA was given in 1941 at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, and now many universities provide advanced degrees for artists and art historians within a rich academic structure in the humanist tradition.

Art education as a social science, a system based on the psychological development of the child, was also developed during the 1930s and 1940s. Early experimental sessions in children's art education were conducted by Arthur Lismer in Saturday morning classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto after 1919 and in the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts) after 1941. Anne Savage, the Montréal artist, incorporated many of these ideas in her art classes at Byng High School in the early 1930s. Using concepts developed by the educator/philosopher John Dewey, the children were encouraged to define their own approach to creative expression rather than to copy adult techniques and subjects. This specialization has become a professional field with a great deal of pedagogical research conducted at the university level for teachers who will eventually instruct children in art in the schools or students in colleges. The philosophical and psychological aspects of teaching art are studied, as well as art practices and processes.

The museums and art galleries also became centres for art education. When Lismer introduced his Saturday morning classes for children into the programs at the Art Gallery of Toronto, the idea caught on across the country. In Montréal, Irene Senecal used this approach at the École des beaux-arts and both the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Winnipeg Art Gallery conducted classes for children after 1940. Public tours of exhibitions in the museums and galleries as well as lectures by artists and experts in different fields of art history became part of every major art institution and provided the general public with access to the changing concepts in art. Now art education in the galleries and museums has achieved professional status, with important contributions in research and contextual studies conducted by members of education departments such as those at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée des beaux-arts in Montréal and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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