Art Education after DBAE: A K-12 Postmodern Curriculum in Practice

Robin Brewer
Garnet Valley High School, USA

Lisbeth Bucci
West Chester University, USA

Claudia Eckel
Garnet Valley High School, USA

Citation: Brewer, R., Bucci, L., & Eckel, C. (2019). Art education after DBAE: A K-12 Postmodern curriculum in practice. Transdisciplinary Inquiry, Practice, and Possibilities in Art Education. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Open Publishing. DOI: 10.26209/arted50-14


Since the 1965 Art Education Seminar at Penn State and the emergence of discipline-based art education (DBAE), art educators have been trained to teach the formal qualities of art: art history, aesthetics, criticism and studio practice centered around the elements and principles of art. National and local standards were based on DBAE and curricula were written based on those standards. For it’s time, DBAE united art educators with concrete concepts and vocabulary to support what we teach. More recently, the new National Core Arts Standards have opened up ideas on what a 21st century art classroom might look like, promoting growth through student response and connections through art.

A “postmodern” curriculum continues with the 1965 Penn State Seminar emphasis on contemporary art practices yet transcends the original, DBAE standards. Postmodern ideas are a direct reaction to DBAE. Olivia Gude’s article, “Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education” is critical of the elements and principles of art, the foundation of DBAE curriculum. She writes:

The elements and principles are presented as the essence of artmaking, as pure art education gospel. If not literally engraved in stone, the big seven (elements) + seven (principles) are reified in print, achieving theoretical unity, not by dint of persuasive argument, but through seemingly endless repetition in formally oriented textbooks or, during the last decade, as government-mandated standards. (Gude, 2004)

She continues in the article to propose her own postmodern principles. Units like “Layering”, “Juxtaposition”, “Interaction with Text and Image”, and “Appropriation” encourage students to begin within themselves to create work that is unique, their personal visual voice rather than a carbon copy project. Postmodern visual arts curriculum emphasizes contemporary art practices. Students approach artmaking as an investigative process.

Through research and collaboration, art educators from one district in southeastern Pennsylvania designed a new K-12 curriculum based on the Understanding by Design (UbD) model by McTighe and Wiggins. Lisbeth Bucci. The Visual Arts K-12 Curriculum Coordinator for Garnet Valley School District, took the opportunity to use enduring understandings and essential questions as a launching point to add vibrancy to the art program. A connection was made between the concept of “Big Ideas” in the UbD framework and the broad concepts that Gude’s Postmodern Principles presented. Other initial lead writers included Robin Brewer and Diana Stevenson. A concern for our student artists at that time was lack of visual voice, personal connections and somewhat passionless experimentation and discovery in their artmaking. Faced with the challenge of writing a rigorous art curriculum using the UbD format, the GVSD Visual Arts Department began a multi-year process of investigation, experimentation, and writing.


In 2006, the Garnet Valley School District began a major curricular revision cycle. The focus of the district-wide initiative was a unification of curricula across disciplines using the Understanding by Design model. Over 6 years, curricular areas K-12 would cycle through phases of reflection, research, mapping, and writing, while looking intently at our curricular content. District professional development was on-going and often required departmental collaboration. The first phase included 6 high school studio art courses with the curriculum mapping phase beginning in 2007.

Marilyn G. Stewart and Sydney R. Walker’s book, Rethinking Curriculum in Art, was the first step in linking art with the UbD format required by the district. Stewart and Walker (2005) seamlessly provided language to address big ideas along with early examples of student-centered art activities. Enduring ideas are described as “broad, umbrella-like ideas that guide students in understanding what it means to be human, to live alongside others in the natural world” (25).

The publication of Rethinking Curriculum in Art was influential in shaping our curriculum and became a staple for reading, research, and collaborative professional development for the Garnet Valley Visual Art Department. Multiple copies were purchased and shared K-12. It became evident that our DBAE practices were in much need of vital augmentation to better meet the needs of our students and their artistic pursuits. This publication was the first bridge between our old curriculum and our current direction.

Our high school art curriculum was now imbued with enduring understandings and topics such as identity, social justice, relationships, and power conflict. We had been practicing non project-centric approaches with our students; however, this publication provided us with the evidence, data, and pedagogy necessary to articulate a shift and unification in our curriculum K-12 as we moved forward. We also began to display student works with statements of big ideas in our classrooms, hallways, and district art exhibitions K-12.

The next discovery and influence on our curriculum design was the work of Olivia Gude. At the same time the Garnet Valley High School art faculty were beginning to map their new curriculum, Olivia Gude’s presentation at the 2007 NAEA Convention in New York City would prove to have great impact on the future of our K-12 Visual Art Department and the redesign of our curriculum. Gude’s presentation was centered around her 2004 Art Education publication, “The Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education.” Gude’s principles of appropriation, juxtaposition, recontextualization, layering, interaction of text and image, hybridity, gazing, and representin’ would become the foundation of our own Garnet Valley Postmodern Principles.

Olivia Gude’s 2004 “Postmodern Principles” journal article, along with her 2007 article, “Principles of Possibility: Considerations for a 21st Century Art & Culture Curriculum” became suggested reading for all Garnet Valley art educators for review and reflection. Gude’s writings became the springboard for discussion on possible postmodern principles to guide our own curriculum. Discussion topics such as article language, ease of transition, nurturing a visual voice, and what generative themes should or could be appropriate for our student demographics, shaped our list of postmodern principles. Over several K-12 art department meetings, we began to decide which of Gude’s principles would work for us. We removed, reworded and renamed a few. We also came up with our own new principles, including “integrity” and “sensitivity”. The list of 15 Garnet Valley Postmodern Principles was two years in the making but worth the time and research. (See Figure 1: Garnet Valley School District Visual Art Department: Postmodern Principles)

Figure 1: Garnet Valley School District Visual Art Department: Postmodern Principles

Garnet Valley School District
Visual Art Department: Postmodern Principles

Adapted from the work of Olivia Gude
Compiled by Lisbeth Bucci, Robin Brewer and Diana Stevenson

Artists bring together familiar images and objects either intentionally or randomly.
Artists combine multiple images or ideas to create complexity of ideas or experiences.
Artists consider the interplay between the two elements as a source of meaning, process and product.
Artists use new media as an approach to contemporary artmaking.
Artists use previously established imagery as a springboard for one’s own creative expression.
Artists question who creates and controls imagery and how this imagery affects our understandings of reality.
Artists communicate meaningful self-expression using artmaking to explore the potentials and problems in one’s own cultural and political setting.
Artists immerse themselves in the process of experimentation and discover empowered experiences to create their visual voice.
Artists construct, select, edit and present visual images through formalism, expressionism, craft and postmodern practices.
Artists use pictures, symbols and text to create metaphors in works of art.
Artists use their art to locate their own voice within their own personal history and culture of origin.
Artists use themes to investigate issues locally and globally. “Think Globally, Act Locally”
Artists notice and shape the world around them using nature, the environment and everyday life.
Artists create strength and stability through sequential processes.
Artists use the process of change to explore and communicate their ideas in art.

Gude’s Spiral Curriculum and journal articles on Postmodern Principles and Principles of Possibilities combined with Stewart and Walker’s big ideas and essential questions to produce lessons and learning activities that go beyond discipline-based art education and personally engages students with the meaning of their work. Directives from our district were already shaping our curricular path, however we saw a great opportunity for further research to better connect our visual art department with a stronger common language and greater K-12 curricular unification.

The new Garnet Valley Postmodern Principles became the focus of our units. We now have 25 curricula; one for each grade level and, at the high school level, one for each media-based course. Each curriculum contains 5 or 6 units. For example, the Drawing and Painting I curriculum has 5 units: Integrity, Sensitivity, Recycled Imagery, Experimentation and Discovery, and Juxtaposition. The curriculum is written in a way that allows the teacher and student multiple ways to interpret how to achieve the objectives of the unit. Guided by enduring understandings and essential questions, students work through learning activities using their own visual voice. In the past, a still-life drawing lesson would begin with a still-life chosen and arranged by the teacher. A new postmodern lesson would begin with a theme or big idea like childhood memories. Students bring in their own items of importance and arrange their own personal still-life, allowing for ownership and personal expression.

Addressing the National Core Arts Standards

The openness of the postmodern curriculum merges easily with the National Core Arts Standards and is applicable to all grade levels. A team of leading art educators, including Olivia Gude, worked to create a framework that supports the complexity of art education. The cornerstone of the new standards, “artistic processes,” emphasizes the qualities of an artist through Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. Familiar UbD categories like Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions add rigor to the discussions around art.

Consider one of our postmodern principles, Experimentation and Discovery, inspired by Gude’s “playing”. When you read the NCAS, the first Enduring Understanding under the Creating process states: “Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills and can be developed.” The corresponding Essential Question asks, “What conditions, attitudes, and behaviors support creativity and innovative thinking?” A postmodern curriculum unit on experimentation and discovery will allow students the freedom to think through their ideas, experiment, problem solve, self-assess, and create. To say creativity and innovative thinking can be developed is an invitation to the student to take risks and learn from their mistakes.


The outcomes for students instructed with a postmodern curriculum begin with overarching enduring understandings and trickle down to specific unit content and vocabulary. The enduring understandings reached through postmodern units are consistent across courses and grade levels, although the level of depth may vary. By focusing on learning goals that span courses and levels, students develop a fluency of language, which they can apply to artworks inside the art classroom, across curriculum in other subject areas, and beyond the school day. Students are able to critique artwork with postmodern vocabulary and focus on the creative outcomes of the work, rather than dwell in judgment and praise of precise observational skills (which have their place but all too often take over the conversation). Students understand that learning about art and asking questions about art are not limited to specific prompts but can be self-generated and extend into their environment. For example, students working on an experimental unit in photography are challenged to build their own pinhole camera. The camera needs to prove functional in the end, however there is no limit to size or design. Recently, one student asked if he could make a miniature camera, about 1”x1”. When reminded that there is no limit on size, he began designing and building a camera that he wasn’t even sure would work. Through multiple experiments, the camera was able to take a tiny recognizable photograph. He was fully involved in the inquiry-based activity as the inventor, designer, and photographer.


Assessment for a curriculum designed around postmodern principles can easily meet the assessment requirements of both the Pennsylvania State Standards of the Arts and Humanities and the National Core Arts Standards which require “Artistic literacy that includes philosophical foundations and lifelong goals, artistic processes and creative practices, anchor and performance standards that students should attain, and model cornerstone assessments by which they can be measured.” (NCCAS, 2015) The original curriculum, written under the Pennsylvania State Standards and developed to measure Discipline Based Art Education, is currently being transitioned and revised to meet the requirements of the National Core Arts Standards. The new National Standards are a better partner for a postmodern curriculum due to the emphasis on “Philosophical Foundations” and “Lifelong Goals” rather than mastery. To broadly cover assessment needs across classes and units, a Common Assessment was developed at Garnet Valley High School for the Performance/Production standard. The following qualities of an artist are emphasized under the rubric for assessment: development and ownership of ideas, perseverance, pushing boundaries, and craftsmanship. The same qualities (and specifications under these qualities) can be recognized both formally and informally, across each postmodern principle, and through all grade levels. The alignment of language used to assess learning through a postmodern curriculum along with the repeated use of postmodern vocabulary help students to develop a fluency in articulating their ideas, critiquing artwork, and growing in the future. (See Figure 2: Garnet Valley High School Visual Arts Common Assessment)

Figure 2: Garnet Valley High School Visual Arts Common Assessment

Garnet Valley High School Visual Arts Common Assessment

Excellent Good Needs Improvment Poor
Demonstrates outstanding achievement & mastery of all established objectives. The student’s work is characterized by accuracy, thorough understanding and maximum effort. Demonstrates achievement & mastery of most of established objectives. The student’s work is characterized by a high degree of understanding & effort Demonstrates satisfactory achievement & mastery of some established objectives. The student’s work is characterized by a sufficient degree of understanding & effort. Demonstrates achievement & mastery of a minimal amount of established objectives &. The student’s work is characterized by inconsistent performance & has not developed sufficient understanding.
UNIT STANDARDS (Project Specific)
Project Criteria #1:       / 15
Project Criteria #2:       / 15
Project Criteria #3:       / 15
Craftsmanship:     / 15
  1. Attention to detail
  2. Commitment to artwork (time, sensitivity)
  UNIT TOTAL:   / 60
Ideas, Planning and Preparation   / 10
  • Content shows evidence of planning, insight & knowledge
  • Idea is refined through experimentation
Creativity   / 10
  • Unique and compelling
  • Idea reflects back on artist
  • Artist’s voice is evident
Design/Composition   / 10
  • Use of elements & principles of art
  • Attention to overall design/composition (space, emphasis, balance, TBOE, 70/30)
Qualities of an Artist   / 10
  • Perseverance
  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Conveys depth and exploration at a level that pushes the artist’s abilities

Future and Flexibility of the Postmodern Curriculum

The Garnet Valley K-12 postmodern curriculum took over two years to research and 4 years to write. We are now beginning revisions, which will allow us to address the National Core Arts Standards through our enduring understandings and essential questions. We are also adding a 16th principle, Collaboration, to address the work and meaning that our students accomplish while working with others. This student-centered curriculum allows both student and teacher to work with ideas and meaning on a personal level. The creative process begins with an idea, connecting the student to their work, allowing for ownership of their visual voice. The success of the postmodern curriculum design is measured in the complexity and diversity of student work. The flexibility of the postmodern curriculum has already allowed us to adapt to the National Core Arts Standards and sets us up for future visions in art education.


Gude, O. (2014). Postmodern principles: In search of a 21st century art education. Art Education, 57(1)): 6-14.

Gude, O. (2007). Principles of possibility: Considerations for a 21st century art & culture curriculum. Art Education, 60(1): 6-17.

Stewart, M. G., and Walker, S. R. (2005). Rethinking curriculum in art. Worcester, MA: Davis.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Core Arts Standards (2015). National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning.

Rights administered by State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE). All rights reserved. This is as stated in the NCCAS educational use guidelines:

Robin Brewer, Lisbeth Bucci, and Claudia Eckel

Robin Brewer is an art educator at Garnet Valley High School teaching courses in photography, film, and animation. She is also adjunct faculty for The University of the Arts and Moore College of Art, Graduate Art Education with an Emphasis in Special Needs. Robin is an active artist, showing work in the Philadelphia region and is currently serving the Pennsylvania Art Education Association as President.

Lisbeth Bucci has 27 years experience as a Visual Art Educator in public education; as well as a K-12 Curriculum Coordinator, Department chair, Mentor, and AP teacher. Rethinking Curriculum in Art Education has been the topic of several of her presentations and articles on national, state and local platforms. Lisbeth is currently a member of the Department of Art + Design at West Chester University and is President-elect for the Pennsylvania Art Education Association.

Claudia Eckel is a Philadelphia based art educator, artist, and storyteller whose work focuses conceptually on accessibility. Claudia teaches drawing and painting and advanced placement art courses at Garnet Valley High School.