Connecting with the Past and Considering the Future: Reengaging the Big Red Book

Rebecca Brittain Taudien
The Pennsylvania State University, USA

Citation: Taudien, R. B. (2019). Connecting with the past and considering the future: Reengaging the Big Red Book. Transdisciplinary Inquiry, Practice, and Possibilities in Art Education. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Open Publishing. DOI: 10.26209/arted50-15

When we were first told that our Colloquium for the Fall 2015 semester would focus on the 1965 Seminar in Art Education at The Pennsylvania State University, I became eager to learn more. A copy of the Big Red Book was passed around the classroom. When it came to me I quickly flipped through it in hopes of finding traces of my late grandfather, W. Lambert Brittain. He was, in fact, a participant in the seminar — his photograph appearing on an opening page (Figure 1). At the time he was an Associate Professor in the Department of Child Development and Family Relationships at Cornell University. I grew increasingly excited to discover his possible contributions to the 1965 Seminar.

Grandfather W. Lambert Brittain, 1965 Penn State Seminar in Art Education participant and contributor to the Big Red BookFigure 1. Photograph of my grandfather, a participant in the 1965 Penn State Seminar in Art Education and contributor to the Big Red Book

It is clear that the field of art education has changed since the 1965 Penn State Seminar, and continues to evolve. In this paper I will first discuss my personal connection to the seminar’s proceedings, often referred to as the “Big Red Book,” through the work of my grandfather. I will then discuss my considerations for the future of the field and reflect on what happened to the promise of 1965 and the goals of art education. As we consider how the field of art education has evolved since the 1965 Penn State Seminar, we foremost need to consider the significance of the child.

Connecting with the Past

As a child, I did not know or did not actively think about my grandfather’s work as an art educator. He passed away when I was four years old. To me, he was just Daddy Lambert, a name that I coined when I was first learning to speak, that somehow stuck, and a man that used to sneak me sugar-coated raisins from the cereal box. I loved to visit my grandparents’ house in Ithaca, New York, where drawing was a common activity. I enjoyed drawing on their large, circular, wooden dining room table (Figure 2). There was an entire wall of windows in the dining room that allowed for ample natural light. I would get on my knees on the wooden chair, finding the most comfortable position to immerse myself in drawing. I cherish the little memory that I have of us drawing together. Drawing, and art in general, was a valued and encouraged activity in my family.

Rebecca Brittain drawing. Photo by W. Lambert Brittain Figure 2. Photograph of me drawing taken by my grandfather, W. Lambert Brittain

My grandfather never knew how much those early drawing sessions would influence me and that I too would become an art teacher and attend Penn State for my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. My grandfather also earned both of his graduate degrees from Penn State. During his graduate studies at Penn State, Viktor Lowenfeld was his mentor. My grandfather was probably most well known for his co-authorship, with Viktor Lowenfeld, of the last five editions of Creative and Mental Growth, which were published after Lowenfeld’s death in 1960. He was chosen by Viktor Lowenfeld to continue his work. In these editions, my grandfather included drawings from his five children; all of whom were very interested in art. My father remembers being pleased when his drawings were anonymously included in the textbook. It was fun for me to flip through the different editions with my father to discover which drawings were created by him (Figure 3). I also discovered images created by one of my aunts and two uncles when they were young. My father described his house as one that encouraged art and where art was an integral part of their childhood activities. When his friends came over to the house to play, drawing was always a popular option — one that was cultivated by my grandparents.

father of author drawing confidently (Fig 5) and his drawing of a working model of an airplane (Fig 6)Figure 3. Photograph of my father (10 years old) and his drawing of an airplane in Creative and Mental Growth (1987)

As my father, aunts, and uncles grew older, my grandfather had an increasing interest in adolescent art. At the time of the 1965 Seminar, my father was 13 years old and my uncles and aunts were 9, 11, 15, and 17 years old, respectively. In the 1965 Seminar, my grandfather participated in the presentation of research and development proposal reports. His proposal report, titled An Investigation into the Character and Expressive Qualities of Adolescent Art, seemed to be a departure from his primary research interests involving young children and his work with Saturday art classes, but was directly tied to the age of his own children.

At the time of his proposal in the Big Red Book, there was a dearth of information regarding art produced by adolescents. He was interested in the expressive qualities of the art created by 12 to 15 year olds, and how it differed from that of children and adults (Brittain, 1966). He discussed that much of the adolescent art created in schools was directed to mimic the art of adults. His purpose was to determine whether “there is an art form that is distinct and expressive of adolescent youngsters” (p. 403). He proposed the collection of numerous drawings that included diverse subject matter, such as personal drawings as well as school art. He would then have adolescents analyze the works to determine if there were norms for this adolescent age group (Brittain, 1966, p. 403). He listed the possible benefits of this research in his proposal:

  1. The variety and quality of responses should reflect the projected feelings, emotions, or images of importance to the adolescent population.
  2. A comparison of the stimulus drawing and the recordings of students’ comments should provide information about the need for the development of skills and techniques or the degree of the satisfaction or dissatisfaction in adolescent expression. Some current research indicates that growth or change in art expression at this age is nil (Frankston, 1963).
  3. If the responses gathered reflect qualitatively different characteristics from the traditional patterns of art forms for this age group, a continuum of developmental characteristics of art expression would be hypothetically possible to plot or graph, thus forming an extension of norms for child art through the adolescent period. (Brittain, 1966, p. 403)

Following the 1965 Seminar and the publication of the Big Red Book in 1966, my grandfather followed through with his research proposal and published a similar study two years later in Studies in Art Education titled, “An Exploratory Investigation of Early Adolescent Expression in Art.” In the conclusion of his article, he stated:

This present research makes it abundantly clear that the 12- to 15-year old is full of energy and potential expression which needs artistic guidance and encouragement. The reduction of a program in art education to the level of manipulative skills such as lettering, perspective, or pencil shading seems inexcusable. (Brittain, 1968, p. 11)

His cautions for the art educator still ring true today. Even now, forty-eight years later, many art teachers are focusing their lessons on the elements and principles of design and concentrating primarily on technique. However, the focus needs to shift to providing meaningful learning opportunities for children. Many art teachers also are primarily concerned with the final product, not the process, hard work, and explorations that contributed to the completed creation. Teachers may feel as though the aesthetics of the finished art projects are a reflection of their worth and thus care a great deal about the appearance of the final product. As a result, in many classrooms today, children are directed to follow specific instructions to create “beautiful” products to please parents, administrators, and fellow teachers. Focus needs to be redirected to concentrate on learning processes and discovery, not the adult-driven aesthetics of the final product. This is not to say that product as a whole does not matter, but that the artwork the children create needs to be a result of their own observations, questions, and investigations. The process as well as the product should be meaningful for the children. Making it possible for children to work at their own pace, with as much time as they need for their own inquiries, encourages exploration and in-depth studies in their project work. I believe we need to consider that this approach provides the most benefit overall for children.

Considering the Future

In the preface of Creative and Mental Growth (1987) my grandfather wrote, “Children are the essence of this book, but more than that, they are the essence of society. How children are cared for, nourished both physically and psychologically, give an indication of the value society puts upon itself and its future (p. viii).” This statement, which is 29 years old, is still of utmost importance and relevance. Unfortunately, our society has not progressed to the point where children are treated with such respect.

How should the field of art education evolve and grow so it can better contribute to the development of a healthier and brighter future for our society? The field of art education is vast and diverse; ultimately, however, its focus is the education of the child. The child can get lost in the discourse — lost in the aims of particular curricula and pedagogies. The “image of the child,” which is critical to the discussion, needs to be thoughtfully considered (Malaguzzi, 1994). How we view children and what we believe they are capable of influences our research, our interactions, our teaching. Many art teachers today still see children as vessels that they need to fill with art knowledge; not as competent, capable children that are already coming to the classroom full of wonder, curiosity, knowledge, and life experiences (Gandini, Hill, Cadwell, & Schwall, 2005). We need to fully respect children and the importance and role of experimentation in children’s artmaking. The children’s work should be regarded seriously. They are artists who should be given opportunities in the classroom to make their own artistic choices and have those decisions valued.

When reflecting on one of the objectives of the 1965 Seminar, “To re-reconsider the goals of art education,” I wonder what most art teachers would articulate to be the goal of art education today (Mattil, 1966, p. 2). Now, in 2016, fifty-one years later, we might again re-reconsider the goals of art education. Over ten years ago, Christine Thompson (2005) and Patricia Tarr (2003) encouraged educators to reflect on their image of the child and the ways in which their assumptions might influence their practices. Thompson (2005) discussed how educators should not rely on developmental theories as a way to understand children’s artistic experiences. Tarr (2003) stated, “Experiences in visual expression are not add-ons or isolated activities but are a form of inquiry or way to investigate a theory, idea, or problem, a way of clarifying understanding, the communication of an idea” (p. 11). Tarr (2003) concluded, “We can think carefully about how we might move beyond the constraints we have placed upon ourselves to provide opportunities worthy of children who are making and communicating meaning and who are capable of creating rather than replicating culture” (p. 11).

Both Thompson (2005) and Tarr (2003) wrote that one approach educators can use to begin to understand and provide greater value to children’s work is through a “pedagogy of listening.” Educators need to truly listen to children. McClure (2009) argued for “localized, site-specific reconsideration of images of children and pedagogy that renders images of young children as constructions simultaneously mythologized and marginalized by the categorizations of art and education” (p. 91). In our Colloquium course a presentation by art educators Christopher Schulte and Sylvia Kind titled, Putting Things into Play, discussed the importance of process and experimentation in children’s artmaking and taking children’s work seriously (personal communication, October 13, 2015). Art teachers must listen to children, reflect on their preconceived ideas about children, and put the needs of children back at the center of their efforts. Focusing children’s work to create art that is designed to serve and please adults does not meet the needs of the child.

I only knew W. Lambert Brittain as my grandfather. I never knew him professionally as an art educator, or was able to discuss with him my thoughts about art education. Reading his work not only helped me appreciate his contributions to art education, but gave me the opportunity to connect with the past and provided perspective on possible future direction for the field. I can only hope that personally, and collectively as art educators, we can continue to make strides toward the progress that he envisioned, a hopeful future for children and art education. The field will never truly be able to achieve these goals until we change the way we view our children — where the needs, potential, and abilities of children are genuinely and fully respected and reside at the heart of every art educator’s practice.

References

Brittain, W. L. (1966). An investigation into the character and expressive qualities of adolescent art. In E. L. Mattil, A seminar in art education for research and curriculum development (pp. 402-403). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University.

Brittain, W. L. (1968). An exploratory investigation of early adolescent expression in art. Studies in Art Education, 9(2), 5-12.

Gandini, L., Hill, L., Cadwell, L. & Schwall, C. (2005). In the spirit of the studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lowenfeld, V. & Brittain, W. L. (1987). Creative and mental growth (8th ed). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Malaguzzi, L. (1994). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange, 96.

Mattil, E. L. (1966). A seminar in art education for research and curriculum development. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University.

McClure, M. (2009). Spectral childhoods and educational consequences of images of children. Visual Arts Research, 35(2), 91-104.

Tarr, P. (2003). Reflections on the image of the child: Reproducer or creator of culture. Art Education, 56(4), 6-11.

Thompson, C. M. (2005). Under construction: Images of the child in art teacher education. Art Education, 58(2), 18-23.

Rebecca Brittain Taudien

Rebecca Brittain Taudien is a current Ph.D. candidate in Art Education at The Penn State University. She earned her M.S. in Art Education from Penn State in 2009 and her B.S. from Union College in 2005. Prior to returning to study at Penn State, she was an elementary school art teacher in Washington, DC Public Schools and in San Diego, CA. Her research explores how young children relate to and engage with nature through art.