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Manuel Barkan (1913–1970)

"A visionary art educator at Ohio State University" who had "designed a model of art education that combined the teaching of art history and art criticism with art making activities" (J. Paul Getty Trust, p. 39), Manuel Barkan recognized the role of disciplinary structures of knowledge in guiding curriculum decisions but his views on curriculum reform embodied a synthesis of viewpoints, some reflecting the influence of social reconstructionism and Progressive education from the 1930s.

Barkan was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1913; his parents were Orthodox Jews who had emigrated to the United States from Poland. He went to the New York public schools and entered New College at Teachers College, Columbia University in the 1930s. In this setting students went beyond mere academic discussion and were urged to participate in various social and political movements, in other words, "to have a special concern for reconstructing educational institutions in the light of the needs of a changing civilization." (Teachers College Bulletin, p. 7). Discussion seminars were organized around the pressing social issues of the day rather than around formal courses in abstract subject matter. The student's final step took the form of a period of internship in a public or private school.

In succeeding years Barkan taught art for the Rosslyn, Long Island, school district. He left New York to accept a position in the education department of the Toledo museum and, during the war years, worked as an industrial designer. In 1947 he was offered a position to teach design at the Ohio State University, a position which he had initially accepted. On arriving he realized that art education was his vocation of choice, and began work on his doctorate. While a graduate instructor, he taught undergraduate courses in art education and became head of the art education area after receiving his degree in 1951. He held this position until his death in 1970.

Barkan regarded the social environment as a place where the child learns through his or her interactions with others. This stood in marked contrast to the prevalent view in art education that favored creative self-expression and tended to view the social environment essentially as a corrupting influence that could thwart the unfolding of individual creativity. Barkan did not regard self-expression as the principle aim of art education as was common with his contemporaries. Rather, he saw it as a means through which children could be encouraged to interact with other human beings thereby to establish their sense of self. His first book, A Foundation for Art Education (1955), based on his doctoral dissertation, provided a reasoned account of what art education should attempt to accomplish, and drew heavily upon concepts from the transactional psychology of Ames and Cantril, the social theories of George Herbert Mead, and the philosophy of John Dewey.

Barkan's next book, Through Art To Creativity (1960), studied a series of art classrooms as social environments, documenting the interactions between teachers and children. Its point was to show how effective teachers stimulate the child's imaginative powers through their action, speech, and gestures. The book title reflected the widely held belief that through experiences in the arts a general creativeness could be cultivated that would transfer to other areas of human endeavor such as the sciences. However, Barkan later disavowed this claim.

By 1957 Soviet space achievements triggered a series of curriculum reforms in the United States grounded in the leading ideas of the disciplines, an idea clearly articulated by the cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner. This was at variance with the socially oriented views of curriculum that Barkan acquired in his New College days. Still adhering to the belief that the curriculum should focus on problem-centered inquiries, he sought ways to integrate these with the structures of knowledge found in the disciplines. A problem-centered curriculum addressed problems in society or in daily living. Although this engaged students in authentic problem-solving activities, it did not lead them to an understanding of the underlying disciplines through which human understanding has been developed–disciplines that might ultimately assist in meeting the problems faced by society.

Arthur Foshay and David Ecker suggested to Barkan that a curriculum can be "both problem-centered and discipline-centered"–to enable students to confront problems centered in their lives, problems involving man's relation to man, man's relation to himself, in his solitude and so forth, but that such inquiries had to be discipline centered as well. This synthesis rested upon the realization that problem-centered human meaning questions are also confronted by artists, critics, and historians when engaged in their work. They are problem centered and discipline centered at the same time, and hence, the artist, the critic, and the art historian are "models of inquiry" (Barkan 1966, p. 246). This synthesis of views was most clearly articulated in Barkan's address at the Penn State Seminar on Research and Curriculum Development that was held in 1965.

Basing curriculum reforms on the organized structures of knowledge was an innovative idea readily applicable in science and mathematics education, however, for art educators, it entailed a totally new way of thinking about curriculum since the teaching of art and the training of art teachers was almost wholly guided by developmental considerations and philosophies of creative expression. Thus, in the period following this seminar until his death in 1970, Barkan worked on several curriculum development projects that embodied aspects of these views. With Laura Chapman he prepared Guidelines for Art Instruction through Television for the Elementary School followed by a set of guidelines for aesthetic education, a program of the Central Midwestern Regional Educational Laboratory.

In the years since 1970 the concept of discipline-based art education has taken hold in art education. For Barkan art was indeed a discipline, but not one undertaken in academic isolation since the problems confronted within the visual arts come from life itself. Though Barkan's contribution was duly acknowledged by proponents of the discipline-based view, this movement tended to lose sight of the social vision that undergirded Barkan's integrated vision of the curriculum.



BARKAN, MANUEL. 1955. A Foundation for Art Education. New York: Ronald Press

BARKAN, MANUEL. 1960. Through Art to Creativity. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

BARKAN, MANUEL. 1962. "Transition in Art Education: Changing Conceptions of Curriculum Content and Teaching." Art Education 15:12–18.

BARKAN, MANUEL. 1966. "Curriculum Problems in Art Education." In A Seminar in Art Education for Research and Curriculum Development, ed. Edward L. Mattil. U.S. Office of Education Cooperative Research Project No. V-002. University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

BARKAN, MANUEL, and CHAPMAN, LAURA. 1967. Guidelines for Art Instruction through Television for the Elementary Schools. Bloomington, IA: National Center for School and College Television.

BARKAN, MANUEL; CHAPMAN, LAURA; and KERN, E. 1970. Guidelines: Curriculum Development for Aesthetic Education. St. Louis, MO: Central Midwestern Regional Educational Laboratory.

BRUNER, JEROME. 1960. The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

ECKER, DAVID. 1963. "The Artistic Process as Qualitative Problem Solving." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 21 (3):283–290.

EFLAND, ARTHUR. 1984. "Curriculum Concepts of the Penn State Seminar: An Evaluation in Retrospect." Studies in Art Education 25 (4):205–211.

FOSHAY, ARTHUR. 1962. "Discipline Centered Curriculum." In Curriculum Crossroads, ed. Harry A. Passow. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

J. PAUL GETTY TRUST. 1985. Beyond Creating: The Place for Art in America's Schools. Malibu, CA:J. Paul Getty Trust.

KILPATRICK, FRANKLIN P., ed. 1961. Explorations in Transactional Psychology. New York: New York University Press.

MEAD, GEORGE HERBERT. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Teachers College Bulletin: New College (1936–1937). 1937. New York: Teachers College Columbia University.

ZAHNER, MARY. 1987. "Manuel Barkan: Twentieth Century Art Educator." Ph.D. diss., The Ohio State University.


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