Introduction to the Special Issue, 11.1

Deep Inquiry In Art Education

by Devin Jo, art education graduate student

“What is today’s most urgent and challenging issue in contemporary art education?”

This question is deeply connected to ARED 2110S: Investigating Critical and Contemporary Issues in Art Education, for which I served as a graduate instructor of record in the fall of 2023. Simultaneously, it was also one of the most challenging and tricky questions I have considered regarding art education.

Contemporary Art Education

Before approaching the concept of “contemporary art education” to answer this question, it is important to consider “contemporary art” itself. Hye Jin Mun (2013), who contributed as a translator to the Korean publication of Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel’s book Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art after 1980 (2009), noted that “attempts to approach contemporary art chronologically are easily frustrated or given up before even reaching the threshold” (p. 480). She analyzes the reasons for this as follows, in her own words:

“The fact is that contemporary art has a very strong conceptual tendency, making it difficult for the general public, as well as major students, to approach it. (…) It has already been more than 100 years since art moved away from the visual representation of objects; therefore, the accumulated history of theory, form, technology, materials, and aesthetics is truly vast, and contemporary art does not have a specific stream of thought but allows these traditions to be freely selected and overlapped according to the artist’s needs. Therefore, contemporary art cannot be understood through a one-sided or linear approach.”

(Mun, 2013, p. 480)

When reflecting on contemporary art education, Mun’s insights into contemporary art show that its characteristics can have a tremendous impact on recontextualizing and reconstructing contemporary art education (Gaudelius & Speirs, 2002; Mun, 2013). Just as contemporary art can no longer be “linear approach” (Mun, 2013, p. 480), contemporary art education is also being developed in a form that reflects our (or students’) ever-changing lives and, at times, responds sensitively to “issues that surround us” and changes, rather than following a chronological order and a fixed discipline (Gaudelius & Speirs, 2002, p. 5). Today’s art education curriculum explores various educational and artistic approaches and multiple frameworks, and is continuously seeking, reconstructing, and reinventing current and future educational directions (Gaudelius & Speirs, 2002). 

Five Authors, Five Stories 

The emergence of new art genres coupled with the development of various media, communication, and information technologies reminds us of the characteristics of today’s art classrooms, such as various projector devices, smartphones, educational iPads, and, of course, students, who are exposed to and dwell in multiple online and media environments. At the same time, however, these elements of the educational environment paradoxically remind us that marginalized areas often lack the resources to provide and support the aforementioned amenities to students. This further allows us to consider and contemplate the issues and economic and sociocultural inequities that persist in education. 

As educators, we consider the relativeness of students’ lives, advocate for their communities, and pursue arts education and curriculum that can respond sensitively to various social issues to prepare them for the world in which they will live. That said, not all K-12 education sites and art education curricula invite social issues into classes, or, indeed, fully agree with their inclusion at all. A careful approach, review, and analysis are required based on a multi-faceted consideration of the difficulties, fears, advantages, and disadvantages that come with this approach. 

Meanwhile, we recognize that art classes must accommodate the learning needs of students of various ages. Furthermore, we are aware that we should enable students’ active participation with respect, and embrace students’ race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, age, disability, and other aspects of their diversity. As crucial and necessary as this mission is, several questions remain about its actual practice and specific methods. How can we provide a learning environment and content that supports students’ identity exploration and healthy growth (Gaudelius & Speirs, 2002)? How can we let students know that the trial and error they may encounter during the growth and learning process is not a failure, but rather a valuable learning experience in itself? How can we create a supportive, warm, and inclusive art room climate where students can embrace and heal their pain, struggles, and trauma? What influences and interventions will educators’ perspectives, unintended biases, blind spots, privileges, and other sociocultural contexts have on the process of constructing and embodying this mission? With regards to ELL students and students who have IEPs or require other special needs, how do we support students’ individual developmental differences and learning modes through arts education and provide differentiated content and educational solutions? How can we design a strategy and provide reasonable and inspiring challenges for them? 

The five student authors included in this special issue focus on these inquiries, alongside the other multiple issues contemporary art education is facing, as is evident from each author’s abstract: Maggie “presents personal accounts of art-integrated learning environments and the positive impact they can have on students with disabilities.” Emma “discusses the role of social issues in contemporary art education by discussing potential challenges art educators face when deciding whether to address social issues in the classroom.” Nancy “explores the importance of special needs preservice preparations and experiences in Art Education and how they correlate with an art educator’s mindset, confidence, and efficiency in teaching students with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND).” Gabriella deals with “how the art classroom can help children understand their own personal traumas.” Lastly, Francie discusses “how art teachers exhibit allyship to diverse students, explores the idea of safe spaces in the classroom,” their “personal experiences from being a student and teacher, and how students are impacted by teachers’ allyship.”


The authors featured here were students of ARED 2110S in the fall of 2023. As a service-learning course, and one of several Art Education courses that include a practicum component to prepare students for potential teacher certification, this course includes an experiential credit for teaching at the Double Helix STEAM School. 

This course also lets students reflect on, explore, and establish their educational core and philosophy as future art educators and further includes a critical investigation of contemporary art education and an exploration of various approaches. Students participated in various collaborative practices, individual learning, and flexible discussions and reflections provided by the course, both in-class and online. Predicated on these experiences, they selected one issue, topic, or theme to study intensively and explore in relation to contemporary art education.

Through their writing, they asked questions about their chosen topic, researched and analyzed the related literature and other resources, and revisited their past experiences regarding art education and their growth process as “funds of knowledge and lived experiences” while connecting their intimate and authentic stories with their inquiry (Overly et al, 2022, p. 20). These authors’ attempts resist segregating their past and present experiences, and they envision the open future of art education. As we can discover in Homi Bhabha’s insights (2007), “the present can no longer be simply envisaged as a break or a bonding with the past and the future” (p. 6); furthermore, the authors’ works do “not merely recall the past” (p. 10). Their writings reflect today’s art education curriculum dynamics, which continually reconstruct and recontextualize the past, present, and future. 

Wrapping Up

In this course, as a professional relationship between an instructor and students, we shared various thoughts, concerns, educational/artistic attempts, and practices related to art education by going back and forth between our classroom and the school site. We experienced multiple trials and errors throughout the process, including our critical reflections, and these procedures served as a palette through which we could hone our dispositions and perspectives as art educators and develop references from multiple angles. I am truly honored and more than grateful that I was able to play a significant role in contributing even a little to the professional growth process of these “prospective teachers-undergraduate practitioners-authors.” 

Certainly, the authors’ writings do not provide any clear answers about contemporary art education. Their inquiries and explorations are open-ended, and readers may have critical opinions that differ from the authors’. Indeed, the current perspectives and insights of the authors themselves, shared through these articles, may undergo even more diverse changes and growth over time, as they continue to accumulate professional experience in various ways.   

Nevertheless, these authors’ writings allow us to grasp some of the diverse expectations and critical points surrounding contemporary art education, and they further allow us to reflect, ponder, and reconstruct multiple thoughts and meanings about the urgent issues we confront and need to identify. Given that, what values, responsibilities, and roles should contemporary art education have? This question leaves room for the participation of readers who will read these articles. While reviewing the authors’ writing featured in the special issue, I hope and expect that readers will be able to develop and share their thoughtful perspectives and insightful visions.


Bhabha, H. K. (2007). The location of culture (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Gaudelius, Y., & Speirs, P. (2002). Contemporary issues in art education. Prentice Hall.

Overby, A., Constance, J. & Quenzer, B. (2022) Reimagining art education: Moving toward culturally sustaining pedagogies in the arts with funds of knowledge and lived experiences. Art Education, 75(1), 20–25. 

Mun, H. J. (2013). Translator’s words. (pp. 480-486), in Robertson, J. & McDaniel, C. (Mun, H. J., Trans.). Theme Contemporary Art Notes: Reading Contemporary Art After 1980 – What, Why, How. Doosung Books (Original work ─ Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980 ─ published 2009).