Theses Doctoral

Bracing for Uncertainty: Perceptions of 12 College Art Instructors on the Art Skills, Dispositions, and Teaching of First-Year Art Students

Mohns, Judith

This qualitative case study investigates first-year college-level art education in the United States today. Specifically, 12 art instructors from a broad range of postsecondary institutions (including private art institutes, public research universities, public liberal arts colleges, and community colleges) were interviewed to explore perceptions of first-year students’ art skills, dispositions, and teaching. When supplemented by online institutional data, descriptions emerge of the curricular structures and changing teaching environments of the sampled first-year art programs.

This study finds that art majors enter college art programs today with different skill sets and dispositions than past students. While digital media offers new options for artmaking, the data suggest it may also influence students’ development of manual, fine-motor, and drawing skills. These art instructors describe first-year students as having shorter attention spans and experiencing greater frustration when learning new skills. Furthermore, the data and literature suggest that more college students today enter with mental health issues (such as anxiety and depression) and learning disabilities.

Budgetary cutbacks to K-12 arts programming may have diminished students’ abilities to produce quality portfolios for admission to selective art programs, which may have consequences for enrollment. Enrollments reflect shifting student demographics, such as more international students attending private art colleges. Rising college costs have prompted other changes, such as more students living at home and commuting to save money, or transferring to four-year programs after attending community college, working jobs while attending college, and pursuing career-oriented art majors.

First-year art programs are continually adapting to new technical, educational, and cultural challenges through restructured curricula and modified pedagogy targeted to the student demographic served by the institution. In addition to teaching art skills required for subsequent coursework, the participants reported helping first-year students adjust to the college environment in ways that foster personal growth. This study documents changes in first-year art education as a basis for further research. Art educators at all levels benefit from knowledge of how college art instructors and first-year programs are modifying pedagogy and curricula to meet the changing needs of incoming art students.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Burton, Judith M.
Marsick, Victoria J.
Ed.D.C.T., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
January 22, 2020