Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.2, 136-141
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.22019
Dilemma: The Art Teacher as a Liberal Educator
Pnina Bachar
Beit Berl College, Kfar Saba, Israel.
Received March 18th, 2011; revised April 15th, 2011; accepted May 6th, 2011.
This paper discusses the dilemma facing the art teacher as a liberal educator. The author first reviews the evolu-
tion of liberal education from ancient times, through the Renaissance to modern times and discusses, through an
extensive bibliography, ancient and modern theories which have impacted on the concept of “liberalism,” ex-
amining notions such as tolerance, individualism and autonomy which constitute the pillars of liberalism. The
author discusses the contributions of philosophers and sociologists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill,
Isaiah Berlin, and Will Kymlicka and then examines the two main approaches to liberalism: philosophical liber-
alism and political liberalism. The different emphases placed by these two approaches, on the individual and the
group respectively, form the basis of the dilemma which faces the art teacher as a liberal educator. In order to
understand the dilemma, the author draws a parallel between the two approaches and the role of the traditional
art studio master and art educator. The goals of the studio master, who is devoted to the development of the in-
dividual, accord with philosophical liberalism, while those of the art educator, who is obliged to adhere to the
demands of a school system, accord with political liberalism, which stresses equality for all. The ideal, says the
author, resides in an amalgam of the two approaches and is symbolized in the term “artist-teacher” but she asks
whether it is possible to truly merge the two approaches, at the same level, in the teaching process.
Keywords: Tolerance, Individualism, Autonomy, Freedom of the Individual, Liberal Education, Political
Liberalism, Philosophical Liberalism, Curriculum, Art Educator
Discussion Background
The art teacher is called an artist/teacher. This is a well-
known term among art professionals and its origins would seem
to derive from the art studio where the student artists used to
study. The term comprises two elements: the first is associated
with the traditional master1 who taught a long course of studies
in his studio (Bachar & Glaubman, 2006) and who promoted
excellence, the goal being to enable his students to be ac-
knowledged as artists (Bachar, 2004) and to participate in the
artistic discourse: the second element relates to the art teacher,
who works among a community of teachers in a school and
who is an educational figure, obliged to comply with the re-
quirements of the educational system.
Both the master and the art teacher (or art educator) mediate
between the student and art. Historically, both were influenced
by social and economic factors, which impacted on the direc-
tions that took place in art education. I shall focus on under-
standing the term artist/teacher as an appellation for graduates
of art teacher training, by analyzing their role in the context of
literary theories on the subject and in the context of two
well-known approaches of liberal education—political liberal-
ism and philosophical liberalism. In conclusion I shall discuss
whether it is possible to fuse these two approaches together in
the role of the art teacher.
A Brief Review of Liberal Education
This review is important both for this paper and for the on-
going discussion about art education. Liberal education is a
concept which emerged in the nineteenth century, but its origins
go back to the Renaissance and, to a certain degree, even to
ancient Rome. Seneca, who was a Roman philosopher and
teacher of Emperor Nero, defined the role of education primar-
ily as the development of a person as a free spirit (Seneca,
1969). He believed that one could inculcate good qualities in
man, such as courage, the ability to withstand temptation, loy-
alty, modesty and other qualities, which he deemed more im-
portant than standard disciplines. Art, in Seneca’s time, was in
the service of the Church and freedom in art, if it existed, was
something that existed in secret. Only the cognoscente were
able to identify the autonomous inner codes which artists
planted in their works.
The Renaissance studio was humanist in terms of content and
style. The humanists wanted to give everyone an education that
would enable self-fulfillment. Renaissance intellectuals, who
much admired the ancient world and borrowed many concepts
from it, were responsible for transforming the concept of hu-
manism into a fertile ground for the liberal approach that was to
develop later. Thus, the origins of the concept “liberalism” can
be traced, to a certain extent, to the fourteenth century and the
emergence of the Italian Renaissance culture (Kristeller, 1992).
Initially, liberal education constituted a classical education and,
while no clear definition has been given of liberalism, (Bridge-
house & Swift, 2003), researchers agree that liberal education is
important for the stability of a state, and that democracy is the
essence of liberal education (Levinson, 1999).
Liberalism, which derives from the humanist approach,
views education primarily as the development of cognitive,
moral and emotional qualities (Chrucky, 2003). A closer ex-
amination of the qualities, which liberal education seeks to
1In this contex t, I s hall call the arti st who teaches i n hi s pr ivate st udi o “mas-
ter” in order to differentiate him, in this paper, from the standard meaning
accorded to the term “artist”.
develop, shows that the emphasis is placed on tolerance, indi-
vidualism, autonomy and education towards a moral life (Gut-
mann, 1995). In view of the fact that the first three are consid-
ered important in art education, I shall focus on each issue
Tolerance—the word has its root in the Latin term Tolerabi-
lis, which means something that can be endured, a form of rea-
diness to endure, perhaps passively, the ideas or actions of oth-
ers. In his “Letter Concerning Toleration”, Locke states: “For
no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of
another.” (Locke, 1689). It is not enough to allow a community
member2 to express his opinion, it is also very important for the
members of the community to listen and accept the other’s
opinion, even if it is contrary to the prevalent view. Tolerance
of the other and the willingness to accept the other are the es-
sential pillars of the liberal approach, and this should also be
the case in the classroom where art students study. But the tol-
erance sanctified by liberalism also has limits, and this is part of
the moral approach of liberalism. Actions which harm another
person are unacceptable to society.
Individualism—when a society makes “tolerance” a central
value, it means that it simultaneously seeks to accept the indi-
vidual. Individualism is a major component of the personality
of the liberal person, because it includes, by necessity, an
awareness of his situation and actions. The individual person is
aware of his individuality and acts as an individual and ex-
presses his freedom in this way.
The beginning of spiritual individualism began with the Ital-
ian Renaissance. The historian, Burckhardt (1990), viewed
Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as a major work depicting spiritual
individualism. In Burckhardt’s view, the writing of a work such
as the Divine Comedy testified to the liberation of man, made
possible by the emergence of appropriate political and religious
conditions in the fourteenth century. Until then, man was part
of the whole.
The uniqueness of the individual and the important role ac-
corded to the individual in liberal society exemplify, more than
anything else, the difference between liberal education and
preceding approaches. Mill emphasized individualism as an
important basis for the development of the individual and as a
social value. He acknowledged that not every person is able to
develop individualism and that each person has his/her own
way of fulfilling this important value. He distinguished two
forms of individualism: individualism of strength and of de-
velopment, “towards which every human being must cease-
lessly direct his efforts and on which especially those who de-
sign to influence their fellow-men must ever keep their eyes,”
for which there are two requisites, “freedom, and a variety of
situations,” and from the union of these arise “individual vigor
and manifold diversity” (Mill, 1989: p. 58).
While Kymlicka (Kymlicka, 1989) claims that individualism
is the aspiration of modern liberal education, he argues with the
definition of the essence of individualism in a multicultural
society. Individualism, he notes, is viewed as an abstract entity
while he places the emphasis on the social base that should be
provided in order to enable individuals to make the best choices
for themselves. In art education, the individual is one of the
most important values, particularly when the aim of the educa-
tion is to train the artist, the person who will take part in the
artistic discourse, the person who will dare to express him/
herself in an original way and breach known patterns.
One also finds, among liberals who believe that individual-
ism is vital for society, criticism of the fact that individualism
encourages alienation from social ties and self-centeredness
(Sher, 1997).
Autonomy or freedom of the individual—a combination of
terms which has received endless definitions. Kant claimed that
people only possess true freedom if their understanding is au-
tonomous and they are able to implement their decisions (Wood,
2005). Liberal society is connected to the value of autonomy.
The ideal of autonomy is the ability to control the course of
one’s life and, to a certain extent, one’s fate. A society, which is
committed to the value of autonomy, is obliged to assist its
members to obtain the conditions which will enable them to
pursue autonomous lives. Autonomy is thus distinguished from
freedom, since autonomy is the means which will enable a per-
son to acquire positive freedom (Guntovnik, 2003).
In this context, Hobbes defined autonomy thus: “By liberty is
understood, according to the proper signification of the word,
the absence of external impediments; which impediments may
oft take away part of a man’s power to do what he would, but
cannot hinder him from using the power left him according as
his judgment and reason shall dictate to him” (Hobbes, 1997).
Hobbes held that freedom is achieved when external obsta-
cles do not prevent a person from fulfilling his/her goal. Liberal
educators will thus try to accord to their students freedom from
external obstacles, in order to enable them to develop their
talents. Berlin (Berlin, 1969), expressed reservations regarding
freedom from external obstacles, noting that certain obstacles
are inevitable since man, by nature, depends on others. He
wrote that the insights we gain about ourselves depend on the
social environment in which we live. Freedom from external
obstacles is not the only freedom required by art students, par-
ticularly if their goal is to become an artist. The art student
requires positive freedom which derives from within his/her
own personality.
Liberal thinkers (Yona, 2007; Gutmann, 1995), who have
commented on education, note that liberal philosophy follows
two main approaches: political liberalism and philosophical
liberalism (Gutmann, 1995). The first is important, they say, for
the stability of the state for it encourages the development of
autonomous citizens who possess a strong sense of justice, but
followers of this approach do not necessarily have to apply
liberal principles in their lives or homes. The second aims to
educate citizens to apply freedom of choice in their personal
lives and display autonomy in their choices (Gutmann, 1995).
Each approach has a different way of viewing society. The first
looks at society in general and considers the individual as part
of the whole, while the second focuses primarily on the indi-
Political Liberalism and Philosophical
2It is important to stress the role of the community in a liberal society that is
made up of individual, autonomous members who build the community
together. Livnat (2000) “the individual and the community, communitarian
criticism of the High Court of Appeal 205/94 Nof v. Ministry of Defense.
ishpatim 31 219. Political liberalism attributes prime importance to mutual re-
spect and tolerance of others (Levinson, 1999), and emphasizes
other rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion,
freedom to own private possessions, physical freedom, and the
freedom to do whatever does not harm others. It is, however,
possible that the product of such an education will distinguish
between rights that should be accorded to those who belong to
his/her social, ethnic group, skin color, etc., and rights which
should be accorded to others. According to this approach, the
“individual” is part of the group (Kymlicka, 1989) and derives
his/her strength and definition from the group, while the latter
defines his/her external limitations. Culture is the culture of the
group and the individual identifies with the culture of his/her
group. Kymlicka bases himself on Taylor (Taylor & Pippin,
1979) who supports the views held by Hegel, in his definition
of freedom and the importance he attributes to the community
as a major factor in the choices made by the individual. Kym-
licka (1989) examines freedom of the individual from a critical
perspective. What is important, from his point of view, is the
ability to view different life options and to choose from them
(Margalit & Halbertal, 1998).
Philosophical liberalism: this approach attributes prime
importance to the individual and to autonomy (Gutmann, 1995).
Here, the major factor is the “individual” and the manner in
which the individual makes his/her own decisions. In this ap-
proach, the individual is placed at the center and the emphasis
is on his/her right to an individual life, autonomy and culture
(Margalit & Halbertal, 1998).
These two approaches to the individual are important to our
attempt to understand liberal education and its application to
the artist/art teacher.
The Studio Master as a Philosophical, Liberal
As mentioned above, the artist has an affinity with the studio
master. The latter constituted a private framework free from
external limitations, where the personal views of the artist
reigned supreme, shaping the work and instruction that took
place in the studio. The master chose his students from the
many talented, motivated youth who sought his teaching. Dur-
ing their training, the students pursued their visual “talk” to-
gether with the usual means of communication used by others
(Noy, 1999). In his book “On Freedom,” Mill comments on the
uniqueness of talented individuals and their importance to soci-
ety: “Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to
be a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to
preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe
freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex vi
termini, more individual than any other people” (Mill, 1989: p.
The assumption of this form of instruction was that students
possess the ability to learn and, through knowledge, are able to
fulfill their freedom. This is an intermediary stage acknowl-
edged by the teacher and the student. Locke (1690) refers to
this when he talks about the authority of the father: “children
are not born in a full state of equality, though they are born to
it.” A student’s inborn talent was acknowledged by his/her
environment and teacher, and it was then up to the student to
develop in a supportive, stimulating society and practice his/her
skills again and again. Vasari quotes Lodovico, father of Mi-
“1488. I record the first day of April, that I, Lodovico di
Leonardo di Buonarrota, placed Michelangelo, my son, with
Domenico and David di Tommaso di Currado for the three
years to come, on these terms and conditions, that the said Mi-
chelangelo shall remain with the above-named persons for the
said period of time, in order to learn to paint and to exercise
that vocation; that the said persons shall have command over
him; and that the same Domenico and David shall be bound to
give him in those three years twenty-two florins of full weight,
the first year six florins, the second year eight florins, and the
third ten florins; in all, the sum of ninety-six lire.” (Vasari,
1996: p. 644).
The studio master strove to train his students to be artists and
the ideal and apex of the training was to achieve the rank of
“Now it happened that when Domenico was at work on the
great chapel of S. Maria Novella, one day that he was out, Mi-
chelangelo set himself to draw the staging from the reality, with
some desks and all the appliances of art, and some of the young
men who were working there. Whereupon, when Domenico had
returned and seen Michelangelo’s drawing, he said: ‘This boy
knows more about it than I do,’ and he was struck with amaze-
ment at the novel manner and the novel method of imitation
that a mere boy of such tender age displayed by reason of the
judgment bestowed upon him by Heaven, for these, in truth,
were as marvelous as could have been looked for in the work-
manship….” (Vasari, 1996, p. 645).
The deciding moment came when the student broke the
mould. It was not a simple process, since the training consisted
of practice aimed at achieving a desired, ideal result. In the
course of his/her studies, the student did not absorb, at least
consciously, educational influences which encouraged breaking
the desired mould. So how did this process occur? And why,
when it did take place, was it considered the apex of the process?
What happened in that studio which enabled the student to re-
alize his/her freedom and choose an original way of expressing
ideas? We can learn about this from Mill (1989), when he ex-
presses his opinion on the development of an individual person
(see page 137 above).
Although Mill does not relate specifically to the artist, we
can apply what he says to the training of the student in the art
studio. The entire process of teaching in the studio was a col-
laboration between the master and the student or apprentice,
later, the trainee or disciple. The relationship between the mas-
ter and his apprentices was a hierarchical one. The master had
an honored status. He was an artist who had demonstrated his
talents and achieved renown because of his skills and his art
and, as such, was a figure to emulate. A master was an artist
who had fulfilled his talents and achieved his goals. When an
apprentice showed potential, the master enabled the student to
experience, in the words of Mill, a wide spectrum of situations
and to develop his skills. The relationship was a personal one,
each student being acknowledged in his/her own right, as a
person of talent.
Both teacher and student were aware that this period of
training was temporary, and would end once the student ma-
tured. Equal rights, according to this approach, consisted in the
opportunity given to an individual to fulfill his/her talents and
develop his/her skills as much as possible, free from external
interference or limitation. What is the meaning of this auton-
omy? To what end did the artist train the student? Who, in his
eyes, represented the ideal graduate? Mill stressed the privilege
of individuals to interpret their experiences in their own unique
“Nobody denies that people should be so taught and trained
in youth, as to know and benefit by the ascertained results of
human experience. But it is the privilege and proper condition
of a human being, arrived at the maturity of his faculties, to use
and interpret experience in his own way.” (Vasari, 1996, p. 59)
The goal was thus defined from the start—in their training,
the students would develop their personal talents and artistic
skills in order, when the time came, to formulate their own,
unique interpretations. This form of training obligates the mas-
ter to accompany the student at every stage. It is a close rela-
tionship with an element of obligation; it is an education which
is not limited to professional training but enlarges the arena and
considers the student holistically. A similar educational process
is seen in Emile, where Rousseau educates Emile and oversees
every detail of his life: his training, dress, bed, etc. Education
does not rest with training. It is a total process and the dialogue
between the teacher and the student is not limited to studying
and to the period of study. It is a broad and comprehensive
The Parallel between the Studio Master and the
Philosophical, Liberal Educator
The goals of the master are congruent with the goals of the
philosophical, liberal educator. The latter tries to develop free-
dom and autonomy and enable students to make their own
choices from inner, personal considerations. Education is com-
prehensive and does not focus solely on the student’s profes-
sional training. The educator pays as much attention to the stu-
dent’s personality as to his/her abilities. Noy (1999) notes that
artistic activity is a process, which merges two worlds: the in-
ner world and the world of reality. He describes this activity as
a way of integrating and understanding reality in the language
of emotions, and integrating and understanding emotions and
experience in the language of reality.
The goal of the master is to develop his students’ individual-
ity. A uniform product is considered a failure. Only students
who succeed in breaking through the artistic discourse to for-
mulate their own original ideas are viewed as having success-
fully graduated from the studio.
The Art Teacher as a Political, Liberal Educator
In contrast to the master, the art teacher positions himself in a
school, at the same level as other disciplines. Historically, art
teachers, as educators, viewed art as a means of developing the
intellect, and therefore did not focus specifically on the use of
techniques. This approach always existed side by side with the
traditional studio approach. Already in the fifth century, Plato
(Plato, 1983) sought to educate the guards of Polis through art.
He felt the power of art as a means of transmitting hidden mes-
sages in a mysterious way, as a medium that impacts on man
(Roznov, 1968). The approach, based on the belief that the
senses, which a child develops though the arts, will influence
the future shaping of his/her personality as an adult, emerged
primarily in the 18th century when art began to be taught in
schools. Talent was considered not obligatory in order to study
art, and anyone could study art, if they practiced basic tech-
niques. Swiss pedagogue, J. H. Pestalozzi (1746-1827) put this
approach into practice when he transposed drawing into a linear
A-B consisting of straight and circular lines. According to Pes-
talozzi, learning to paint should not involve thought or emo-
tional expression. Pestalozzi emphasized skills of the eyes and
the hands and the importance of practicing these skills in order
to train students in other professions and develop general ob-
servation skills in daily life.
The talents, emphasized by the political, liberal approach, are
primarily cognitive skills: knowledge, development of insights
and clear thinking. The practice of art does not aim to enable
freedom of expression, but to stimulate rational thought. Gra-
duates of this approach have the ability to make choices: they
possess the ability to analyze reality, think in the abstract and
generalize. As “individuals,” they are part of society and it is
considered important for them to develop cognitive abilities and
a sense of aesthetics, and to be a part of their culture and toler-
ant towards “others.” The choices made by the individual are
personal, but the limits and limitations imposed derive from the
fact of being an individual within a society and culture.
The Parallel between the Art Teacher and the
Liberal, Political Educator
The role of the art teacher is primarily a social one: since
students are viewed as part of a community and culture, the art
teacher tries to develop their talents and knowledge, in order to
enable them to function as “individuals” within the community.
The teaching focuses on the subject of art and does not relate to
the students in general terms, as in an art studio. The art teacher
is defined in terms of time and place, is circumscribed by other
school disciplines, imparts an equal education to all (not just to
talented students), and emphasizes cultural knowledge, respect
and tolerance for the other as an important element of art edu-
In What Way Do the Two Approaches Merge in
the Figure of the Art Educator?
Art teachers are faced with an almost-impossible task: on the
one hand their goal is to develop the skills of their students and
enable them to express themselves via the complex tools im-
parted by art; on the other hand they have to adhere to societal
needs imposed by the educational system in which they work.
Art teachers and programs are required to cater to issues such
as, professional training, creative development, learning diffi-
culties of students, while at the same time developing the skills
of talented students. Societal pressure also requires art pro-
grams to enable students to fully experience their environment
and to be critical of the visual messages around them. Con-
comitantly, the goals of art students differ from those of the
studio apprentice: art students today are highly aware of social
requirements and demand that the educational system train
them accordingly.
An in-depth observation of art classes which try to combine
the two approaches immediately exposes the dilemma faced by
art teachers. How should they present art material to their stu-
dents? What points should they emphasize? Which approach is
the most important and how can the two approaches be com-
bined? For instance: should art teachers focus on practical ex-
perience with color and materials and encourage their students
to develop insights and intimate feelings to the point that art
will seep into their most inner being. Or should they develop
experience only up to the level of cognitive understanding of
the artistic idea and emphasize the social role of the artist? How
can art teachers combine the historical roots and traditional
status of the studio master with their role as teachers working
within an integr ated educational system?
The artist/teacher represents a role whose roots are steeped in
the two, different liberal approaches. The first (like the studio
master) is that of the philosophical, liberal educator who fo-
cuses on developing the student as an individual who will tread
new ground and who, as a complete educator, views the student
as a whole being. The second, that of the art teacher, empha-
sizes education towards tolerance and acceptance of the other.
The art teacher focuses on knowledge, theoretical, critical skills
and the ability for verbal expression in relation to a work of art.
As part of the educational system, the art teacher is obligated
equally to all his/her students. The one focuses on the senses
and, through them, on thought, while the other focuses first on
thought and rational analysis.
Democracy, for its part, requires an equilibrium between the
two approaches (Zimmerman, 1997)—between the develop-
ment of excellence among talented students and the require-
ment of educational programs for equality towards all students.
As a society, we are obligated to safeguard this equilibrium,
since preference towards either side encourages or aristocracy
or totalitarianism. The art teacher trains and encourages tal-
ented art students but, at the same time, is obligated to enrich
all his/her students in theoretical and practical knowledge of art.
Gardner (Gardner, 1961) proposes an approach which encour-
ages excellence in talented students, while at the same time
encouraging excellence in all students. This means enlarging
the circle and applying the techniques of the studio to a regular
school. When the goals of a teacher are steeped in the philoso-
phical, liberal approach, the teacher enables a style of teaching
that is intimate and suited to all students, according to their
needs. The skills which the art teacher imparts are: a sensitive
eye, the ability to express oneself in an original way, the desire
to contribute something new, and the emotional ability to break
through existing patterns. These are skills which the students
will be able to apply to every domain, not just to art.
Conclusion: the true artist/teacher integrates in his/her work
both political liberalism and philosophical liberalism, viewing
students as individuals and adapting teaching programs to their
personality and needs. The art teacher, on the other hand, has to
take into consideration the educational system he/she works in
and its requirements. The merging of these two approaches in
the figure of the art teacher is complex and one can ask whether
it is truly possible for art teachers to use these approaches at the
same level, in the teaching process. It could well be that this is
too great a task to ask of the art teacher. However, in this mod-
ern age, when art is primarily taught in a school framework, we
would like to believe that the art educator is capable of imple-
menting both approaches; developing the unique, individuality
of his/her students while, at the same time, promoting equality
and enabling students to become integral parts of the society
they live in. The two approaches, inherent in the term art-
ist/teacher, point to the essential dilemma faced by the art
teacher. The possibility of merging these two approaches in a
school environment and the different ways in which art teachers
combine them in class are issues which will be discussed in
subsequent research.
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