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date: 18 June 2018

Arts Education Research

Summary and Keywords

Research in arts education is characterized by a tension between presupposed theoretical concepts about “arts” and “education,” on the one hand, and the global field of untheorized arts education practices, on the other hand. This complexity is greatly magnified by the various historical and cultural understandings that characterize both the institutionalization of the arts as well as arts education itself. The fact that research traditions are themselves closely connected to a particular field of arts education adds an additional dimension to this complex question: according to our meta-studies relating to arts education-research, it is particularly evident that (1) Western and Eurocentric biases are quite dominant in this research field and that (2) well-established (Western, highbrow) art genres are dominating the research landscape, tying specific research styles, research interests, and objectives toghether.

To avoid normative and potentially hegemonial biases resulting from this situation, we analyze various arts education research approaches according to their the ontological, epistemological, and methodological anchorings. Based upon this, we develop a general meta-model of arts education research, combining a typology of perspectives defining arts education research and a set of dispositive dichotomies constitutive for this field.

Keywords: arts education, aesthetic education, arts education research


Writing an overview of a research field from an international perspective means deciding about one’s intentions: Does one strive for an inventory of current relevant studies? Does one intend to present contemporary guidelines and prospects of research? Or is it supposed to be an international comparison of research approaches, research goals, ways of understanding research and research topics according to specific, selected criteria? In this article we take a meta-analytical perspective on research in arts education.

First, we examine the research in a structural and strictly theoretical general sense and attempt to generate a basic epistemological understanding of research in arts education. Second, we examine its various international forms and the empirical, historical, and discourse-analytical nature of the research. We aim to make visible different examples of scientific discourse and traditions, ways of understanding, and practices of what is internationally postulated and practiced as research in the field of arts education.

As it would be impossible to make a comprehensive analysis of the entire discourse on the subject, we can only proceed by making reference to a selected field of discourse exemplified by a limited corpus of texts. In this respect, we refer to contemporary compilations, handbooks, and yearbooks in the English language that address an international audience.

In order to develop such a meta-analytical view, it is important to clarify at the outset the premises and perspectives underlying our approach to the topic under discussion. We therefore enquire what preconceptions underpin the topic in question and which factors influence these preconceptions. Furthermore, since arts education is a matter of practice, we suppose that it exists independently from any research, but at the same time we need to acknowledge that research practices themselves participate in, and are influenced by, certain cultural, social, institutional, and professional phenomena.

Indeed, we suggest that research and practices are (onto-)logically independent from one another but, at the same time, praxeologically interwoven. We furthermore suppose that arts education exists as a field of educational practice characterized by widely different ideas about culture, arts, education, and learning. Accordingly, arts education must be understood to be a multi-level and pluralist field, and it must be assumed that there is not one kind of arts education and that there may be no such thing as one concept of arts education. Indeed, in terms of defining arts education it seems obvious to assume an “umbrella principle” rather than a systematically defined phenomenon or field.

From this general consideration, and before any defining statement can be formulated on research in arts education, we can establish a perspective that will serve to structure the relevant considerations. That is to say, given the heterogeneous inter- or trans-disciplinary nature and the complex phenomenality of the practical field, research in arts education cannot be based on a uniform research principle. Considering the variety of scientific methods, methodologies, and paradigms involved, it is necessary to employ a meta-analytical approach in order to discover how the research field is structured, what research logics and research practices are pursued, and what research perspectives on arts education can be identified.

Accordingly, this text supports the thesis that, in the context of the various research approaches and perspectives, arts education is not only researched but also construed in different ways. The kind of research referred to by the term “research in arts education” can only be grasped appropriately by examining the socio-cultural and historical influences, the subject-related influences, as well as the politico-normative influences, patterns, and guidelines both of the social scientists involved and of their analytical practices.

In this sense, this text does not evaluate the research in question so much as describe and classify its findings. In the course of this article we will approach the field of research in arts education from three distinct perspectives.

  • Concept and discourse theory. Here we identify the conceptual framework underpinning the scientific discourse on research in “arts education” or “arts and education.” We also investigate how certain types of scientific discourse regarding arts education operate and what rationale they suggest.

  • Ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Here we identify the connection between scientific definitions or topic constructions, scientific epistemic interests, and scientific methodological procedures in arts education research.

  • Research perspectives, procedures, and basic attitudes. Here we identify any approaches in the field of arts education research that could be regarded as typical.

Following on from these three considerations, we further examine possible international scientific perspectives, perceived gaps in the research, and possible points of interest for the future.

Concepts of Arts Education and Their Discourse Dimensions

Research in arts education can only be described by examining, at the outset, which horizons of meaning will be opened up by the terms “research,” “art(s),” and “education,” by enquiring how these terms and concepts are used, which traditions they reflect, and which practices and phenomena they exemplify.

In this context, the connection between phenomenon and term is of double relevance, in so far as the term “arts education” denotes the phenomenon of arts education, while at the same time, however, it is the practices of, and scientific discourse surrounding, arts education that bestow semantic meaning on the term “arts education” in a multi-leveled way. This happens both contextually—in a historical, social, and cultural way—and separately—in a discipline- and field-related way. Although the field appears to be shaped by pedagogy, a variety of sciences contribute to its research. The range covers almost all fields of social and cultural sciences, art studies, as well as the natural sciences. Thus, different practices and sciences create different concepts, and different definitions of concepts create different perceptions and ideas of what arts education is or may be. In other words, the structures and logic of the scientific field of “research in arts education” can be described only if, at the same time, we consider both the practical fields of arts education and the mechanisms of the respective ways of developing the umbrella term “arts education” (Bresler, 2007, p. xvii) in the sciences and in practical work. The analysis of “convergences, shifts or discrepancies in the relation between concept and factual circumstance” (Koselleck, 2006, p. 99, our translation) is no academic end in itself but a crucial approach to understanding “arts education.” This understanding also concerns cultural and political dimensions, advocacy, and policy in the practical field of arts education. A conceptual perspective, understood as a process of making visible, defines a topic of public discourse as this topic. In this sense, what follows concerns relating concepts and phenomena in such a way as to show the topic-related and phenomenon-related interpretational power of conceptualization and how understanding concepts is an irreducible factor in the grasping or understanding of realities (Koselleck, 2006, p. 99).

This is of great significance because the discourses on “research” in arts education, which are parallel to the development of the discourses and “practices” of arts education, have been of an interdisciplinary and cross-border nature. “Crossing borders is not a new phenomenon in arts education” (Bresler, 2007, p. xviii); against the background of cultural and economic globalization, traditionally separate fields have moved closer to each other. Thus a “softening of boundaries” (Bresler, 2007, p. xvii), for the purpose of establishing connections, allowing for interdisciplinary inspiration, and initiating dialogue or polylogues, is a programmatic feature of this field of research. In this respect, arts education research aims to cultivate “an awareness among the various arts education communities about compelling, relevant literatures in their ‘sister’ disciplines, and to foster communication and dialogue among these communities in order to enrich knowledge and informed practice” (Bresler, 2007, p. xix).

With respect to an increasing international and intercultural polylogue on arts education and its research, the scientific discourse mirrors an awareness both of the necessity and fruitfulness of the openness and plurality of the field as well as its attendant challenges, obstacles, and limitations in terms of scientific research (Keuchel, 2015). See, for example, the results of the first and second UNESCO World Conferences of Arts Education in Lisbon in 2006 and in Seoul in 2010.

It is therefore to be expected that the mapping of both arts education and arts education research will develop as a major effort of international and transnational research (Knol, 2014). Any evaluation of the situation is relevant in discursive terms simply because, given the complexity and heterogeneity of the field, it is impossible to achieve global systematization. In this context, the collecting of approaches, ideas, and concepts should take place in the most open way, so that the cultural and social features of the various perspectives and ways of understanding may appear as authentic as possible.

This approach, which is pursued, for example, in the Third International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education (Schonmann, 2015), aims at generating a “corpus of wisdom by the Many” [sic] (Schonmann, 2015, p. 11), which, by taking further steps, may work “as a resource of data and a platform for further research, including comparative research and a meta-analysis of methodological and conceptual issues in arts education” (Schonmann, 2015, p. 11). However, this potential is problematic in that the individual contributions are not only topically different, but they frequently appear to be scientifically or linguistically incommensurable: “Entries expose a wide range of different levels of presentation and are not uniform in their presentation” (Schonmann, 2015, p. 11).

International Discourse Constructions of Arts, Education, and Research as Topic Fields

What is the actual connection between arts, education, and research? What conceptual understanding and research questions are identifiable in this field? There is no comprehensive empirical answer to such questions, but the international compilations published in recent years provide some insight at least into that part of the research discourse that is trans-disciplinary and trans-nationally oriented. For this purpose, we have conducted content analyses of the relevant volumes (Bresler, 2007; Fleming, Bresler, & O’Toole, 2015; Schonmann, 2015). Furthermore, a quantitative analysis has been conducted of the most voluminous one containing approximately 150 contributions to 1,500 pages (Bresler, 2007).

In what follows, these findings will be completed by the results of a detailed meta-study of the research field in Germany, which examined over 15,000 relevant titles, about 1,300 of which, identified as contributions to the research field of arts and cultural education, were analyzed in detail. While these results can only reflect the particular research landscape of Germany, they provide some valuable insights into the structural relations between arts research, research styles and methodologies, and research issues and perspectives (Liebau & Jörissen, 2013).

It must be stated as a caveat that the relevant, global discourse-related compilations on arts education or arts research provide only a selective depiction of the research field. For example, none of the international compilations in question represents South Asia or India. Second, all volumes show a marked quantitative predominance of Anglo-American and/or European contributions; in all the volumes under consideration, at least two thirds of the contributions come from Anglo-American or European countries.

If we question the agenda setting concerning arts and education comparatively in terms of topical construction, there are significant differences most of all when it comes to understanding the term “arts.” In the Anglo-American and European contributions, the word is a fixed umbrella term for the established arts such as music, dance, fine arts, visual arts, theater/drama, and literature/poetry and is found as a topical construction about twice as often as in contributions from other countries. Furthermore, in terms of methodology, the authors from the Anglo-American and European countries mentioned in Bresler (2007) make twice as many “programmatic” contributions, which are those based on theoretical positions with normative implications rather than on empirical studies.

This impression is confirmed by the explicitly research-oriented compilation by Fleming et al. (2015), which represents primarily English-speaking and European authors; only one essay in this volume is “trans-continentally” authored, including also East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania (here, in particular, the Maori culture).

However, our quantitative analysis demonstrates that an overemphasis on the stereotypical distinction between “Western” versus “non-Western” must be treated with caution, as this binary opposition inappropriately reduces the diversity of positions, including the considerably different perspectives within the individual contributions from English-speaking America and Europe. It is urgent to internationalize the research discourse, especially in view of the need to include post-colonial perspectives (Spivak, 2013).


In the field of “arts education,” research applies traditional and established concepts of art, including music, dance, theater/drama, fine arts/visual arts, and literature/poetry, whereas it gives little consideration to either non-classical theoretical constructions of aesthetic practices such as “visual culture” or any new fields of aesthetic production such as digital games.

The more traditionally established concepts of arts as reference points are rarely explained in terms of theory or differentiated in the context of the research contributions. This is a clear indication of how much they are rooted in traditional educational fields of practice for which the question of a theoretically consistent topical construction is rarely a question of urgency.

Indeed, topical construction is often merely implicit rather than explicitly stated, which tends to lead to non-transparent assumptions concerning the methods and goals of “education.” Second, contributions seldom differentiate between subgenres and substyles, even in contributions on the quantitative-experimental effectiveness research on music, for example, where it regularly remains unclear which instruments or which musical styles have been the subject of teaching (Rittelmeyer, 2012). Finally, the practice-based and thus seemingly natural topical construction also becomes manifest in the debates on hegemonial “Western” ways of understanding arts. An essential aspect of the criticism of the Western way of understanding art in this context is the rigid separation between the arts, as opposed to an interconnected or holistic understanding, such as in music, for example, where counter-hegemonial concepts such as “musical arts” refer to the “aesthetic inseparability”of music, dance, drama, storytelling, verbal arts (poetry), religion, and visual arts” (Dzansi-McPalm, 2007), or “musicking,” which refers to the corporeal and performative dimension of musical practices (Small, 2011).

Similar to their “Western” counterparts, these patterns of criticism, based on a post-colonial situation, argue by referring to cultural forms and aesthetic traditions of communication (here oral), which, by means of a comprehensive way of understanding cultural and aesthetic practice, distance themselves from rational, “system-differentiated” (Luhmann, 1982) ideas of society according to Western ideals with their analytically, theoretically, and institutionally separated “arts” (Akuno et al., 2015). In this context, it must be mentioned that in the research discourse, there is also a conspicuous absence of applied arts, such as sewing, hair braiding, or culinary arts (Bamford, 2006).

In the research fields of arts education, one of the core topics of applied aesthetics in the modern age—“design”—receives only marginal attention, which can hardly be explained other than by traditional, practice-related ways of constructing topics. According to this logic, “design” is always perceived as being close to the fine arts (Allison, 1982; Murray-Tiedge, 2015).

In view of the implicit “policy of making visible” by way of concept-theoretical constructions and settings, the above-mentioned relation, no matter how crucial, hides another problem, that of the scientific perception of new and emerging kinds of art, regardless of their origin, which do not fit into any traditional pattern. Thus, not only all the overview volumes under discussion here, but also our study Forschung zur Kulturellen Bildung in Deutschland seit 1990 (Research on Arts and Cultural Education Germany Since 1990; Liebau & Jörissen, 2013) demonstrate clear research gaps when it comes to forms of aesthetic articulation beyond traditional genres of art, that is, everywhere that established ideas of work, genre, subject, and even space are transgressed. This concerns most modes of aesthetic articulation within and by way of digital media, but also alternative spatial arts such as street art, graffiti, parcours, and urban hacking.


The term “education” covers an extremely heterogeneous field of meanings. In the context of “arts education,” the predominant views on what is meant by the term “education” are characterized and can be identified by the common distinction between formal, non-formal, and informal educational contexts, places, and situations. Beyond this, research contributions necessarily refer to one of the three following process levels:

  • The social, institutional, organizational level, that is, educational system, policy, institutionalization, curricula, teacher training, vocational training, professionalization, family and community, cultures of teaching and learning

  • The level of educational interaction aiming at this teaching/learning, that is, communication, teaching, coaching

  • The individual level of actual learning, that is, perception processes, experiential processes, learning processes, educational processes, developmental and socialization processes.

Judging by the results of our analyses and of our German meta-study, by far the greatest proportion of research in arts education is dedicated to formal education. This is depicted both by the structure of the reviewed compilations and by the quantitative relations. Only every tenth contribution deals clearly with informal ways of organizing arts education, and only every fourth deals with its non-formal foundations (Bresler, 2007). Accordingly, the predominant research fields are teaching research, curriculum research, and vocational training (e.g., teacher training). About every fifth contribution systematically discusses individual process qualities in the sense mentioned above. As to be expected, considerable differences with respect to perspectives and normative implications are to be found here. On the one hand, the focus on understanding educational processes in an individualistic sense is met with criticism. For example, Akuno et al. (2015) states for Kenya that the lifelong, context-specific arts education embeds a holistic and communal approach to the development of the individual, so paradoxically it both embodies and renders unnecessary the concept of Bildung as a distinct philosophy of learning built on the notion of a distinct individual. Education in the arts would seem to be more akin to those older, more communal classical concepts of harmony and beauty: artistic education leads to the schooling of the emotions, the body, the mind, and the spirit, culminating in aesthetic, moral, and cognitive competencies. On the other hand, there are contradicting assumptions based on world views and socio-theoretical stances, such as the traditional enculturation and appropriation of values, which stand in contrast to processes of value-related, identity-related, and socio-critical reflexivity.

In line with the predominance of formal educational aspects, the desired primary educational goals are training and the achievement of learning objectives in the sense of communicated theoretical and/or practical knowledge and skills. Secondary goals are things such as creativity and the instrumental use of aesthetic-sensual processes in the sense of “learning through the arts.” Furthermore, some of the general educational goals include concepts such as “personality and identity development,” “participation, responsibility, and the ability to take criticism,” and “socialization and enculturation.” It is rare to find goals such as “cultivation,” “transcendence,” “spirituality” or “happiness.”


Interestingly, studies on the effects and transfer effects of arts education, in the sense of the measurable efficiency of arts education, and of measurable effects in respect of general competence, are of very different relevance in the international perspective. This line of research, which is very common in the research on music education, for example, is hardly ever represented in international compilations. In so far as paradigmatically, methodologically, and with regard to subject discipline, quantitative research on effects and transfer effects are to be attributed rather to international educational research—with a clear predominance of the psychology of learning; it hardly comes as a surprise that researchers in this field are less networked with researchers who are often trained in their respective arts and are often active in the field of educational practice. Here, our statement of a close connection between practical field, topical construction, and research direction becomes relevant once again, as, in this respect also, the field of “research in arts education” is always only partially considered, at least according to the current state of research.

On the other hand, as a result of these paradigm shifts, once again methodological questions interact with constructions of research topics and fields. In the field of empirical research in arts education, the feasibility of methodical approaches depends much on the structure of the respective art or aesthetic activity. For example, it is possible to identify empirically the neuronal effects of musical activities on instrumentalists. However, it will not be possible in the foreseeable future, for structural reasons, to measure the neuronal effects of dance or theatrical activities by using brain scanners. This could only occur within extremely artificial settings which have little to do with the realities of the aesthetic practices in question. The same holds for any indicator-based monitoring of arts education programs, qualities, or achieved participation, at least where the structural particularities of topics and contexts are not sufficiently taken into consideration.

Thus, if arts education research does not assume a real research interest in the arts but only an interest in the effects, efficiency, and outcomes of arts education, then practical issues of feasibility may simply result in focusing research on more easily researchable arts. At the same time, their subject-specific approaches to topical construction may be transferred as an ontological backdrop to the arts and educational processes being researched. This connection between topical ontology, scientific epistemology, and methodology in the field of arts education will be explained in the following section with reference to some typical constellations.

Ontologies, Epistemologies, Methodologies

As when conducting any research, the applied methodology is epistemologically framed, in that any scientific method is based on general, implicitly sustainable, taken-for-granted assumptions about how statements are related to facts. When it comes to topical construction, this relation of epistemology and methodology is of momentous significance; it implies an ontology of its topical field. For example, a correspondence-theoretical epistemology implies a realistic ontology. One assumes that statements correspond with topics in an assumed “objectively existing” world. Thus, it is posited (a) that the topic is ontologically separated from the statement and (b) that the topic is existent in a sense which is to be determined.

In the context of natural sciences research, the way in which objects exist is realistically connoted—the last point of reference is an assumed physical world existing as such (Searle, 1995). In contrast to this, from a praxeological-hermeneutical perspective, the topic is always already meaningfully constituted in the form of referring meaning to meaning (Rorty, 1980). For a phenomenological kind of epistemology, the topic is found in experiential events, so that, as is already the case in hermeneutics, the question about “things as such” does not make any sense (Husserl, 1982). From the point of view of a socio-constructivist epistemology, on the other hand, subjective experiences are essentially based on socially construed realities and their structures (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). With relational epistemologies, such as the actor-network theory, entities develop and exist always only as the effects of network relations between very different agents, be they material, conceptual, or human (Latour, 1993, 2013). If we apply this incomplete series of examples to the topical field of arts education, it follows that the latter—as is typical for educational research—has no ontologically homogeneous, definable research topic but consists of a variety of topic-constituting perspectives which are connected to each other by way of family resemblance (Wittgenstein, 1953). What is the case, for example, if we speak of “someone learning to play a musical instrument”? Already the linguistic form of the question implies a range of ontological assumptions (subject: person, human being; topic: musical instrument; learning goal; intentional actions: making music, learning), which, epistemologically speaking, are not at all a matter of course and can only be regarded as acceptable descriptions of a learning situation in the context of everyday conventions. If we consider this scene from the epistemological perspectives of the above-mentioned examples, the ontological implications become immediately obvious. Here are some further examples:

  • In terms of the neuro-scientific research of learning, complex physiological causal effects occur in the context of which, for instance, particular forms of air pressure fluctuations, efferent (muscular-active) and afferent (perceptive) processes of signal processing, as well as processes of neuronal connection at the level of somata, axons, and dendrites interact with each other. Within this ontological frame—and this is not at all meant as criticism—everyday entities such as “music,” “subject,” and “musical instrument” are simply non-existent. “Learning” is not a hermeneutic-sensual but an informational process, just like the topics consisting exclusively of complex parametrized data or data streams and data aggregations.

  • From a hermeneutical perspective, at first one would assume that learning is a meaning- and significance-generating process for the individual human, which happens in the space between not-knowing and knowing, being unable and being able, and which must not only be understood in terms of learning something new but also in terms of unlearning and relearning—which are of utmost significance for the individual human. Then, learning how to play a musical instrument would have to be understood by way of interpreting the subject to be learned—“how to play a musical instrument”—by its cultural significance and thus its cultural-historical context. In this case, interpretation as the principle of interpreting meaning would not only focus on the question of the significance of the learning process itself and the way in which its meaning is structured, but would also try to work out the cultural implications encoded in the process of learning how to play a certain musical instrument.

Here are some of the possible questions this perspective might include:

  • Which ideas of music are connected to learning how to play a certain musical instrument?

  • Which culturally-historically handed-down skills or mastership demands become obvious?

  • Which skills are connected with learning how to play a certain musical instrument?

  • What knowledge and skills horizons are opened up by learning how to play this musical instrument?

  • In what way does learning how to play a musical instrument lead to certain ideas of music and music-making?

  • In what way does the process of learning create certain meaning-structured or meaning-structuring ways of behavior for the learner?

  1. 1. In contrast to this, a phenomenological approach would operate less at the level of the significance of learning and place less emphasis on the principle of structured meaning. Such an approach would operate rather at the level of the materiality and sensuality of learning how to play a musical instrument. In this case, learning would be understood rather as an emergent event becoming obvious by the situational transformation of a learner’s subjective relatedness to the world (English, 2012, p. 211; Meyer-Drawe, 2012). A possible research interest would then be to describe the learning of how to play a musical instrument as a process of the performative creation of aesthetic-sensual effects of presence. In this context, it would be of particular interest to consider the question of a habitually characterized bodily memory and a specific bodily-aesthetic reception capability.

  2. 2. In applying a relational epistemology, learning how to play a musical instrument could be understood only by way of analyzing the unity of “musical instrument and human” that occurs purely as a result of situation and process. In this perspective, the foundation of the learning process is the connection of a person to a certain musical instrument. This music-making human is a subjective-acting being, but at the same time, a quasi-subjectivity must be attributed to the musical instrument itself, as it creates and structures the actions, the materiality, the perceptions, and experiences of the music-making human. Both human and instrument are components in a structure of mutual relations—they are a unity. Then the “trumpet human” or the “drummer human” would each be specific forms of the actor hybrid “human-musical instrument.” Such a perspective is interesting in terms of learning theory because it demonstrates that learning always takes place in a concrete situation, which can only be understood by considering the relational situations or relation-creating processes between the learner and that which is to be learned.

These examples show that certain early practical or life-world experiences suggest preferences for certain learning methodologies. Indeed, topical constructions arise from such congruent life experience, as is the case with ethnographic or phenomenological approaches. A research field which is de facto related to fields of educational practice and which operates in close connection to them is always located within resource-related and political horizons. Consequently, the connection between research, policy, and advocacy, whether it be implicitly or explicitly articulated, plays a crucial role for understanding this research field (The Second World Conference on Arts Education, 2010, p. 5). In the context of the methodologies mentioned in these examples, there arises the question of the relevance of cross-system (research/practice; research/policy) connectivity between research and practice, on the one hand, and between research and policy, on the other.

There is an indisputable affinity between quantitative-databased research results and quantitative-databased governance with regard to educational policy. In contrast, qualitative, meaning-based research results may per se connect to social value types of discourse which, if perceived as valid, may unfold their own political effectivity.

Toward a Typology of Perspectives in Arts Education Research

Independently of the methodological approach, there are, therefore, some characteristic research perspectives that stand out as typical. In order to identify them, self-descriptions drawn from the discourse on arts education can provide an interesting resource. In such discourse, there is frequent reference to education/learning in the arts versus through the arts (e.g., Bamford, 2006, p. 11). Education “in the arts” aims at arts as a topic of teaching and learning in the widest sense. The arts are the goal of learning. In the case of education “through” the arts, on the other hand, the arts are not at all the goal but only a channel of learning (pedagogical tools in other subjects; Bamford, 2006, p. 11).

Building on this distinction, Lindström (2012) proposes four analytical categories that correspond to the most central logical perspectives in research and practice within the realm of arts education: learning “in,” “about,” “through,” and “with” the arts. Lindström arrives at this fourfold distinction by differentiating between convergent and divergent aims in arts education, on the one hand, and “media-neutral” versus “medium-specific” modes of aesthetic learning, on the other. Aims are considered convergent when the arts themselves constitute the object of learning. In the case of divergent aims, the arts are merely used as a means toward other learning targets that are not specifically art-based. Lindström defines as “media-neutral” a mode whereby something is learned about a particular art form without the medium of that particular art form necessarily being considered (e.g., something can be learned about music theory or the history of music based on text without the relevant musical connections necessarily having to be listened to). In contrast, “medium-specific” modes of learning require a clear focus on aesthetic forms of expression.

Following Lindström’s categorization, education in the arts is connected to aesthetic practices, with the goal of communicating or acquiring skills and practical knowledge. This classical core understanding of arts education is intensively researched when it comes to social forms of organization: formal, informal, and non-formal. Education about the arts happens by way of arbitrarily chosen media, with the goal of communicating explicit knowledge. This happens to different degrees in schools, in the context of which the line of conflict between “about-” and “in-”oriented curricula again becomes clearly obvious (e.g., Fleming et al., 2015, p. 143). Education through the arts is connected to aesthetic practices, in the context of which the convergent goal is not the arts but other subjects, and extensive sections of creativity-oriented research literature belong to this perspective, as does most transfer research (Winner, Goldstein, & Vincent-Lancrin, 2013). Furthermore, the idea of arts-based research may be connected to this perspective (“artistic/performative ways of inquiry”; Schonmann, 2015, p. 500). Finally, education with the arts happens by way of arbitrarily chosen media and does not aim at the arts in the convergent sense but at any other possible topical field. Here the arts are aids, as for example when war photography and war literature are used as means of citizenship education (Noddings, 2007), or when making music is used as a means of social integration (Skyllstad, 2007), or when “arts in the community [are used] as a place-making event” (Thomson, Barrett, Hall, Hanby, & Jones, 2015).

This systematic differentiation is highly relevant insofar as it allows one to distinguish various forms and goals of aesthetic education. However, it does not yet allow one to identify specific modalities or qualities in the process of learning, nor does it help us to say anything about particular social forms of organization of the process of learning. Yet both are of great significance. Concerning the dimension of modality, the phenomena that promote research in this context range from socialization via education and teaching-learning relationships to neuronal “learning” processes via appropriation processes and even extend to establishing orientational knowledge. It is obvious that in each case learning goals are about very different process qualities—and thus about very different topical constructions of “arts education.” Also, the different social types of organization—in the sense of distinguishing formal, informal, and non-formal educational contexts—play a significant role in the research discourse. For example, from a post-colonial perspective, in all cultural contexts the formalization of previously informal practices of arts education clearly has considerable consequences for the subject of “arts education” (Akuno et al., 2015).

Whereas all dimensions mentioned here refer to processes of different kinds, a smaller but nevertheless important field of structure-oriented research on arts education can be distinguished. For example, there are studies on meta-research (Liebau et al., 2014), policy research (Schonmann, 2015, pp. 439), monitoring, as well as theoretical, historical, and contextual research (e.g., Hunter, 2015).


Arts education is characterized by multi-disciplinary ways of understanding research and, to the same degree, by the nature of the research field itself. Each research field is characterized by specific culturally, socially, and historically influenced ideas, structures, patterns, and goals. At the same time, there appears another aspect of fundamental significance for the (self-)understanding of arts education research: the principle of a double historicity.

Due to the fact that both what is in each case tangibly meant by arts education, or by arts and education, and what is associated by the concept or principle of research are not only tied to concrete research disciplines but also contextually influenced by social, political, cultural, and economic factors, not only is the phenomenon and concept of “arts education” subject to permanent historical change, so is the choice of method and manner of researching this field. In other words, the researched topic and the procedure and the modalities of research are all subject to continuous transformation, so that both the field of practice and the field of research must be considered emergent and constructive contexts, each of which—in each case according to its own logic—only creates what arts education appears or is named to be. Thus, when it comes to current developments, the principle of internationalizing the research on arts education would be a historical marker of the significance of such transformation processes, or it would be a historically situated dispositive, transforming scientific discourses, goals, approaches, and ways of proceeding. For example, in the course of an intensified internationalization of the research on arts education, both parallels and divergences regarding research concepts and research styles become increasingly obvious, and the differences between a frequently postulated open-mindedness and actually culturally closed traditions of concepts and phenomena move ever more to the fore.

Then internationalization requires research activities at a meta-level, and this means both in the historical and also the empirical and (concept-) theoretical-systematic sense. In short, internationalization enhances recognition and opens up possibilities and prospects, while at the same time resulting in insecurity and a shaking of traditional patterns and logics: “If nothing else, all that contemporary activity and global decision-making suggest a high level of both interest in and confusion about the nature and the importance of the arts and their relationship to education. That at least is nothing new” (Fleming et al., 2015, p. 1). However, we might add that being aware of this will necessarily change points of view, intentions, and practices.

The perception and, above all, the recognition of diversity in research and practice, without prematurely judging them according to one’s own criteria, might have a lasting impact on scientific thought. Of course, international research in arts education, being a comparatively young field, must find appropriate and productive ways of coping with this challenge.

As has been suggested, the topics are culturally determined, and it is difficult to compare them theoretically or consider them together in terms of generally recognized concepts and logics at an abstract level. In this context, science still means developing a language that is both open to the discourse and topically adequate without being structured in a Eurocentric or generally normative-cultural-imperialist way. Instead it must be capable of integrating the cultural heterogeneity and diversity of arts education, while at the same time guaranteeing the best possible scientific discriminatory power when it comes to presenting facts. Another effect in this context would be the postulation of art as an open and flexible concept: “This development can also be seen as a pragmatic response to a globalized context in which plurality and diversity are sought and celebrated. ‘Art’ has to be seen as an open concept, in that new cases will continue to evolve” (Fleming et al., 2015, p. 2). From a critical stance, this circumstance makes it obvious that, although the terms “art(s)” and “arts education” are often openly used in many scientific contexts, they can lose shape and substance and become blurred with other terms, such as creativity, the aesthetic, or culture, which are used as umbrella terms.

Now, however, we have come to an aspect which characterizes both the field of arts education and the field of research on arts education: the relevant subject-related discourses again and again emphasize the significance and the specific value or the specific potential of arts education, and in general it is assumed—as is proposed in our discourse-analytical thesis—that arts education, first, is pedagogically essential and, second, has comprehensive potential outcomes—even if it is not easy to make them empirically visible (Liebau, Wagner, & Wyman, 2013).

However, at the same time it becomes obvious that, structurally and logically considered, attributions to and legitimations of arts education cannot be formulated in a generally binding way; the differences between the different patterns of arts education are too great (e.g., Liebau et al., 2013). If arts education is based on a functional-economic perspective, which is legitimated by way of efficiency and transfer effects, if the function of arts education is identified in the field of preserving a much-varied cultural heritage, if social-political goals are pursued by way of arts education (e.g., empowerment), if arts education is intended as a means of (comprehensive) personality development, or if arts education is considered an original momentum for the unfolding and support of (professional) artistic activity and thus a principle of further developing “the arts,” all these possibilities are greatly dependent upon traditions, framework conditions, and discursive influences. Furthermore, the definitions and ways of understanding “art” and “culture” in the field of arts education may not be generally estimated but can only be understood in relation to the respective society, culture, and thus tradition. For example, whether sewing or storytelling are considered to be arts is something that cannot be generally decided according to certain established criteria. Such activities can only be described in a context that recognizes the cultural specificity of such phenomena.

If, thus, arts education research does not want to be (unconsciously) normative and affirmative, it must now reflect on the problem of the generalization of scientific statements, and it must do so in two respects :

  • The inclination to overgeneralize can easily distort thinking and can also arise if one is locked into a particular cultural way of thinking, assuming that one’s one way of seeing things is the only way.

  • The tendency to overgeneralize is also a danger in researching the arts where claims can be made about the arts in education as a whole based on limited data derived from specific forms.

Thus, under the sign of internationalization, arts education must currently cope with three challenges. It must, first, view each current manifestation of arts education as real-existing possibilities. Second, it must understand these manifestations according to their respective historical development. Third, it must further develop concepts and research perspectives that can analyze each concrete manifestation of arts education in a methodically appropriate way, while at the same time aiming at making generalizable statements.

Against the background of such analyses and considerations, the inevitable question here is whether it even makes sense to ask what the various perspectives in arts education research, in their very diversity, have in common. From a strict, theoretical, and systematic point of view, evidently there is no standard core. However, on the basis of what has been stated so far, it is possible to identify certain questions, problems, and perspectives that might provide a meta-structure of arts education research and which are located beyond topical and research-methodological issues and result from the fact that the topics under research are non-determinable. We propose to understand these basic structures as dispositive dichotomies of arts education research. These would be the dichotomies of

  • Description or analysis versus prescription or standardization within and by way of research

  • Scientific epistemological interest versus interest in political change and further development

  • Particular or exemplary (research) perspectives versus theoretical (over)standardization

  • Culturally and historically influenced (implicit and unconscious) presuppositions or preconceptions versus the use of a scientifically neutral and generally valid language

  • Emphasis on arts education having a value of its own versus arguing by way of utilitarian legitimation patterns

  • The corporeality or subjectivity of artistic, aesthetic. or cultural processes of learning and experiencing, their non-linguistic nature as well as their emergent process nature versus the demand to provide objective evidence for the effects of arts education by way of outside observations which may be converted into language.

If now, as a conclusion, one attempts to consider these dichotomies as dispositives, that is, as parameters or previously decided manifestations or prestructured figurations by way of which discourses (and practices) only unfold, then, again at an abstract level, it might actually be possible to identify an essence of arts education research: after all, arts education research appears as a specific kind of practical science—if the concept of practice is considered etymologically—which is the science of and for arts education at the same time. It seems as if this double direction is what may be claimed as the discursive core of arts education research. However, this is not yet sufficient for stating in which ways this science can actually be practiced, what research actually looks like, which methods are applied, and which questions are asked. But it is possible to show that arts education research also analyzes a specifically human practice; it seeks not only to identify, describe, and analyze but also to promote further development.

Further Reading

Bresler, L. (Ed.). (2007). International handbook of research in arts education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science & Business Media.Find this resource:

Fleming, M., Bresler, L., & O’Toole, J. (Eds.). (2015). The Routledge international handbook of the arts and education. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.Find this resource:

Schonmann, S. (Ed.). (2015). International yearbook for research in arts education 3/2015: The wisdom of the many—key issues in arts education. Münster, Germany: Waxmann Verlag.Find this resource:


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Bresler, L. (Ed.). (2007). International handbook of research in arts education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science & Business Media.Find this resource:

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Fleming, M., Bresler, L., & O’Toole, J. (Eds.). (2015). The Routledge international handbook of the arts and education. London and New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

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