Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Education


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Tony Monk


Visual arts history and criticism occupy central positions in visual arts curriculum statements in Western Australia. This status is sustained by the belief that the study of visual arts history and criticism actively contributes to the education of the student as a "whole person". In reality however, rather than attending to the holistic education of students, the application of visual arts history and criticism in Western Australian schools tends to be pragmatic and instrumental - visual arts teachers often use visual art works as "learning aids" because they don't have time, interest or experience in dealing with visual arts works in any other way. While visual arts history and criticism offer the student a valuable life-skill worth acquiring for the contribution they could make to the student's autonomy and personal welfare, this understanding often seems a foreign concept for many classroom teachers. The difference between theorists' and teachers' understandings of the place and purpose of visual arts history and criticism provides an important area of inquiry requiring urgent attention. This research makes a foray into this domain with the purpose of shedding light on the content and methods used by middle school visual arts teachers and their students' perceptions of the content and methods. A qualitative descriptive study was selected for the research taking the form of semi-structured interviews with six teachers. An interview guide was used and transcripts deriving from this methodology were coded by way of reference to the original research questions and classifications which emanated from emergent themes. The teacher interviews were complemented by a questionnaire administered to one class of students from each of the six schools. Participating teachers were selected through a stratified sampling technique. Analysis of data was undertaken from a qualitative stance in the case of interview participants. Narrative-style reporting of interview content was employed to facilitate accurate representation of the teachers' perceptions of visual arts history and criticism at the middle school level. A quantitative analysis of students' questionnaires provided triangulation of methodology, ensuring greater levels of validity than would be afforded by qualitative methods alone. With pressure being applied by the impending implementation of the Curriculum Framework for Kindergarten to Year 12 Education in Western Australian Schools (1998) for the formal inclusion of Arts Responses (aesthetics, art criticism) and Arts in Society (art history), a pressing need exists for clear information about current professional practice. Findings indicated that a misalignment appears to exist between theoretical assumptions embedded in documentation supporting the implementation of the Framework and actual classroom teaching practice. The implications of such misalignment, albeit illustrated on a small scale, are that the initiatives of the Framework may not be sustainable in the longer term, precisely because they are built upon invalid assumptions about what teachers actually do. Whilst the size of the sample and scope of the research limits the generalisability of findings, this first foray may provide impetus for a more comprehensive and evaluative study at a later date.