Issues in Educational Research, 6(1), 1996, 1-12.

Dreams and destinations: The quest for excellence through educational research in the arts

Anne Bloomfield
The Nottingham Trent University, UK

I am delighted to have been invited to give the opening keynote address at this Annual Research Forum of the Western Australian Institute for Educational Research. I have called my paper Dreams and Destinations - the quest for excellence through educational research in the arts because I wish to show by reference to philosophy, history and arts pedagogy how the destination of one person's dream becomes the starting point for another person's vision; that through practice and re-visitations an educational heritage is established that provides the bedrock for research, thereby generating further implementation of new dreams and aspirations. This cyclical process attempts to accommodate the changing needs of individuals and those of the society to which they belong; needs that respond to a challenging, even threatening world order. On this quest I will invite you to glimpse into the minds of great visionaries, to cross the threshold of time and, through open doors, to peer into the classrooms of dedicated teachers whose models of practice were realistic exemplars of excellence and research in action. I will conclude by presenting my own personal dream for future educational research in the arts based on a paradigmatic framework for the principal critical and conceptual issues confronting teachers today.

I strongly believe that aesthetic and creative development through the arts is the right of every pupil and that the nature and quality of this provision determines the quality of life in school. The arts - dance, drama, music, and the visual arts particularly - along with the major areas of the sciences, humanities and technology, that collectively represent the broad spectrum of human understanding and learning, should be an important constituent part of the curriculum through which the notion of formal education in schools is presented. Most countries possess their individual histories of educational legislation and reform that have shaped curriculum content, structure, interpretation and delivery, and within each system there lies different models, inherent beliefs and dedications to the provision of an arts education.

In Great Britain the Education Act of 1870 was the first in a series of Acts that brought about compulsory elementary education, leading to secondary education for all pupils in 1944 and the Education Reform Act of 1988 (amended 1993) which instigated the National Curriculum. The clearly identifiable core and foundation subjects has established a taxonomy of curriculum objectives that are based on the immediate and future investment needs of a technological and industrial society, namely, the needs of the state inextricably linked to the acknowledged entitlements of the child to receive, experience and attain prescribed targets within the framework of accepted knowledge areas, namely, the needs of the individual. The symbiotic principle of this philosophical and pragmatic ideal is deeply rooted in the western democratic tradition and echoes an earlier precedence expounded by Johann Gotlieb Fichte (1762-1814) who stimulated the desire for improved education of the next generation in Prussia by advocating a national system that would be successful in realising three fundamental ideals. These were, the development of the individual for the benefit of the community; the stimulation of the individual into independent activity, and the development of character and good will. Fichte's aspirations were turned into practical realities through the application of the teaching methods of Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) whose curriculum structure and pedagogical practises were influential and seminal to the development of child-centred education. This paedocentric and liberal tradition became a dominant feature of British educational practice which, as time passed, also absorbed the influences of Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) and John Dewey (1859-1952). The recognition of the psychological and sociological maxims of the twentieth century influenced attitudes and styles of teaching securing a pedagogical tradition that has been transmitted to and internalised by successive generations of teachers. An essential theoretical base has been the recognition of both cognitive and affective modes of learning, the latter incorporating the arts; more recently, the notion of multiple intelligences and the recognition of symbolic modes of communication through various types of artistic 'languages'.

The nature of the arts in schools and the emergence of a clear rationale for their inclusion took time to develop. The new legislation for the arts in the curriculum can be regarded as a starting point that is meeting an essential entitlement but it also provides an opportunity to establish research projects that will disseminate good practice and explore new ways of providing artistic experiences for children. It is only through the undertaking of educational research that the quality and practice of why and what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what we understand about what we are doing that the destination of excellence for all is ultimately reached. Of particular relevance is the cultivation and understanding of aesthetic education through the arts, especially as many of the most redeeming and worthwhile aspects of civilisations and world cultures are transmitted and conveyed through these means. It is an educational imperative that the reciprocal delights of observing or producing paintings, listening to or composing music, watching or performing dances or engaging in drama, that cultural awareness and respect occurs.

Research in the arts with children, student teachers, teachers and parents at Clifton Hall, a Grade I listed heritage site in Nottinghamshire, which is part of The Nottingham Trent University, is leading towards what I perceive to be a greater awareness of a coherent arts aesthetic, how it should be experienced and taught, through creating, re-creating, responding and evaluating distinctive and interrelated elements of the arts. My researches into the history of the Clifton family have provided insights into the cultural significance of the arts and the way in which children of the wealthy educated classes received education through private tutors.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), classical scholar, historian, mathematician, musician and philosopher became tutor to Sir Gervase Clifton's fifteen year old son, Gervase, and accompanied him on his educational tour of Europe in 1628. Hobbes's works are both rational and radical in the presentation of an ideal of civilisation in its modern form, stirred from its feudal and aristocratic roots to become a bourgeois-capitalist state as depicted in the great work Leviathan. Hobbes provided insight into the development of psychological theories and expounded upon the use of the senses, the role of the imagination, memory, experience and dreams. He described the manner in which the train of the imagination and thoughts occur and attributed motion to be the living force within the body, suggesting that feelings and knowledge provide the power, worth, dignity, honour and worthiness of humankind. His major significance for art educators lies in his role in developing and establishing aesthetic understanding in England through a new rational and interpretive response to the painted image, which hitherto, in Christian figurative art had been couched with metaphysical meaning.

Hobbes believed and taught that any artistic image was the product of the artist's own imagination and that the nature of art was such that the artist could not depict nature but only his perception of it. His notion of artistic representation and of the nature of art heralded the awakening of art criticism and aestheticism that was to be developed in the eighteenth century. It is pertinent in relation to later theories that recognise art as the portrayal of emotional experience, symbolical concepts and mental experiences as well as indicating the enigmatic quest of the twentieth century, which is still being undertaken, in determining the true nature of child art. While Hobbes created the vision of an idealised society, it was John Locke (1632-1704) who provided the rationale for an educational system that linked the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment. Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) and Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) were important publications that helped to establish experimental method, positivism and educational methodology. In this work, the art of dancing, for example, was advocated for health, Locke believing it to give 'graceful motions all the life, and above all things manliness, and a becoming confidence to young children, I think it cannot be learned too early, after they are once of an age and strength capable of it.' (1)

The ensuing century witnessed the emergence of neo-classicism and the foundation of the academies that glorified the arts and the new found freedom of the human spirit. Teaching children performing and visual arts within a domestic location was superseded by education in private schools. There was a growing understanding of the nature of artistic experience and Immanuel Kant's The Critique of Judgement, (1790), affirming the human source of the creative process, acknowledged a self-generating principle in the process and production of the artefact, although placing the arts hierarchically, with the cognitive arts such as poetry and music superior to what were considered the emotive arts. Erasmus Darwin's A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools (1797) realised some of the dreams and aspirations of John Locke and, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1712-78) with whom he corresponded. Were we to travel back in time and visit the girls' boarding school run by Darwin's daughters, the Misses Parker, in Ashworth, Derbyshire in 1797 we would have found that the girls followed a broad-based curriculum that embraced both arts and sciences, with attention given to moral and religious guidance. Their education united health and body - physical agility with cheerful spirit and mental stimulation, with dance and music taught by well-qualified masters. The arts were a valued part of the curriculum at Ashbourne, and in addition to drawing and painting we would have observed the girls engaging in a form of natural movement that emulated classical aestheticism as exemplified in the ancient statues of Venus de Medici and the Antinous. Rousseau, the voice of the Enlightenment, also heralded the dawn of Classicism, when the absorption of Greek antiquity into European culture heralded a golden age for the arts. Rousseau taught that through movement the child discovered the things external to 'self' and regarded the limbs, senses and organs as instruments of intelligence. He believed that through exercise it was possible to think and that the greatest possible advantage came when the body was robust and healthy.

These were also the sentiments of Robert Owen (1741-1859), whose model school at New Lanark, Scotland provided children of the new industrial age with an education that valued the arts, especially dance and music, and which also emphasised intellectual and moral training which utilised the senses in a recreative and joyful manner. Owen challenged the 'laissez-faire' attitudes of a capitalist society which, at the time, was characterised by parents and children working long hours in fields, factories or mines in order to combat poverty and eke out a meagre existence. He set about realising a utopian vision through the creation of new industrial society in which the pursuit of health, knowledge, wealth and happiness were held to be the important corollaries. His vision, extended to America where he founded a utopian community in Indiana, and where, in 1825 he organised the 'Philanthropist' known as the 'boatload of knowledge' to sail down the Ohio river. Aboard the vessel were the Pestalozzian teachers Madame Fretageot, William Phiquepal and Josef Neof, who were to run a school of physical labour, combining moral and intellectual culture in the settlement, known as New Harmony. Owen had visited Pestalozzi at Yverdon, Switzerland, in 1818 and had been impressed and influenced by his methods and the curriculum which included drawing, writing, model-making, field trips, map-making as well as singing and physical drill, emphasising quite literally the integration of the head, the heart, and the body. Organic unity or the coalescence of self-power was drawn out through intuitive expression or Anschauung and helped to develop the whole person.

Pestalozzian theory was also disseminated by the New Church, a Swedenborgian organisation which had been founded in London in 1788. Members, who included a number of early infant educators, believed in the God-given innocence of childhood, and worked towards the creation of heaven on earth. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a prolific writer of scientific and philosophical matter especially in terms of biblical exegesis. He related cosmological and scientific theories with Christianity and developed certain aspects of empirical and educational thought from John Locke. Swedenborg's dreams, descending upon him in trance-like states, were of a heavenly bliss but were given the substance of worldly reality through the particular endeavours of Samuel Wilderspin who opened the first infants' school in Spitalfields, London. Wilderspin's publication On the Importance of Educating the Infant Poor (1823) illustrates the practicality of his approach involving the arts as a means of learning. For example, using building blocks, learning geometry through movement, hand movements and mime, recitation, singing and dancing, especially in the open air around trees. The child's response to the light, colour, shape and movement of the natural environment anticipated the beliefs and practices of Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852).

Froebel's dream was mystical. He considered that a necessary and self-conditioned law of life was that the child proceeded from some invisible, unchangeable implicit unity which acted in harmony with a corresponding cosmic unity and that the link between the nature and life of the child with the nature and life of the cosmos was made through playthings. These were designed in geometrical forms and through handling, observing and imitating actions arising from them, symbolical and meaningful play resulted. The sphere and the cube together represented Knowledge, Beauty and Life, the sphere predominantly corresponding with the feelings or heart, (affective) and the cube to the thought and intellect (cognitive). The conceptual understanding of geometrical cubic forms occurred through a metaphorical dance in which the child became acquainted with surfaces, sides, edges and lines which Froebel called dance forms. In Pedagogics of the Kindergarten (1851), he illustrated his ideas in the form of what he termed 'Movement Plays' imaginative experiences in dance, drama and music arising from a basic stimulus leading to doing and creating.

Froebel's dreams drifted around for half a century before finding their way into the grad-grind realities of many a Victorian classroom in England and although the practical application of Froebel's ideas were first introduced into the private schools when 'kindergarten' units were opened, for the public sector of education the impetus came during the early years of the twentieth century, when through the auspices of the Froebel Society (founded 1874) changes in curriculum content and teaching approaches were made. This was aided by the Elementary Code of 1904 which allowed more liberal approaches to infiltrate prescribed practice. Teachers were able to offer fundamental work in science and the humanities and observation, reasoning and thoughtful expression were seen as modes of acquiring knowledge. Mrs. Roadknight, an inspector for the City of Nottingham Education Committee from its instigation in 1902 until her retirement in 1919 was a local visionary, a progressive, free-thinking person who was highly respected by the teachers in the Nottingham schools. The changes she made were essentially Froebellian, indeed she encouraged the formation of the Nottingham Branch of the Froebel Society in 1906. The foremost speakers in education were given a platform for their ideas and in this way Froebel's idealistic vision became an actuality in this industrial city where teachers themselves were working experimentally to discover effective means of learning.

Mrs. Roadknight's legacy, recorded through her annual reports between the years 1903 - 1915, reveals the growing importance of the arts activities as part of an holistic educational process. Children were taught to draw large objects in coloured chalks on straw boards, on the floor or on boards placed round the walls which were used for free and memory drawing. Designing and building were taught by means of Kindergarten gifts, small wooden bricks, tablets, sticks, thread, rings, shells, beans and seeds. Early experiments with painting took place, picture lessons cultivated language development with intelligent verbal descriptions while rational exercises, movement plays, and Kindergarten Games were taken in the playground when the weather permitted. Social outings were organised and conferences were held between the members, teachers and inspectors encouraging intelligent co-ordination of work and collaboration. The set purpose in the Infant Schools was to form and strengthen Thought, Power, Imagination, and Individuality more readily achieved as antiquated galleries were removed from the schools creating greater space for movement.

Teachers were taking full advantage of the freedom given to them by the Code, and were adopting to the new order of things with zeal and enthusiasm and by 1913/14 the Infant Schools of the City ranked amongst the first in the country owing, wrote Mrs. Roadknight, 'to the zeal, sympathy and intelligent co-operation of the teachers, and to the valuable lectures and demonstrations given under the auspices of the Nottingham Branch of the Froebel Society.' (2) She had continued to attend meetings, and visit teachers in their schools throughout the city, travelling each day by train and tram, encouraging teachers to make systematic observations of children's work, note and record them and succeeding in raising the profile of the arts and deepening the understanding of them - 'expression plays, dramatising of fairy tales, and simple eurhythmics form a part of all well-thought out schemes of work.' (3)

This became the starting point in the career of Miss Dorothy Simpson, (1893-1985) M.B.E. who developed and implemented an educational philosophy that blossomed in the creativity movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Dorothy Simpson commenced her teaching career in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1914 and improved the ethos of education through the implementation of an imaginative curriculum, that of itself stimulated the child's imagination through such means as nursery rhymes, fairy stories and poetry. Story became the stimulus and inspiration of the developing arts curriculum and methods of integration through the production of illustrated books, clay work and box modelling materialised, but always, at that stage, representing objects and characters of the stories. Dramatisations were developed and music added so the children were soon enjoying a unified form of educational experiences that were sensorily based.

Dorothy Simpson's membership of the Educational Fellowship, (1915), an international organisation, and information gleaned in The New Era magazine, introduced her to methods being developed in numerous experimental schools. She learnt that self-discipline and inner control were important qualities fundamental to educational innovation. In 1927, while headmistress of Saint James's Infant School, Doncaster, she attended lectures on the psychology of intuition given by Professor Marcault of Grenoble University. His theory of the conscious self answered many of the questions that had arisen in the previous ten years of her teaching career. As she reflected on her work and ideas she decided to focus on development of the whole child, helping it to gain control of its organism, helping it to gain mastery of the environment, developing to the utmost, creativity, whatever the level, but embracing what she termed 'a wisely guided freedom for self expression.' (4) A rich arts curriculum, well taught throughout the school, provided experiences in the visual arts, dance movement in its creative form, Dalcroze eurhythmics, music played as accompaniment for dance and the dramatisation of stories and poems. In recognition for the success of her school, in 1935, Dorothy Simpson became head teacher of The Park, a new school built on the outskirts of Doncaster. This school provided an environment for experiment and innovation and heralded a new era of creativity, especially in the arts, realising Dorothy Simpson's belief that '....every child has creative ability and there must be freedom to allow the child to use his creative powers, gifts and talents. This freedom must be developed through his interest in the life around him and through an inner control, not forced from outside.' (5)

The post-war period in Britain saw the development of the wider creativity movement which was consciously drawing the arts closer together and the Plowden Report of 1967 encouraged teachers to provide opportunity for affective modes of learning. At its height, Modernism and Progressivism in education produced some excellent schools, happy, self-disciplined children and, exciting art work, which, whether through dance, drama, music or visual art was valued. To visit such schools was an astonishing and memorable experience. Many were to be found in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where Sir Alec Clegg was Education Officer. They were designed and organised for children and an outstanding feature was the compatibility between the richest creative and imaginative work in the arts along with a very high standard of literacy and numeracy.

The Great Educational Debate, initiated twenty years ago, in Great Britain, was a crude awakening to the realities of a changing world. Overt allegiance to individual creativity and self-expression, the lack of discipline, the rejection of traditional values and historical knowledge received criticism, not only for weakening the operational framework and accepted values of the arts themselves, but because of the challenge to society and to authority, which undoubtedly has influenced the broader cultural base upon which attitudes towards the arts and their provision is founded. It prompted Peter Brinson to initiate the investigation of the arts in education in the form of the Gulbenkian Report, The Arts in School and by placing the Report in its philosophical and educational context, Peter Abbs emphasised its insistence that the arts represent 'human rationality, are a mode of intelligence, an act of enquiry or investigation, a form of thinking, a way of understanding'. (6)

As we approach the millennium in the knowledge of interpreting a subject-based legislated curriculum, the way forward is to build upon the expertise of the teaching profession by emulating the example of the best practitioners so that entitlement and quality can be met and to examine and research the principal critical and conceptual issues of arts teaching; to establish an epistemology that will provide the structural framework for the parameters of knowledge of the arts as a generic community with specific free-standing areas or disciplines; to explore the integrative nature of these disciplines through different permutations and to seek active collaboration and mutual support for other modes of learning across the curriculum. Research would need to include all age ranges and levels of achievement from the youngest child through to secondary age and including the very important aspects of provision at initial training levels and the professional development of teachers. The diagram (see Appendix) represents methods of investigating and expanding the knowledge base of educators in the area of the arts through research.


1. Locke, J. (1947). On Politics and Education 1693. New York: D.Van Nastrand, p.375.
2. City of Nottingham Education Committee Minutes. 1913/14.
3. City of Nottingham Education Committee Minutes. 1913/14.
4. Dorothy Simpson M.B.E. (1983). Personal interview by the author.
5. Dorothy Simpson, M.B.E. (1969). Foebel Journal, 15, October, p.5
6. Abbs, P. (1985). Art as a Way of Knowing Aspects of Education, 34, University of Hull.


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Abbs, P. (Ed). (1989). The symbolic order. London: Falmer.

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Bloomfield A, (Ed). (1990). The creative self in the new era. University of Hull.

Bloomfield, A. (Ed). (1985). Creative and aesthetic education. University of Hull.

Brinson, P. (Ed). (1982). The arts in schools. London: Gulbenkian Foundation.

Curtis, S.J. & Boultwood M.E. A. (f.p.1953). A short history of educational ideas. London: UTP.

D'Cruz, J.V. & Hannah, (Eds). (1979). Perceptions of excellence. Melbourne: Polding Press.

Gutek, G. L. (1968). Pestalozzi and education. New York: Random House.

Harrison, J.F.C. (1968). Robert Owen and the Owenites. New York: Columbia University.

Hook, S. (f.p. 1939). John Dewey - an intellectual portrait. Connecticut: Greenwood.

Pateman, T. (1991). Key concepts. London: Falmer.

Rousseau, J-J. (1979). Emile on education. New York: Basic Books.

Silver, H. (Ed). (1969). Robert Owen on education. C.U.P.

Swedenborg,E. (1911). The new Jerusalem and its heavenly doctrine. London: Swedenborg Soc.

Yardley, A. (1970). Senses and sensitivity. London: Evans Brothers.


Paradigmatic framework for research in arts education

Enquiring into knowledge areas:- Ways of knowing in the arts

Enquiring into how knowledge areas are understood:-

Enquiring into:- Issues and Values of arts education

Enquiring into pedagogy:- The principles of good practice

Enquiring into the experience of the arts:- Progression and development

Author: Dr Anne Bloomfield is a Reader in Arts Education at The Nottingham Trent University, UK. In 1996 she was a Visiting Scholar at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia.

Please cite as: Bloomfield, A. (1996). Dreams and destinations: The quest for excellence through educational research in the arts. Issues In Educational Research, 6(1), 1-12.

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