NAEA Monthly Mentor: Post 1

Reflections on School Art Style: A Functional Analysis from Arthur Efland

One of the required readings in a class I teach is Arthur Eland’s (1976) School Art Style: A Functional Analysis. Every time I read this article I am challenged in a different way. I’ve decided to shape my writings this month based on the ways this article continues to challenge me as an art educator in order to promote some discussion and hopefully offer some provocations based in this important work.

In the article, Efland attempts to analyze the existence of the genre of “school art,” observing that the “game-like, conventional, ritualistic, and rule-governed style…doesn’t exist anywhere else except in schools” (p. 38). His analysis leads him to argue that school art is the result of the ways schools are designed to function. He famously concludes his analysis by proclaiming, “We have been trying to change school art when we should have been trying to change the school” (p. 43)!

When I read this article again in February, I was struck again by how the structure of schooling resists some of the processes that are foundational to artmaking. I am convinced that without art teachers who can work creatively and subversively to design curriculum that honors the artistic process, the functions and rules of schooling will continue to ensure the art activities in which students engage in school do not reflect contemporary art making practices of artists outside school.

I am not the first to suggest this. My students also read works by Tom Anderson & Melody Milbrant (1996), Smith (1989) and Olivia Gude(2013) that build on and challenge Efland’s work.

In my next post, I will specifically deal with play as an artistic process. I will identify artists that have used play in their work and the ways in which school structures and accountability measures often resist play. I look forward to your comments and input!


Anderson, T. & Milbrandt, M. (1998). Why and how to dump the school art style. Visual Arts Research, 24(1), 13-20.
Efland, A. (1976). School art style: A functional analysis. Studies in Art Education, 17(2), pp. 37-44.
Gude, O. (2013). New school art styles: The project of art education. Art Education, 66(1), 6
Smith, P. (1989). Reflections on “The school arts style.” Visual Arts Research, 15(1), 95-100.