Aesthetic education is the term used to describe the work of teaching artists who are employed by Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education (LCI). Developed from the philosophical perspectives of Maxine Greene, aesthetic education at LCI has been practiced since the organization’s inception in 1975. To date, there are few thorough scholarly attempts to articulate both the philosophy and practice of aesthetic education at LCI. Within the larger field of arts education, there is also a dearth of material written about the actual classroom practice of teaching artists—professional artists who work in educational sites, and who are often employed by cultural organizations.
This qualitative case study documents the work of three LCI teaching artists (in music, visual arts, and theatre) through classroom observations and interviews. The teaching artists themselves are involved in the analysis of their teaching, and classroom examples are juxtaposed with Greene’s philosophy of aesthetic education so as to explore the relationship between teaching artist practice and Greene’s philosophical stance. The study also situates LCI historically and includes interviews with Greene and key senior Institute staff.
Greene’s ideas about an aesthetic experience, a transactional exchange between perceiver and work of art, are analyzed with respect to the influences of John Dewey, phenomenology, and existentialism, among other views. The study examines how teaching artist practice has been shaped by such philosophical perspectives, and how Lincoln Center Institute came to view nurturing students’ opportunities for aesthetic experiences as a central component of arts education.
Finally, the study discusses how educating towards an aesthetic experience actively involves students’ capacities for agency, choice-making, multiple interpretations, empathy, meaning-making, and imaginative expression, and furthers the project of a democratic and emancipatory educational approach. The study illuminates actual aesthetic education practice in classrooms, analyzes its transaction with Greene’s philosophical ideals, and explores aesthetic education as a vital approach in the wider field of urban education.