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Arts Curriculum Framework:
The Practice Of Creating


Core concept

Experience in the creative process is essential for all learners. In the arts, this process involves solving problems with skill and imagination, discovering new questions, and producing new ideas, objects, or interpretations of existing works. Learning in, about, and through the arts develops each learner's capacity to make meaning from experience, respond to creativity, and contribute to society.

Guiding Principles of Arts Education

I. The arts are essential to the education of all students.

II. Students exercise and display multiple intelligences through the arts.

III. Understanding of human growth and development shapes effective arts curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

IV. Comprehensive and sequential arts programs that begin in preschool and continue throughout high school provide the foundation for lifelong learning in the arts.

V. Comprehensive and sequential arts programs encourage learners to make multicultural and interdisciplinary connections.

VI. Authentic assessment in the arts is designed to demonstrate what students know and can do; it provides a model for assessing all complex learning.

VII. Creating and sustaining high quality arts programs requires partnerships among all faculty and between the school and community.

Habits of Mind

  • Imaginative Thinking
  • Reflective Thinking
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Heightened Perceptual Awareness
  • Organization, Curiosity, and Persistence
  • Personal and Social Responsibility
  • Respect for Creativity in Others

Arts Content

Strands and Learning Standards

Creating and Performing

  1. Students will use the arts to express ideas, emotions, and beliefs.
  2. Students will acquire and apply essential skills and literacy unique to each art form.

Thinking and Responding

  1. Students will use imaginative and reflective thinking during all phases of creating and performing.
  2. Students will use analytical and critical thinking to respond to works of art.

Connecting and Contributing

  1. Students will investigate the cultural and historical contexts of the arts.
  2. Students will integrate the arts and make connections among the arts and other disciplines.
  3. Students will use technology in order to create, perform, and conduct research in the arts.
  4. Students will participate in the community's cultural and artistic life.

Core Concept

The Creative Process In The Classroom

"See this mask?" asks Richard, pointing to a large, almost abstract papier mâché bird head, "That's the best piece of art I've ever made." Sixteen-year old Richard stands at a studio table in his urban high school art class. It is late May, and Richard is reviewing his year's work with his teacher Ms. Leone and his classmates.
"What's special about that mask for you?" asks Ms. Leone.
"Well, this mask is me, it's a self-portrait."
"I don't get it," puzzles Tracy, another student, "how can it be a self-portrait if it doesn't look a thing like you?"
"Are all portraits realistic?" asks Ms. Leone. "Richard, Tracy has a good point, though. Can you say a little more about how you developed this mask?
"Well, when you assigned us the self-portrait project in the fall, I was scared, because I just didn't think I could draw that well. So I started out by looking in the mirror and drawing my face." Richard pulls out a series of detailed pencil sketches and charcoal self-portraits. "The first ones are awful. I couldn't get the proportions right. Some of the later drawings are better, and people can recognize me in them, but I just wasn't satisfied. I wanted to make a portrait that helped people see my real personality.
"Remember when we went to the museum in January and saw the African masks? Those artists exaggerated shapes so the faces seem to have the spirit of people, animals, and plants together. So I started all over again with a new series of drawings." He takes more sketches from his portfolio and turns to Ms. Leone. "My first idea was to make a portrait like an eagle because those are such powerful birds. Then you showed me raven masks from the Northwest Coast, and my English teacher talked about how the ancient Greeks wore masks in their plays. My grandfather is Creole, from New Orleans and when I was a little kid he took me to Mardi Gras to see the masks and costumes and hear the music. Masks just seem to have a lot of meaning."
"I like the way you stayed with this problem and turned it into your own," observes Ms. Leone. "Your mask is strong because it's so simplified. When I look at your preliminary sketches, I can see how you kept eliminating details to get at the heart of what you wanted people to see."
"So what's your next step?" asks Tracy. "More masks?
"I've been thinking about that. Not more masks, necessarily, but maybe more portraits. I've been thinking about how I might show my grandfather-- he's almost seventy!--I want to show what his personality means to us as a family. Maybe trying to draw him will take my art in a whole new direction."

The Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework envisions schools in which all students can discover that learning in, about, and through the arts is a demanding and creative process that can lead to a profound sense of understanding, joy, and accomplishment. In such schools, teachers acknowledge that in all cultures throughout history human beings have expressed insights about themselves and the world around them through dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. These teachers understand that sequential experiences in "the practice of creating" enable learners to understand the arts and to express themselves in ways that do not depend solely on the written or spoken word. Consequently, these teachers educate students to appreciate ideas and emotions conveyed in sound, image, movement, and words, and to speak the languages of the arts with eloquence.

Schools that embrace the arts are lively places in which student artwork is prominent, and both formal and informal student presentations are a way of life. Such schools realize the broad conception of arts education of the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning, which states that students will:

  • know and understand the nature of the creative process, the characteristics of visual art, music, dance, and theatre, and their importance in shaping and reflecting historical and cultural heritage;
  • use the arts to explore and express ideas, feelings, and beliefs;
  • analyze and make informed judgments regarding the arts;
  • develop skills and participate in the arts for personal growth and enjoyment.

Evolving Traditions in Massachusetts Arts Education:
1837 to the Present

Public school arts education in the United States began in Massachusetts. In 1837, the Boston School Committee authorized teaching of vocal music in the public schools of the city.1 The growing textile, printing, and furniture industries of the 19th century created the need for skilled designers; consequently, in 1869 the Massachusetts Legislature voted to direct the Board of Education to establish a drawing curriculum.2 By the early twentieth century, conceptions of the child as a developing being began to shape arts education.3 One view of arts education emphasized the nurturing of creative self-expression, while another promoted the importance of helping students "appreciate" the arts. Particularly in elementary schools, the arts were used to "enrich" the study of other academic subjects.4

Since the 1970s, many arts educators have advocated comprehensive and sequential programs structured around the content of each art form, and have sought to include dance and theatre under the umbrella of arts education.5 At the same time, researchers of cognitive development directed attention to significance of artistic experiences in learning, teaching, and assessment and the role of the arts in creating effective schools.6 The national movement for school reform of the 1980s and 1990s stimulated professional organizations and education agencies to define standards in the arts. The Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework and the National Standards for Arts Education are two of these initiatives.7

At the end of the twentieth century, the arts are at the heart of the curriculum in some Massachusetts schools but remain virtually absent in others. The inclusion of the arts in the Common Core of Learning is a significant signal to educators and policy makers that, because the arts emphasize and exemplify the creative process, they must have an important place in all the Commonwealth's schools.

The Practice of Creating articulates rigorous standards and high expectations for students' learning in, about, and through the arts. These standards can only be achieved if schools provide equitable, strong, comprehensive, and sequential arts programs to all students. These programs should be structured so that:

  • each and every PreKindergarten to grade four student develops a foundation of skills in and understandings of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts through work with arts educators and other elementary teachers, and applies knowledge of the arts daily in the classroom;
  • each and every grade five to eight student continues to study a balance of performing and visual arts with arts educators, making connections among the arts and other disciplines;
  • each and every grade nine to twelve student develops competency in and understandings of at least one arts discipline by studying with arts educators throughout high school, and
  • each and every student in an adult basic education program has the opportunity to express life experiences, as well as display learning, through the arts.

The table on the following page defines the four disciplines included in the Arts Framework.

The Practice of Creating, The Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework encompasses education in four arts disciplines: Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts.


In every culture, dance uses movement to express and communicate myths, rituals, stories, beliefs, and information to others. Education in dance trains the student to use the body to convey meaning through the language of form, shape, rhythm, energy, space, and movement. Dance communicates in ways that are physical, visceral, affective, symbolic, and intellectual. Dance includes forms that are social and theatrical, sacred and secular, popular and esoteric, historical and contemporary.


Music is a unifying force in civilizations throughout the world. Music gives order to sounds and silence, and communicates through melody, harmony, rhythm, and movement. Music education trains the student to use the human voice and a variety of instruments in individual and ensemble performances. Music includes forms such as folk, popular, band, and orchestral music, gospel music and oratorio, jazz, opera, and musical theatre.


Theatre is an art form concerned with the representation of people in time and space, their actions and the consequences of their actions. Theatre education expands the ability to understand others and communicate through language and action, and provides a unique opportunity for integrating the arts, linking dance, music, and visual arts elements in performance and production. Theatre includes acting, improvisation, storytelling, mime, playmaking and playwriting, directing, management, design and technical theatre, and related arts such as puppetry, film, and video.

Visual Arts

Visual arts and design education develops learners who can perceive and shape the visual, spatial, and aesthetic characteristics of the world around them. Visual arts and design include the traditional "fine arts" of drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, and sculpture; the design fields of handicrafts, industrial, textile, graphic, architectural, and landscape design; and urban, regional, and rural planning. Visual arts and design is a continuously evolving field that also explores the expressive potential of technologies such as film, holography, video, and electronic art.

Last Updated: January 1, 1996
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