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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.4 (2003) 12-19

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The Concept of Freedom in Art Education in Japan

The concept of freedom has played a very important role in art education in Japan. Needless to say, freedom has been regarded as an essential principle of education in the West. Writers from Jean Jacques Rousseau to John Dewey stressed the significance of freedom in education. Especially, in the field of art education, Frantz Cizek, Viktor Lowenfeld, and Herbert Read emphasized the importance of children's free expression in relation to creativity. This article examines the concept of freedom in art education in Japan, focusing on the ideas of two major non-governmental movements in art education; the Free-Expression Movement in the 1920s and the Creative Aesthetic Education Movement in the 1950s-1960s. Although both movements have already declined, their impacts are still felt in Japanese art education.

The Beginning of Art Education in Japan

In the early Meiji Era (1868-1912), art education was introduced to Japan when the modern school system was imported from the West. In 1872, the first government drawing textbook; Seiga Shinan [Guide to Western Pictures] was published based on a Japanese translation of British drawing manuals. 1 In this period, the purpose of art class was to teach the basic skill of mechanical drawing for industrial development; the method consisted of merely copying model pictures in the drawing textbook. In 1910, Akira Shirahama, who spent three years in Europe and the United States surveying art education, edited Shintei Gacho [New Textbook of Drawing]. As Okazaki points out, Shirahama, who was impressed by the art curriculum in the public schools of the United States, referred to the importance of children's creative imagination; however, the new textbook did not fully reflect the idea. 2 Thus, the practice of art class was limited to copying textbooks, and children's free expression was not considered important in art class. Until this period, the issue of freedom did not correlate to art education.

The Free Expression Movement in the Taisho Era

After the World War I, a democratic movement prevailed during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) in Japan. This movement, called Taisho Democracy, influenced various parts of Japanese life including politics. In the field of education, many democratic ideas of education were introduced from the West and books on progressive educational thought such as John Dewey's Democracy and Education were translated into Japanese. Child-centered education also became popular among progressive teachers. During this period, Jiyuga KyouikuUndo, the Free-Drawing Education movement, was started by Kanae Yamamoto. Okazaki describes this epoch-making movement as "the remarkable movement of art education in 1919 which began to change art education philosophy." 3 It was the first time the issue of freedom was raised in art education in Japan. [End Page 13]

Yamamoto's Concept of Freedom

Kanae Yamamoto, born in 1882, studied Western painting at the Tokyo Fine Arts School. After graduation, he started his career as a print artist and set off for Europe in 1912. He stayed in France to study art and experienced the much freer atmosphere in Europe compared to Japan. When he returned to Japan via Russia in 1916, he encountered an exhibition of children's paintings in Moscow. The free expression of the Russian children's paintings deeply impressed him.

After Yamamoto's return from Europe, he organized the first exhibition of children's free painting in Japan and established Japan Children's Free Drawing Association in 1919. The exhibition was given great attention by the public, who, influenced by the Taisho democratic movement, was becoming very interested in democratic education. Yamamoto's book; Free Drawing Education was published in 1921. In his usage, the term "freedom" is sometimes synonymous with creativity. 4 He explained the meaning of freedom in his education theory:

Our education of freedom is not to educate as teachers like. It is not a worship of freedom showing the model of freedom but to teach freedom itself....In my belief, the essence of human beings will never...


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