4 Reasons Why DBAE Isn’t Dead

Many of us remember when DBAE ruled the art ed world, with good reason. It was a movement that gave art education more professionalism and turned the heads of other disciplines. Although DBAE has faded into the background a bit with new initiates that are more authentic, creative, and student-driven, I don’t think the lessons that DBAE taught us should be forgotten. I find many of the principles important and relevant, both yesterday and today!

4 Reasons Why DBAE Isn’t Dead


Art History is Being Left Behind

With the immense pressure to fit everything in, it can be easy to push art history studies to the side. However, if you don’t teach them, how will your students gain that information? You don’t have to have students copy master works to weave art history into your lessons. Instead of having students copy Monet, teach them to paint like an impressionist. There’s a difference!

Critique is More Important than EVER

The New Visual Art Standards place a VERY strong emphasis on a student’s ability to talk about their artwork and the artwork of others. Criticism is one of the foundational pieces of DBAE. This is an area we often brush off “because we don’t have time.” Consider weaving it back in and looking to DBAE for some solid ideas on how critique might be implemented in the classroom.

Systematic Processes Help Structure our Teaching

kandinsky inspired
While some might think the “formula” of DBAE (Art Production, Art Criticism, Art History and Aesthetics) is stifling, consider a brand new teacher. Working within the loose parameters of a formula can help strengthen one’s practice and provide a foundation before branching out into more unstructured territories.

Art Appreciation is a Life Long Skill

Some might argue we teach art to make artists, but others argue we teach art to give ALL students an appreciation for art. When one of your students walks into a museum at the age of 40, I hope they are able to talk intelligently to their own children about art, all because of their own experiences in art class.

The reality is that very few of our students will end up as studio artists. That’s why it’s important that we teach all students to appreciate art. It’s satisfying to think of a student walking into a museum at age 40 and being able to intelligently discuss the aesthetics of the work all because of  what they learned in our classrooms.

While embracing new initiatives will continue to push this profession forward, it’s just as important to keep what worked from the past, and create a hybrid curriculum that works for you and your students.

What are your thoughts about DBAE?

What do you like about it? What would you get rid of?


Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Jennifer Fulbright

    I’m still relatively new to art, what is DBAE? My state adopted new art books but my district is so low on $ that they can’t afford to buy this new curriculum. Plus, I don’t have a sink or storage space. Student restrooms nearby have one sink each. At least I don’t have administrators breathing down my neck. Sorry to vent but I’m frustrated and no one hear understands.

    • Mrs. Madenford

      Jennifer, to help with lacking water sources, buy Rubbermaid water basins (like the ones you can use to wash dishes). Fill them with water and have them located around the room or at each table for students to access to wash hands/brushes/etc. Place paper towels next to them or nearby. Assign responsible students the task of refilling them when needed if you don’t have time. As far as a curriculum, there are a number of online resources out there! Check out Artsonia, Pinterest, AOE, art supply catalogs often have lesson plans readily available…so many out there!

  • Vonnie

    Hi Jennifer,
    DBAE is an acronym for Discipline-Based Art Education. It puts an emphasis on the 4 categories now we now follow (so far) in MD – at least in my county. These are Aesthetics, Production, History/Cultural and Criticism.

    When I first started teaching, there was no protocol at all (I AM old!). At that time, the importance was placed on art studio methods.

    I agree with Jessica, that students need a well-rounded education…it’s just that with meeting with students once a week for short periods (sometimes these classes are back to back), I feel more like a sheep herder than a teacher!

    I do understand not having a sink and storage space. I went as far as threatening with going to the County Health Department because I didn’t feel that hauling water to my trailer was safe, healthy and just not feasible with all the classes I had.

    You might check within the school, email other schools, central office or your technical departments to see what’s available for storage esp if a school is remodeling in your area (that’s how I got my nearly new kiln)! I’ve also gotten book cases and roll-around carts (for clay and hanging bulletin boards) – rolling carts can be pushed out of the room for teaching space.

    Money for materials is ALWAYS an issue but I’ve had HUGE SUCCESS with the fundraiser Square One. I kept sending paper notices home, emailing deadlines home and my principal does a weekly ‘robocall’ – she added deadlines on it as well. Square One also offers free stickers, whether the parents order or not.

    So I hope t his helps some. In my 32 years, I’ve become quite the scrounger
    and folks even come to me to help them find things…having friends in high places (like the custodians and secretaries) really helps too, LOL! Donuts go a long way to establish everlasting friendships! Even now, if someone does me a good deed, I’ll metro them a bag of Hersheys ‘Hugs’ to show my appreciation! Good luck! :)

  • Michael Sacco

    I am still a fan of DBAE myself along with all the other movements that have come along in Art Ed. I think for me the key is to take from all these movements to create a balanced approach in the classroom