In this study, I researched Arthur Wesley Dow’s radical art teaching methods that were explained in Composition (1899) and his teachings at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University’s Teachers College. I also hoped to gain an insight into why Dow proposed a new method of art education, which reacted against traditional academic teaching, and to assess his influence on the American art education system and its curriculum.
Through an investigation of the development of “composition” theory, I discovered that one reason why it is still influential today could be due to the principle of universality. He believed that all art, regardless of whether it is fine or applied art, consists of line, mass of notan(dark-and-light) and color, and these basic elements should have a harmonious relationship through composition principles, that is “synthesis”. Essentially, he believed that art must be appreciated and created by composition. Such an idea could be applied to all ages, nations, and materials or methods of art, making it as of universal concept.
Upon completion of this research, I hope to be able to explain that Dow provided the key to those artists who sought freedom of expression. He also contributed to the changing paradigm in public art education, since his ideas not only resulted in better art creators but appreciators. Consequently, Dow and his students made a significant contribution to the subsequent development of American modernism and art educational system in the 20th Century.