Art Spaces: Interdisciplinary and Interplanetary Explorations Through Artful Learning

Did you know that there might be an art gallery on the Earth’s Moon?

In 1969, the same year humans walked on the Moon for the first time, a minuscule ceramic wafer measuring just one half by three-quarters inches in size, was inscribed with some of the smallest-scaled artworks by six renowned visual artists: Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg, Forrest Myers and Andy Warhol. The wafer was allegedly attached to a Lunar Module called Intrepid and left on the Moon during the Apollo 12 mission. Although the issue of whether the collaborative artwork actually made it to outer space is somewhat obscured, the process marked a very tangible dialogue between artists and aerospace engineers, which was in conjunction with prime examples of art’s innovative contributions to contemporary science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Moon Museum featuring art (clockwise) by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, Forrest Myers, Claes Oldenberg and John Chamberlain. Promotional image for History Detectives on PBS by Jade Dellinger.

The six artists’ called their work the Moon Museum. Myers, a conceptual sculptor, was the project leader. Most contributions have a scientific theme and reflect the cultural zeitgeist of the era they were created to represent. Warhol’s drawing resembles a unique part of male anatomy. Novros and Chamberlain made motifs that resemble electronic circuitry, while Myers’ drawing was actually rendered digitally by a computer. Rauschenberg offered up a simple line, which signifies the most essential mark in both art and geometry. Oldenburg drew a figure that looks a bit like the cultural icon, Mickey Mouse. Myers tried unsuccessfully to get the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to officially sponsor the artwork. His alternative solution was to connect with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a non-profit organization under the guidance of Bell Laboratories that was partnering artists with engineers to create new interdisciplinary projects (see: “E.A.T – STEAM & Experiential Explorations, Discoveries, and Insights”). Through Bell Laboratories, the Moon Museum found an advocate in an electrical engineer named Fred Waldhauer, who had a colleague working on Apollo 12. The story goes that Waldhauer’s colleague agreed to attach the Moon Museum onto Apollo 12’s Lunar Module that landed on the Moon and sent a telegram confirming a successful mission (see: PBS’ History Detectives episode titled “Who is John F.?,” for more about the Moon Museum mission).

Prior to the Space Age, art was celebrated by the government because it signified values that were mentioned in line with the founding of the United States. Artistic expression is a component of the overall concept of free speech and is important enough to be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and upheld in many court cases where artistic expression is argued against censorship attempts (see: Teninbaum and Hudson Jr., 2017). Towards the mid-twentieth century, art was perceived and espoused as representative of “liberalism, individualism, dynamic activity, and creative risk possible in a free society” (Levine, 2020). It just so happened that these values were the core tenets of how the United States asserted its difference from its adversaries. Anyone who has taken an art history class covering the twentieth century might recall a tidbit within the unit on Abstract Expressionism, describing efforts undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) allegedly in cahoots with New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as a psychological operation against Russia and other socialist countries (see: Dasal, 2020). This thesis was supported by citing several exhibitions developed by MoMA during the late 1940s and 1950s, most notably, The New American Painting, which toured eight different European countries, and received the support of individuals within United States politics and intelligence agencies. President Eisenhower practically revealed the idea that modern art was being used in service of spreading Cold War propaganda, when he proclaimed: “as long as our artists are free to create with sincerity and conviction, there will be healthy controversy and progress in art. How different it is in tyranny. When artists are made the slaves and tools of the state; when artists become the chief propagandists of a cause, progress is arrested and creation and genius are destroyed” (quoted in Levine, 2020).

Although the United States government had previously acknowledged art’s important role in society with programs such as the Works Project Administration’s Federal Art Project, which established more than 100 community art centers and commissioned jobs for artists throughout the country during the 1930s; the Space Age would mark a significant turning point for publicly supported art and art education. The Space Age was responsible for a widespread dilution of arts programs associated with K-12 educational curricula, as well as the free public art programming that was a result of the Federal Art Project. This was due to the political and cultural competitiveness around developing aerospace technology. Russia’s launch of their Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, kick started the Space Race, which was a Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to determine who would be the biggest innovator in space exploration and other modern engineering feats. As a result the United States’ education policy was drastically transformed to focus on the subjects that the government believed would train students to contribute to the Space Age workforce.

This philosophy, initiated by the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA), ensured STEM education’s takeover of the United States K-12 curriculum. STEM, which is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, gave precedence to teaching these subjects and measuring student’s proficiency in these areas; thereby beginning the trend and reliance on implementing standardized testing to measure competency. STEM also signaled that art education had to change in order to fit the mold of the NDEA’s focus. This meant that art educators needed to prove art was as rigorous and essential to the overall learning process as the applied sciences were considered to be. Art education, which had flourished during the 1940s and 1950s, due to the progressive contributions of arts educators like Viktor Lowenfeld, was being questioned in regards to STEM’s requirement for uniformed pragmatism and quantifiable data over self expression and qualitative experiences. To advocate for art to remain in school curricula among the STEM subjects, the discipline had to undergo changes that included “modeling art education after more rigorous school subjects, and deriving content from the work of artists, art critics and art historians” (Rodriguez et al, 2019).

A major landmark spurring the new arts educational zeitgeist was the 1965 Penn State Seminar, which was a gathering intended for art educators to discuss a potential framework for a new art educational curriculum. One of the proponents central to the conversation was Kathryn Bloom, who was integral in the formation of the Arts in Education Movement. Bloom believed that in order to make art accessible to all students, the arts would have to do more than just train future artists and stress rote learning of art related topics (Stanley, 1992). Under the guidance of Bloom and other educators like Elliot Eisner, art education became a well rounded subject, and a core part of the K-12 curriculum in many schools across the United States. A result of the Arts in Education Movement was Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE). DBAE is a theoretical approach advocated by Eisner et al, that combines the student-centered, experiential and holistic aspects of art championed by prior educators like Lowenfeld and John Dewey, with a hands-on approach that reflected key ideas, methods and critical analysis that are connected to the professional art field. DBAE entails four defining principles:

  • Art production: making art in the studio/classroom using a variety of materials and techniques.
  • Art criticism: analyzing, discussing and making judgments about art.
  • Art history: building a foundational understanding about the contributions artists have made to society throughout the course of humanity.
  • Aesthetics: understanding and being able to articulate why an artwork looks a certain way and how to justify arguments about the formal qualities of an artwork.

Through these four principles, students learn that art can be both a rewarding career, a profoundly distinct way to express themselves and a means for contextualizing the world at large. Another advancement revealed by progressions in art education, is that art is integral to STEM, not as a dutiful sidekick, but a way of weaving applied sciences together through a combination of aesthetic processes and critical visual analysis. In 2008 the Rhode Island School of Design designed a pedagogical framework that added art to the STEM family. The result of their initiative is STEAM kearning(science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). The school’s initiative was supported by the United States Congress, which launched a bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus that was influential in integrating art into STEM (Allina, 2018).

Today, arts education might be the most comprehensive area of the overall K-12 curriculum. It has proven to be a practice where self expression, imagination and innovation can be applied to support the concept of “art for art’s sake,” and be employed as a utilitarian creative process that supports in depth learning within subjects throughout the curriculum.

And while NASA might have balked at the Moon Museum, they do embrace STEAM education, and an art program that commissions artists to make work that reflects the history of space exploration through a creative lens.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Allina, B. “The Development of STEAM Educational Policy to Promote Student Creativity and Social Empowerment,” Arts Education Policy Review, 119(2), 2018. pps. 77–87.

Dasal, Jennifer. “How MoMA and the CIA Conspired to Use Unwitting Artists to Promote American Propaganda During the Cold War, artnet, 24 September 2020.

Levine, Lucie. “Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?” JSTOR, JDaily, 1 April 2020.

Stanley S., Madeja. “Kathryn Bloom and the Genesis of the Arts in Education Movement,” Art Education, 45:4, 1992. pps. 45-51,DOI: 10.1080/00043125.1992.11652935

Rodriguez, F., Esola, L., Deng, Y., & Stankiewicz, M.A. (2019). Interpreting a seminar for research and curriculum development in art education: Context and significance. Transdisciplinary Inquiry, Practice, and Possibilities in Art Education. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Open Publishing. DOI: 10.26209/arted50-01

Teninbaum, Gabe and David L. Hudson Jr. “Art Censorship,” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, September 2017.

“Who is John F.?,” History Detectives, PBS, Season 8, Episode 1, June 7, 2010.

Woywod Veettil, Christine. “You Might Owe DBAE More Than You Think,” The Art of Education, 3 March 2021.

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