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Professor of Art Education Tom Anderson

The world abounds with both good and bad art, and any grade-schooler worth his or her Crayolas knows the difference. It's only when those innocent kiddies grow up that such distinctions blur into a meaningless void, and "good" and "bad" become suspicious adjectives applied to anything from the latest indie flick to digital porn.

How is it that our modern culture produces so much stuff in the name of art that is downright hideous, discordant, repulsive, seemingly bereft of any redeeming qualities at all, while at the same time producing other work that transcends, that stuns the senses, that touches our souls? And perhaps more to the point—is it important for us creatively challenged mortals to know the difference? If so, why? Tom Anderson has spent his entire academic career vexed by such questions, and by all accounts, to decidedly good effect. Now in his 24th year on the faculty of FSU's Department of Art Education, in March Anderson was named Art Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association convened in New York City.

Anderson is perhaps best known for promulgating a novel approach to art criticism now widely known as the "art for life" model. He and a collaborator, Melody Milbrandt, an associate professor of art education at Georgia State University, published their seminal ideas in a 2004 book, Art for Life: Authentic Instruction in Life (McGraw-Hill) and since have been at the vanguard of a movement to transform the way young scholars are taught to think about art and its meaning.

"Art for life," Anderson says, incorporates all of the traditional, classical elements of art criticism—e.g. esthetics, art history, creativity—but places special emphasis on teaching strategies that can make students more discerning about art and its role in daily life. "Having an opinion (on art) is different than having a considered esthetic judgment," he said. "If you can give (students) the tools to make well-thought-out judgments on their own—teach 'em to fish instead of throwing a fish at 'em—you've done your job as an art educator." —F.S.

A native of Great Falls, Montana, Tom Anderson trained under Edmund Burke Feldman, one the foremost art educators in the U.S., at the University of Georgia, earning a doctorate in 1983. An accomplished painter and photographer himself, he has traveled the world giving seminars and acting as a consultant on arts education curricula and is widely credited with helping raise the profile of Florida State's art education program to national prominence.


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