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History

Early art training for children in the United States largely consisted of the informal education of "girls in the ornamental arts and boys in drawing and architecture," according to A History of Art Education, a Web site developed by art education graduate students at the University of North Texas.

Many early attempts at art education focused on instruction in drawing. The first drawing class was offered at Central High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1840. It was taught by Rembrandt Peale, a well-known artist who is best known today for his portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In 1870, the Massachusetts Drawing Act was passed in response to public concern that the United States was relying too much on imports and was producing no goods of its own that could be used or sold. The act required the introduction of industrial drawing instruction by Massachusetts public schools in towns whose population exceeded 10,000. Soon after, Maine, New York, and Vermont enacted similar laws. The implementation of these laws created an immediate need for qualified instructors and training programs. In 1873, the Massachusetts Normal Art School (known as the Massachusetts College of Art today) was established to prepare teachers of drawing.

In the following decades, art education in elementary and secondary schools continued to grow in popularity.

The National Art Education Association was formed in 1947 to represent the professional interests of art educators. It had 3,500 members at its formation. Today, it has 20,000 members. One of the association's most important accomplishments was the introduction of the National Visual Arts Standards in 1994. The standards for K-12 education provide "guidelines for visual art programs, instruction, and teacher training and state what students should know and do in the arts."