Elliot Eisner

ELLIOT W. EISNER is Lee Jacks Professor of Education and Professor of Art at Stanford University. Widely known for his contributions to art education, curriculum studies, and qualitative research methods, Eisner first studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago while still in elementary school. He later taught high school art classes while earning two graduate degrees in design and art education at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, before earning his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago. He served as president of National Art Education Association and the International Society for Education through Art.

Also a past president of the American Educational Research Association and the John Dewey Society, Eisner has dedicated his career to advancing the role of the arts in American education and in using the arts as models for improving educational practice in other fields. He has lectured on education throughout the world and received five honorary degrees and numerous awards for his distinguished educational research and scholarship including the Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award, Harold McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, the Jose Vasconcelos Award from the World Cultural Council, the Brock International Prize in Education, and most recently the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his book The Arts and the Creation of the Mind (2002). Also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in the United Kingdom and the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters, Eisner has authored or edited sixteen books and numerous articles in scholarly publications, among them Educating Artistic Vision (1972), The Educational Imagination (1979), Cognition and Curriculum (1982), The Enlightened Eye (1991), The Kind of Schools We Need (1998), and Arts Based Research (2011 with Tom Barone).

For more information, visit Elliot Eisner’s Website. To learn more about Elliot Eisner from his family and friends, visit his Reflections. To view photographs from Elliot Eisner’s personal collection, visit his Photo Gallery.


Visit the video below to watch a short overview of the interview with Elliot Eisner. Otherwise, see all four of the full interviews with Elliot Eisner below.

Video Interviews with Elliot Eisner:

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Raised with his brother in a modest neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Elliot Eisner recalls a happy childhood in a loving, albeit lively home. Admittedly a poor student throughout his elementary and high school years, Eisner’s parents enrolled him in painting classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the recommendation of his 3rd grade teacher. Fascinated by its rare collection of paintings, Eisner explains that “[his] friends were hanging on the wall” of the Art Institute. In retrospect, Eisner credits his parents for their willingness to openly debate ideas at home and encourage his passion for art as having influenced his decision to pursue graduate degrees in design and art education. Watch this clip to learn more from Dr. Eisner about the relationship between his transformative experiences as a shoe salesman and his own development as an artist and scholar.

As part of his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, Dr. Elliot Eisner challenged many of the leading scholars in art education by developing a typology of creativity in the visual arts. Arguing that creativity was content and form specific rather than a common generic function across fields and processes, Eisner earned the recognition of the American Education Research Association for his outstanding dissertation. He even received his first job offer at Ohio State University following his open criticism of a prominent educational researcher in front of an audience of nearly 2,000 conference attendees. In this clip, hear more from Dr. Eisner about his request for a promotion and The New York Times article that nearly changed the course of his career.

Once told that he would be unable “to wear two hats,” Dr. Elliot Eisner has cultivated his passion for both art and education. Describing education as “the invention of yourself,” Eisner has devoted much of his career to developing the concepts of connoisseurship and critique. Eisner explains that there are “two wings to looking at the world,” describing connoisseurship as one’s ability to “see what there is to see” through an appreciation of both the subtleties and complexities in art, and critique as “the transformation [of art] into a form that enables others to see what [one has] seen.” Applying these concepts to education, Eisner suggests that educators can develop the technical skills necessary to “locate the possibilities for art to function” and provide students with opportunities to make art through stories, music, and painting. Watch this clip to learn more from Dr. Eisner about the similarities between checkerboards, cooking, and art.

Praised by his colleagues for his steadfast commitment to his students, Dr. Elliot Eisner cites his role as a mentor among his most significant professional achievements. Eisner also shares his advice for graduate students and early researchers, encouraging them to “think outside the box” by looking at classrooms with new eyes. Explaining that one must watch a baseball game with a keen eye in order to understand how it is played, he adds that descriptions of the actions are insufficient. Eisner also has a way with words—many of his friends claim that his vocabulary rivals that of the Oxford English Dictionary! Watch this clip to hear more about Dr. Eisner’s latest research and his critique of “material that has no spirit.”

Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2012, April 22). Inside the Academy video interviews with Dr. Elliot Eisner [Video files]. Retrieved from http://insidetheacademy.asu.edu/elliot-eisner

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  • Michael Shaughnessy

    Eisner is someone that we encounter again and again for making salient contributions to education, educating the who child, and to the importance of the arts and creativity. His books should be read, re-read, and resurrected so to speak, so that we can speak with clarity about this thoughts and theories and relevance today to education. So many theorists need to be re-examined in this day and age and their ideas re-explored as to their critical importance.