Thinking beyond utility and practicality : art education discussion viewed through the lens of a three-function model

Access full-text files




Lee, Elizabeth Rachel

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study was about language. Its purpose was to explore how a specific set of material culture ideas is represented in art education discussion through what is termed in this study “the three-function model.” The model states that all human-made objects, including images, perform multiple roles and/or serve multiple purposes, simultaneously, and without limit. These roles and functions of objects fall into three categories: technological (utilitarian); sociological (communicative); ideological (instructive). Discovering this model inspired two questions: (a) how might the three-function approach to the discussion of objects augment art education’s understanding and practice of Material Culture theory? (b) to what benefit might such an approach be integrated into art education practice? To answer these questions, I designed a two-stage analysis. First, the examination of literature written toward three audience groups (educator-oriented, practitioner-oriented, general audience) in order to identify three types of information (definitions, statements about objects, and statements about function) for the purpose of forming an overall understanding of how cohesive or disparate discussion appears to be within each audience group. Second, cross-analyzing the three information groups for the purpose of understanding the similarities of and differences between the discussions of the three audience groups. The results of this study suggest that the problem of multiple and contrary definitions for shared terminology may be restricted to only two important words: craft and art. Conceptual approaches employed by the writers included anthropological, philosophical, concrete, theoretical, advocate, and analytical. Although all 15 writers acknowledge the social nature of objects, and all employ the term function similarly, there are indeed gaps in art education discussion: social and ideological functions of craft and art objects that go unnoticed, and missed opportunities to explore those connections and their cultural relevance. The three-function model can provide names for the ideas we are talking around, but not quite about.




LCSH Subject Headings