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2020 CAS - Visual Arts Standards Introduction

Colorado Academic Standards: All Students, All Standards

Purpose of Visual Arts

The 2020 Revisions to the Colorado Academic Standards in Visual Arts provide an organizational framework acknowledging the importance and the complexities of teaching and learning in the visual arts. This document is written with the following underlying beliefs:

The visual arts are an academic and scholarly discipline defined by theoretical frameworks connecting learning, critical thinking and making. Artists, like other scholars, utilize discipline specific vocabulary, practice unique skills, build upon cultural histories and use research practices to frame new ideas. The standards allow teachers to translate complex ideas into accessible terms and facilitate opportunities for learning in the classroom. To this end, the standards are written using the academic vocabulary of the discipline and build upon interdisciplinary integrations which strengthen students’ well-rounded academic profile.

The nature of the visual arts discipline is formative, iterative and has different purposes within various contexts. Art is a fluid and expansive process of learning that has a central role in our schools. It is a point of entry for questions and ideas discussed in other classes. It is a space where learning can be questioned, critiqued and personalized. The standards, grade level expectation and evidence outcomes are stated broadly so that they can be specifically applicable to many different schools, classrooms and learning environments.

The standards identify various components of art making that may occur simultaneously. A student may form an idea as they are working on developing a skill, and have that idea reinforced by a personal experience, exposure to another artwork or recognition of a cultural value. Multiple grade level expectations or evidence outcomes may be addressed within a single artmaking experience. Art studio and art appreciation are not separate instructional practices, rather, they occur simultaneously as students make art. In the same way, authentic assessments are naturally integrated within the processes of ideation, reflection, and making. 

The importance of students’ personal stories and individual expression in artmaking are influenced by one’s environment and communities and are reinforced in the visual art standards. References to “multiple cultures” in the standards prompt inquiry about one’s own influences and learning about various perspectives. Students reflect on the purposes of their own art, that of classmates, and connect their work to art history or contemporary sources. Participation in the visual arts provides agency for student artists to influence the community and transform the world around them. 


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Prepared Graduates in Visual Arts

  1. See oneself as a participant in visual art and design by experiencing, viewing or making.
  2. Visually and/or verbally articulate how visual art and design are a means for communication.
  3. Practice critical and analytical skills by using academic language to discuss works of art and visual culture.
  4. Critique connections between visual art and historic and contemporary philosophies.
  5. Interpret works of art and design in the contexts of varied traditions, histories and cultures.
  6. Create works of visual art and design that demonstrate increasing levels of mastery in skills and techniques.
  7. Allow imagination, curiosity and wonder to guide inquiry and research.
  8. Participate in the reciprocal relationships between visual art and communities.
  9. Persist in the creative process and innovate from failure.
  10. Develop new knowledge by actively doing and making (artistic praxis), acknowledging relationships between materials, objects, ideas and lived experience.

Standards in Visual Arts

The Colorado Visual Arts Standards provide teachers a framework to engage students in the complex learning that occurs in the art classroom. The standards define a cyclical and interconnected creative process. A student may be utilizing the skills defined by all four standards simultaneously in one learning experience. The four standards of the visual arts are:

1. Observe and Learn to Comprehend

Artists make art from what they see, know and are curious about. As students create new artworks they synthesize interdisciplinary learning, social and cultural norms, personal narratives and the influences of visual culture. This standard includes research activities such as examination of details in the environment, noticing overlooked aspects of one’s surroundings, telling stories before, during and after making art, and using academic and informal learning to form new ideas. It includes viewing and researching the work of artists to broaden perspectives.

2. Envision and Critique to Reflect

Artists think with intention and purpose about what they want to express and evaluate the effectiveness of what they are making during the creative process. The interplay of ideas, materials, and skills makes art challenging and rewarding. This standard recognizes that the intention of the maker and the interpretation of the viewer are both valid as part of the work of art. Learning experiences may include preparatory sketches, personal reflection while working, group critique, inquiry, writing personal philosophies and artist’s statements, and analysis or interpretation of historical and contemporary artwork and ideas.

3. Invent and Discover to Create

Artists learn by making art. They ideate and employ skills to generate works of art for functional, expressive, conceptual, and social/cultural purposes. Making can involve prototyping, building, crafting, inventing, assembling, programming, fashioning and other ways of bringing visual form to ideas.

4. Relate and Connect to Transfer

Artists make new connections to their own environments, cultures, and stories through the process of making art. They integrate learning from various disciplines and philosophies, and formulate questions to study. Learning experiences include exploring creative careers, applying artistic processes to everyday challenges, studying and responding to historical and contemporary art, and applying interdisciplinary content.

Explanation of Content Specific Vocabulary and Defining Practices in the Visual Arts Standards


Artistic agency is the acknowledged ability to make choices and create change. Agency implies a belief that what artists do affects the world around us and makes a difference. (Gude, 2009)

Gude, O. (2009). Art education for a democratic life. Lowenfeld Lecture, National Art Education Association.

Artistic Praxis

Praxis is defined as the exercise or practice of an art, science or skill (Merriam-Webster).

Artistic praxis encompasses various reciprocal relationships that occur when learning by making art. The making may precede the forming of a concept. It includes relationships between critical reflection and action, material and envisioned image, and lived experience and final product.

Praxis. (n.d.) in Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Zurmuehlen, M. (1990) Studio art, praxis, symbol, presence. National Art Education Association

Arts Based Research or Arts Practice as Research

Arts Based Research practices include Inquiry that is part of artmaking and research approaches that are artistic in nature. Pedagogical strategies guiding students into forming a question, finding other resources, making, analyzing the results and looking at next steps is aligned with established research forms. Arts based research is able to address complex issues to deepen understanding and engage empathy.

Barone, T, & Eisner, E. (2012) Arts based research. Los Angeles, Sage Publications. RD

Marshall, J. (2007) Image as insight: Visual Images in Practice-Based Research, Studies in Art Education, 49(1) pp 23-41

Assessment Practices

Assessment in the arts classroom involves a variety of practices to monitor and track student learning through describing, collecting, recording, scoring, and dialogue. Effective assessment techniques can improve classroom instruction, empower students, heighten student interest and motivation, and provide the teacher with continuous feedback on student progress.

Huffman, E. (1998) Authentic rubrics. Art Education 51(1), 64-68.

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework for art is a system of intentions, ideas, key factors, assumptions and beliefs that are consciously or unconsciously relied on. As in research, a conceptual framework includes “the main things to be studied—the key factors, concepts, or variables—and the presumed relationships among them” (p. 18).


Art objects gain meaning from the conditions surrounding their origins and change meaning as they are seen or used in different circumstances. Instruction in the visual arts includes cross disciplinary study of the many interrelated conditions that contribute to how an image is interpreted. “When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance.”(Dewey, p.3)

Dewey, J. (1934/1958). Art as experience. New York: NY. Minton, Balch & company.


Community can be defined as a group of people considered collectively including their commonalities and differences. These may include but are not limited to time, place, heritage, traditions, culture, and interests. The visual arts standards use the term “community” and “diverse communities” to allow for the expression of differing viewpoints within our democratic society. 

Increasing Levels of Mastery

A “master” artist is one who is continuing to learn and improve. “Mastery” can be seen as engagement in processes of continual learning. Art teachers can actively construct learning experiences that build off of students’ prior understanding and support growth.

Inquiry Questions as Used in This Document

The inquiry questions found on the right side of the 2018 Standards document are phrased for a teacher to reflect on their instructional practices and their students’ learning. The questions may be rephrased to use as direct questions to students, to assist them as they reflect on their own artmaking experiences

Language of Visual Art and Design

The term “language of visual art and design” refers to the components of art that artists use when they make and they talk about art. The term replaces “characteristics and expressive features of the visual arts” used in the 2009 Standards, continuing to recognize multiple interpretations for addressing ways to construct and deconstruct works of art across various times and cultures. It includes the elements and principles of design used in teaching the formal qualities of artmaking, but allows for additional or other interpretations as is appropriate to student, teacher, and/or community needs. The term acknowledges that visual elements such as line, shape, color and compositional choices such as perspective, balance, rhythm and more can be an element of “text” that conveys artistic intent and meaning.


The etymology of philosophy is from the Greek “love of wisdom.” Philosophy can be defined as the study of knowledge or thinking about thinking. The study of philosophy in the arts includes inquiry into the nature of knowledge, values and beauty. It encompasses the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.


Synthesis is the combination of parts or elements to form a whole. It includes the creative processes of finding visual problems and creating unique solutions by combining multiple ideas, and influences.

Synthesis. (n.d.) in Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Visual Culture

The study of Visual Culture connects popular and fine arts forms. It includes the fine arts, advertising, popular film and video, folk art, television and other performance, housing and apparel design, computer game and toy design, and other forms of visual production and communication.

Freedman, K. (2003).  Curriculum Aesthetics and the Social Life of Art, Columbia College, New York: NY.