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Art + Education Definitions

The MA Programs in Art + Education envision a radical space where contemporary art and social justice education meet. We believe that artist educators are cultural workers, researchers, public intellectuals, and activists who help us see ourselves and the world in new ways. Connecting theory to practice, we explore progressive social justice approaches to teaching and artmaking, practice serving as persuasive advocates for the importance of the arts in schools and society, and work towards necessary social change in classrooms and community settings. The following keywords are central to our program philosophy. 

Skeleton in Museum.

Contemporary Art  

Contemporary art is the art of today, produced by artists who are living in our time. It provides opportunities to reflect on society and the issues that are important to us and the world. It is part of a cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as identity, family, community, and nationality. Visiting contemporary art exhibitions and talking about living artists is an important aspect of our program. See examples of art.  

Marker text on paper.

Critical Theory

Critical theory is an interdisciplinary field of study that explores ideas that shape cultural practices such as visual art, media, advertising and entertainment. It critically examines the nature of representation, artistic authority and voice. It provides a way of understanding institutions in terms of the ideas they produce and reproduce in our society, which is characterized by the unequal distribution of power. Learn about what inspires us.

Students in class


Pedagogy is the whole art of teaching—the how and why of teaching and learning with others. Our program explores how pedagogy impacts decisions about curriculum, how and in whose interest knowledge is produced and passed on, and what instructional methods best serve both the educator’s teaching philosophy and the needs of diverse populations. Learn more about student fieldwork and teaching experiences on our blog.

Students with project made of index cards.

Critical Pedagogy 

Critical pedagogy addresses the issues of power in teaching and learning. Important contributors to these perspectives include Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Henry Giroux. The “critical” in critical pedagogy refers to the ability to analyze, expose and challenge hidden social, cultural and political processes within knowledge production. It seeks to provide education that is democratic, emancipatory, and empowering. See how students are inspired.

Student with teach talking.


Praxis is practice, or action, with the thoughtfulness of reflection. Praxis emerged from the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who described it as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (1990, Pedagogy of the Oppressed). Praxis embodies our belief that theory and practice are not binary opposites but rather complements that work together to further one’s lifelong growth as an artist-educator. See how students use Praxis.

Students with public work in Washington Square Park

Social Activism

Social activism addresses social, political, cultural, and economic inequities by organizing  community-based movements in order to enact social change. While social services address the needs of individuals, social action examines the root causes of injustice and tries to find ways to organize communities and collaborate across expertise in an effort to address structural inequity and overcome those injustices. Learn about our Flash Collectives.

Study Art Education at NYU Steinhardt

Learn more about our community of artist-educators and our commitment to building spaces where contemporary art and social justice education meet.

Art + Education Programs