Girls are more likely than boys to study art at GCSE level
Boys are choosing not to study art because the traditional curriculum of drawing and painting is not appealing to them, school inspectors say.
Boys would welcome "getting messy" in art lessons, Ofsted said, and a broader focus, to include digital and 3-D technology, sculpture and ceramics.
A majority - 60% - of art GCSE candidates in England are girls, and they typically gain better marks.
The government said it was "vital" that art be taught in an engaging way.
Ofsted inspected art provision in 90 primary and 90 secondary schools in England, and found provision was good or outstanding in just over half.
In those schools art was flourishing, the report said, but in a similar proportion "the curriculum was unimaginative, the range of activities was limited, teaching failed to stimulate creativity and learning was too confined to the classroom".
Ofsted's report said: "An increasing emphasis on drawing, painting and writing about artists is thought to be putting boys off qualifications in art and design."
Miriam Rosen, Ofsted's director of education, said boys typically did better in art where the curriculum was broad.
"[It's] not just about drawing and painting, important as they are," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Ceramics, sculpture, jewellery, textiles and the use of digital technology could all stimulate boys' imaginations, she said.
She said the method of teaching was important, as well as the curriculum.
"Boys like lively teaching where they are encouraged to take risks," Ms Rosen said.
A studio atmosphere should be fostered, and the teacher should behave like an artist, she added.
These circumstances would enable both boys and girls to do well at art, but whereas girls also tend to succeed in a more structured and traditional classroom environment, boys fare less well, Ms Rosen said.
"Boys tend not to opt for art if they perceive it will just be drawing and painting, and perhaps writing as well."
She said the 60-40 split between boys and girls taking art was important to note, because despite the recession, there were still opportunities in the economy for craftsmen and for work in the creative industries.
And Ofsted noted that those achieving well in art were able to work independently and display a range of skills valued by employers.
Ofsted's report also noted with concern the "limited" opportunities for continuous professional development for primary art teachers.
Many had told Ofsted that initial teacher training had not equipped them to teach art well.
And visits to museums and art galleries were "rarely available to all art students".
Such visits had an immediate impact on pupils' aspirations and achievement, it said.
High standards were achieved in those schools which reached out to the community and took art out of the classroom, Ofsted said.
Ofsted recommends schools provide all art students with the opportunity to work in an art gallery or with an artist.
Schools should do more to exhibit pupils' work publicly, and the government should consider dedicating a national gallery space to the creative achievements of children and young people in England.
Children's minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "Art, craft and design is embedded in the national curriculum at all key stages. It is vital it is taught in an engaging way.
"Exciting initiatives like the Campaign for Drawing can help raise standards not only in art and design but also in other subjects too.
"There is a myth that art can be an optional extra but this simply shouldn't be the case. Learning to think creatively and express your ideas and imagination are, in fact, amongst the most important skills to learn and are indeed needed throughout adult life."