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Learning from the Artist’s Process

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Science and language arts educators increasingly advocate that instruction should reflect the way real scientists and writers work. For example, instead of dry lectures on scientific principles, teachers suggest engaging children in genuine scientific inquiry,  experimenting, and learning content as they solve real problems. Similarly, writing teachers ask students to generate many ideas, select and organize those ideas, then undergo a series of revisions, often keep process portfolios of their work. Admittedly, this is a more difficult way to teach but ultimately more meaningful for students.

In the visual arts, while there are many wonderfully creative ideas for children’s art making, in books and on the internet, these lessons rarely mirror the way real artists work. So why is it important that, when making art, children reflect the ways artists work? Primarily because children can come away from an arts experience misunderstanding artists and the creative process or, worse, feel like failures and ultimately shut out the arts from their lives.

I first noticed this phenomenon when working with emotionally disturbed elementary-aged children. Naively, I thought that art projects would make them happy and relieve stress. Wrong, so wrong. When art materials were scattered onto the floor, chairs flew across the room, and fights broke out, I questioned my premise and became curious.

Here is what I came up with…..A typical art lesson gives children one piece of paper, for example, and one chance to “get it right.” Most art lessons are designed

to be completed in one 45-60 minute class period. Certainly, this is a practical consideration as school art teachers often have an extremely large number of students to serve. However, it is so foreign to the way most artists work.Like writers, artists spend time making sketches or models around an idea that interests them. They try different materials to find the ones that best accomplish their idea before settling on one approach. While children can be resistant to multiple revisions in writing they often like such “do-overs” in art.

It’s about the process.  Like scientists who conduct many experiments around a single problem, artists often work in series, completing variations around a theme until the artists feels she has exhausted the idea for a while. Revisiting, revising and rethinking is part of an authentic creative experience, as is generating many ideas then choosing among competing priorities.

In the end, working like a real artist not only allows children to have an authentic experience, it also teaches them intellectual discipline, perseverance, and creative problem-solving.  These qualities transcend all subjects creating well-rounded individuals for our communities and better learners over all!

Make art like an artist!

Thanks to pmorgan, and ElvertBarnes for the great images!!

Art in 2009!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

At the end of our beloved 2008, we posted a series of 5 wishes for 2009 — we wanted arts funded, we wanted them in our schools, we wanted them for all (young and old, big and little) and we wanted to hold onto the arts of love and hope.

WOW – that’s a lot to accomplish in one year so we thought we would start with something fundamental – what is Art? Notice the capital letter. I ask this question of you based on my reflections over the last 48 hours — first, my 5 year old and I completed our questionnaire for his well child visit and he was asked to draw a person (I have never seen him do that – he usually does watercolors at school – highly impressionistic, kaleidoscopic whirls of color, with no body parts in sight!). Second, I read on the web that in my country of birth, a major art gallery had had one of its large concrete public walls graffiti-ed (is that a word?) on by the same artist twice in a month. When asked if they would be removing the artist’s poetry, the curator of the museum was disgusted — it was art, an expression of an artist’s love for someone else, how could he remove such an expression of human emotion? Finally, as a writer and as a mother, I was creating a blog, adding images, adding a trailer for a movie about something I was passionate about. Humming away, completely in flow (art as meditation), on my ‘piece of art’, I was completely floored when asked – so what purpose is that serving? Why are you doing that again? Hmmmm art. Art is something difficult to hold onto it seems.

And so I turned to my old friend, wise distributor of words, the dictionary. What is art? I asked it. Here is what it said, imagine a staccato machine-like voice —

” \ˈärt\. Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars. Date: 13th century.

1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts b: archaic : learning , scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

Righty-o then.

My dictionary friend then added, ” art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power; skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency (OK….); cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing (uh-oh….); artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature (definitely not to be confused with art) whereas craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

So which one was my son being asked to fulfill in that questionnaire?

Whatever it was, it was different to “a personal, unanalyzable creative power” as suggested by my dictionary friend. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? When we revisit our five wishes we now begin to see them as follows – we want this power funded, we want it sustained in our schools and education (after the word educare, to lead out), we want everyone to possess this power or have access to it and we believe that two of our strongest emotions — love and hope, are its wellsprings. Over the next few months, we will be working some more with this vision of art in this blog and speaking to some fine scholars of visual literacy and active agents in making this power of art available to all, especially encouraging it in our younger generations. We will also explore ways to recover this power in our everyday lives with those big/little/old/young people we love and we will see what kind of thinking, minds and characters emerge as a result.

We look forward to your company on this journey!

With thanks to Denis Collettejbrownell for, well you know, art…..

Let’s start 2009 with Art!

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