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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!!

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