Teaching Real Art Making

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  • National Art Education Association

    Teaching Real Art MakingAuthor(s): Teresa RobertsSource: Art Education, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Mar., 2005), pp. 40-45Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27696064 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 00:42

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  • The

    importance of teaching students to make real art?art with

    meaning?can be introduced by the following story.

    An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed "Picasso" and traveled all the way to Cannes to discover whether

    it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. He cast a single look at the canvas and said: "It's a fake." A few months later the

    dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he traveled

    to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: "It's a

    fake." "But cher ma?tre," expostulated the dealer, "it so happens

    that I saw you working on this very picture several years ago."

    Picasso shrugged: "I often paint fakes." (Koestler, 1964, p.82).


    As a committed teacher of studio art, one of my goals is to encourage my students to create not fakes, but real art. Real art I define as any work of art that is the result of a sensitive individual's

    experience of and response to his or her life expressed through a particular

    medium. Real art can be, but does not have to be, entirely original: however, it must involve some kind of creative

    thought. And real art must be genuine. It must have meaning and be more than an exhibition of technical skill, an exercise in formal choices, or an exploration of

    media. Real art must have content related to the artist's own interests and

    experiences and/or arise from the artist's

    personal involvement with human issues and conceptual concerns. Perhaps, in the


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  • above story, Picasso was just making a

    joke. Or perhaps he was referring to the

    meaning of the artwork. If even Picasso can create fakes, how then can we

    encourage our students to create real art?

    How can we teach in ways that promote meaning making in art production?

    Teaching students to make real art? artwork with meaning?is a problem that I have been grappling with for quite some time. I first encountered this issue as a student of art. Schooled by primary and

    secondary art teachers who apparently felt that a child's artistic development was best served by benign neglect, I despaired of ever learning anything tangible about

    artmaMng. My teachers seemed content to be nurturing dispensers of materials and I was left to discover what I could about art on my own. Technique, design, and content for me remained almost

    entirely intuitive.

    In college I fared slightly better. My art and art education professors alike focused primarily upon technical and

    design concerns while politely ignoring content. Content, it seemed, played an

    insignificant role in art. However, the more I learned about art, the more I

    recognized that the history of art was

    replete with individuals, like myself, who

    experienced their lives intensely, thought deeply about all manner of things, and used their art, not just as a means of self

    expression, but as a way of communi

    cating their ideas and experiences to other human beings.

    In the 1980s, content reappeared in the art curriculum in the form of Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) (Fehr, 2004). As an art education student at the

    time, I embraced this approach with a certain degree of relief and, later, as an art

    teacher, I espoused and utilized it. Here at last was the recognition, as Manuel Barkan (1962) had suggested in the 1960s, that there was subject matter in the field of art that was important to teach. Here at last was the kind of structured approach toward art education curriculum and

    materials that Elliot Eisner had been

    promoting for years (Efland, 1990). And, here at last was an approach that invited me, as a teacher, to engage my students in

    thinking and talking about art history, criticism, and aesthetics as well as art


    Recently, however, prompted by a certain passivity in my students' involve ment with art lessons, I have turned my attention to an extension of DBAE, a method that is based on the belief that art students of all ages can best learn about art by working with the same type of content that professional artists work

    with?important ideas that are related to their own lives and the Uves of others, and

    by using artmaking processes similar to those of professional artists (Walker, 2001). This method differs from an "after the masters" approach and from many DBAE art lessons in that students are not

    encouraged merely to work with the

    subject matter, techniques, or styles of adult artist models. Instead, artmaking problems are designed around big ideas?

    important interdisciplinary human issues and ideas. Student artists are encouraged to make personal connections with these

    big ideas and explorations of these issues become the bases of their art. The

    artmaking processes of adult artists who work with similar big ideas are studied and sometimes used as models in this

    approach. However, the emphasis on

    individual exploration and reflection invites student artists to grapple with and

    make meaning of these issues in their own Uves. This common-sense synthesis of art

    education approaches suggests that it is

    possible to engage students both intellec

    tually and intuitively in art production. What follows is a brief examination of selected aspects of this approach, which

    may prove useful to art teachers who are

    also concerned with guiding their students toward making real art.

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  • ...art classes should

    not be a rehearsal for

    making real art. Nor should they be technical workshops

    where students learn about skills and tools that they may use later in meaningful ways. Students should be

    engaged in the same

    types of activities as real artists.

    The Importance of Big Ideas in Classroom Artmaking Year after year I watch some of the art

    lessons that I present to my public school

    secondary students succeed while some of them fail. The lessons my students and I regard as successful are those in which a

    majority of them gain artistic techniques and skills while making personally relevant statements. In retrospect, I have

    seen that the most successful classroom

    artmaking problems have been those that had a big idea?a broad, important human issue (Walker, 2001)?built into them.

    Big ideas are associated with the artist's

    subject matter or theme, but assume

    primary importance by providing the

    conceptual groundwork for artmaking. Big ideas are some of the enduring questions and principles, based on universal human experiences, which

    artists and other thinkers have pondered over time. Since big ideas are not answers

    or solutions but rather topics of inquiry, they can be addressed at many levels. An

    example is the human desire to impose

    order on nature. This big idea can lead

    secondary students into widely diverse and meaningful explorations of architec ture and the design of individual dwellings or a theme park. This same big idea can lead elementary students into an exami

    nation of gardens and the construction of a miniature garden or playground. Art

    teachers can use big ideas to organize and

    align lessons, instructional activities, artmaking problems and assessments.

    (NTIEVA Newsletter, 2000, pp. 1-2) The big ideas and the exemplars chosen

    for use in art lessons should be accessible to the students. While a third grader might be able to mimic Picasso and create a

    "Cubist" puppet, it is doubtful that a third

    grader is actually capable of working with the complex perceptual ideas that led to the development of Cubism. Such

    artmaking might provide results inter

    esting to adult observers, but unless the

    activity is meaningful to the child, the Picasso puppet is destined to a life on the closet floor, never to be included in a

    puppet show because its face "looks


    In addition to a big idea, successful classroom artmaking

    problems may also be enhanced by the inclusion of a strategy that

    sufficiently jars or stimulates a student's

    capacity for creative thought. One

    example is the construction of an

    artmaking problem with inconsistent or diverse elements that encourages a

    synthesis of ideas. Nicholas Roukes

    (1982) provides numerous strategies such as transformation, substitution, conceal

    ment, and disruption. These strategies can be tied to lessons unified by a big idea. Walker (2001) provides suggestions for

    practical ways to utilize such strategies in

    exploring and examining a big idea.

    The use of a big idea to focus artmaking on content is paramount. With this focus on relevant content, my students estab

    lished personal connections and created

    meaningful artwork they considered to be successful.

    In thinking about the importance of big ideas in classroom artmaking, it is partic

    ularly illuminating for me to reflect upon Manuel Barkan's (1962) insistence "that artistic activity anywhere is the same,


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    An art teacher may suggest outrageous alternatives with

    regard to the student artwork in progress in an attempt to inspire the students to probe more deeply into what they are trying to say.

    When an art student experiences these

    surprising changes in direction or

    meaning, the encouragement that an informed art teacher can provide is invaluable. Armed with a conceptual knowledge of the art process, a teacher can confidently explain to students that continual exploration, reformulation, and

    problem solving are inherent parts of the

    artmaking process. A teacher can

    encourage a student to follow a direction or idea as it presents itself, even though this may seem contrary to procedures and

    methods of thinking that she encounters in other areas of school. Thus, conceptual awareness of the artmaking process can

    enhance the level of communication at an art teacher's disposal for both teaching and artmaking.

    In 2003,1 attended a summer workshop at The Ohio State University. In creating a

    postcard series on the big idea of place at the workshop, I experienced a reconcep tualizing of the artistic problem. I began the series with specific ideas about a

    place, the Washington National Cathedral.

    I wanted to show the transcendent nature of the cathedral's grand architecture and rich detailed ornamentation. At the end of each day's class, I intuitively chose an

    image and an appropriate medium and worked more or less realistically, as suited my inclination. I addressed the cards to a friend, and wrote as if I was lost in the cathedral. I used this process as a

    metaphor for my experiences in the class. On the third day I realized that on a

    deeper level, the metaphor also addressed the search for meaning in life. As a result of this reconceptualization, I readdressed the cards to t...