Art Education — some thoughts

Since Tigger has been doing so much reading along with our museum visits, I have been looking for ideas of what we can do with all this learning about Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. I’m not sure what exactly I’m looking for, but I’m having the same frustrations that I have about lesson plans about literature. Either the questions seem too basic and obvious, not going deeper into thinking about the book/artwork, or the lesson is primarily about making art and using the observed art as a model. The latter is really not what either of us is interested in. And this is probably where the fact that I’m learning along with her is making it difficult for me to work out what to do next.

Of course at that same time Tigger is also doing a lot of drawing. And when we were with her grandparents, she and her grandmother did quite a bit of art together. Her Nana has been working a lot on painting recently, taking classes, going sketching regularly with a group of friends, and generally trying to improve her skills and range. She has worked with Tigger in the past and Tigger has enjoyed learning new techniques with her but I’ve noticed that the art practice doesn’t continue at home much. Observing them together, I noticed that Nana’s art is very much about observation and making accurate representations of what she sees. Whereas Tigger is much more interested in drawing from imagination — fairies, princesses, etc.

Trying to get Tigger to sketch what we are seeing around us is like pulling teeth. She can see how it might relate to learning some of the drawing skills she wants to have, but she isn’t interested in the subject matter. This summer, we managed to get her to draw some of the flowers in the garden and she does them well, so it isn’t a matter of not liking the results. She just isn’t interested. Once, during the summer, I found a way to link these two areas. I suggested that she draw flower fairies based on the flowers in our garden. That worked very well.

But again, I have very little experience of drawing or learning to draw. I am picking up a few ideas and trying them out but I’m not sure how to go about nurturing this skill in Tigger. The model from her Nana (and this is a model her Dad has as well) is clearly one of doing observational sketches with the goal of making good representations of things. But a discussion I had with a client who is an artist helped me see that this is only one understanding of what drawing is. He said that while most people think that drawing is about representing things, it is actually just about making a mark on a page. And good drawing is about the confidence of that mark. If you have ever seen the film Sketches of Frank Gehry (which I highly recommend, BTW), you will see that some very successful artistic folks, draw what might be considered "scribbles" (as another architect in the film describes Gehry’s sketch, while also noting how well it represents the finished building).

So I was rather pleased to find this article, even though it doesn’t address at all my original purpose in embarking on this internet search. It is part of a large collection of art education materials by Marvin Bartel whose introduction is here. Below the table of contents on that page there is a brief statement of his philosophy. This little extract gives a sense of what I like about it:

An art class is not merely a place to make things, it is a place to
learn to think and feel in the process of learning to visualize and
materialize thought and feeling. Learning this way provides the
practice that can build minds that are creative, independent, critical,
empathetic, and effective. It is a way to leave no minds behind.

In fact, as I read through is lesson on how to draw, I can see resonances with the Brave Writer method of teaching writing. It is designed to nurture the creativity of the child and to help them learn the skills they need to develop their own voice/style. Doesn’t this paragraph about drawing sound a lot like Julie’s suggestions about only revising a few of your freewrites?

I explain that drawing ability comes from practice.  I call it
"practice" so it isn’t as intimidating as final products. This
essay explains some practice processes that lead to better drawing
skills. Sometimes children want to develop their practice into more
elaborate finished work. I encourage their desire to finish some works,
but I also affirm the need to do lots of practice that does not have to
be finished work.  I explain it by using music analogies.  We
practice piano a long time to learn some pieces.  We don’t worry
two much about mistakes while we are learning, but eventually it is
good to play a recital. Then I give them some proven ways to practice
and encourage them to make a many choices as possible as they learn to
draw.

As I write this, I am beginning to see that there may be ways to use great art in the way the Julie uses great literature — as a way of becoming familiar with beautiful expression. I’m going to have to think about this more. And read more of what is on this site so I have a better sense of how to fit it into our regular activities.

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3 thoughts on “Art Education — some thoughts

  1. These are interesting thoughts, and something we are exploring as well. It is only in the last weeks that NatureGirl is truly ready for technique classes in art, even though she draws and sketches fantasy quite often and well. She now wants to get a better handle on perspective, balance, and other more technical aspects. Thanks for this article…lots of food for thought.

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  2. One thing I’ve learned from my kids’ art teacher is that she’s not so much teaching them to draw as she is teaching them to see, and teaching them to transfer what they see onto paper (or whatever other medium they’ve chosen).

    I think that’s where writing and drawing are very much alike. For the person who’s learning to do the writing and drawing, you have to learn the proper methods. And for the person who’s reading the writing and looking at the drawing (or painting, etc.), you have to learn that too.

    And the more ways a person learns to see, well, the more s/he sees 🙂

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  3. I agree with your colleague’s opinion about art. It is about making a mark on a page. My kids spend about 1/4 of their art time learning about other artist and the rest doing freestyle art.

    I also think art appreciation can be a great tool for experimenting with artistic styles, but at the grade school age it is just a tool. If Tigger really loves impressionistic art I’d go deeper, but if not I’d move on until you find something that does capture her imagination. I think depth can be a better means to progress than breadth.

    Also, if she likes impressionism but not mimicking the style, you can write an impressionistic poem or story. You could sew an impressionistic doll, etc…convert it to other planes.

    Just me idears.

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