If you are a fine arts teacher or an educator who works with fine arts teachers, you have probably observed that there are some differences between visual art teachers and performing arts teachers.
Artwork by Kris Cho, art teacher
I work with music, theatre and dance educators in my office. As you may of fine arts teachers you work with, I find a significant difference in the way visual arts and performing arts people work and think. I usually attribute these differences to the fact that musicians, dancers, and thespians do work that is naturally collaborative and group oriented. I have even been jealous of the natural way performing arts teachers seem to come together to work through and solve problems.
Visual artists, on the other hand, usually practice their craft solo. For a time, I concluded that this must mean we are not the collaborators that our performing arts counterparts are. Thankfully, some colleagues set me straight. They helped me realize that…
Visual art education has a distinct brand of collaboration that should be recognized and valued by schools, teachers, and administrators.
Aside from generally rare occasions when art teachers assign collaborative projects, an observer would note that most art teachers expect students to work on collaborative activities only for short spurts during class. These collaborative activities often occur in bits through the creative/design process. Class discussions may support engagement or inspiration; brainstorming can happen in large or small groups; there is often a peer feedback mechanism employed at various stages of the artmaking progress; and critiques are a common occurrence.
These are all great, and there is little denying the value of the problem solving and design thinking skills supported by these bits of collaboration, but in practice, they are just that… bits. The majority of students’ time is spent working independently on their projects. In reality, however, these small spurts of collaborative activity are just symptoms of much broader approach to teaching and supporting collaboration.
If you ask an art teacher what they do with their students to teach collaboration, the ideas listed above are likely the types of answers you will get at first. These teachers may be, like I was, unaware of the powerful brand of collaboration that they teach. Talk to them a while longer, though, and you will hear them say things like:
I work very hard to develop a safe environment where students are willing to try new things.
It’s so important to develop a classroom culture that supports creativity… where the students support the ideas and efforts of their peers.
From day-one I teach my students how to respond to artworks in a way that is constructive and considerate of the artists feelings.
Students learn the difference between describing, analyzing, interpreting, evaluating and judging artwork, and the appropriate times to support the creative activities in the studio.
I want my students to work in a studio space that encourages risk-taking without fear of failure or judgement from the teacher or their peers.
We do a lot of brainstorming and idea development. I teach my students to be open and accepting of the ideas that come from this process without judging or editing them.
In the art room, structured collaborative activities may only take a few minutes of class time, but art teachers work very hard to build collaborative habits in their students and strive to establish a collaborative, student-centered environment for learning and creating. The collaborative nature of the art studio becomes a driving factor in the students willingness to participate fully in the design process, and develops in them an appreciation and understanding of how to work with others to solve problems in creative ways.
Now that’s a 21st Century Skill if I ever heard one!