Stop Teaching Art

Early last summer, I was feeling rather ornery when I proposed a conference presentation called “Stop Teaching Art.” While my proposal did represent legitimate concerns I wanted to bring to bear, I really didn’t expect an organization dedicated to promoting art education to accept such a proposal. Imagine my surprise when it was accepted for both the state and national conference.

Mars by Kate Patsch, art teacher
Mars by Kate Patsch, art teacher

I presented the first iteration of “Stop Teaching Art” at the Virginia Art Education Association conference last month, and people actually showed up to hear what I had to say! (Surprise number two!) I’m sure it was just sick curiosity on their part, but my sincerest thanks to those who attended, nevertheless.

I’d like to share a summary of the ideas from that presentation here. You might think I have been rather slow to post this, but as you will see below, I’ve really been working on this for a while with several other posts I have made since the conference.

STOP TEACHING ART

Too many art educators are overly art-focused. As a profession, we must work to shift to become more learning focused.ArtvsLearningThink about the priorities of your school and division. Beneath whatever jargon might be used to write mission statements and student achievement goals, the list of priorities for your school(s) probably looks something like this:

  • Develop the Whole Student
  • Teach 21st Century Skills
  • Reach All Students (don’t leave any behind)
  • Close Achievement Gaps
  • Show it with Data

This is the work of schools and it is learning-focused work. I believe all teachers need to support this work, or get out of the way. The reality is that some of our art-focused habits do not support this work… and this is what I mean when I say, “Stop Teaching Art.”

In any situation where change is needed, the place each person can start is with the things we BELIEVE, the things we SAY, and the things we DO.

WHAT WE BELIEVE is the topic of a recent post called Mindset in Art (read it here). As educators, we must examine our mindset — the things we believe about the nature of learning, the nature of art, and the place of art in our schools. We must apply the thinking about fixed mindset vs. growth mindset to ideas in art. Some of these will challenge deeply held cultural beliefs, but we can start to change those in the minds of our students and the other educators we interact with in our schools.FixedvsGrowthCheck out these related articles on beliefs about art, including I can’t even draw a stick figure, and False Perceptions.

WHAT WE SAY reveals what we believe and value. And what we say influences what our students and our colleagues believe about art education. Consider these examples that I hear art teachers say all the time, and think about how they impact our students and our programs.

  • “Art is subjective.”
  • “Drawing is the basis of art.”
  • “You are really talented.”
  • “You should go to art school.”
  • “Art teaches creativity.”
  • Art feeds the soul.”

These statements reflect mindsets that are not always learning and growth focused. They could be interpreted to mean (in the same order):

  • We can’t measure learning in art.
  • If you can’t draw you don’t belong here.
  • You either have talent or you don’t.
  • What you have learned in art does not transfer to other fields.
  • I don’t have to explicitly teach skills for creative problem solving.
  • (There is a whole article about “Art feeds the sould” that you can read here.)

WHAT WE DO also reveals what we believe and value, and nowhere are our actions more evident than in our instruction and assessment practices. In Understanding by Design, by Wiggins and McTighe, the backward design model is given in three steps: Identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and plan learning experiences & instruction. These are the steps that really reveal what you value in art instruction.

What do you spend your time teaching, and what do you assess? What are your desired learning results? That students make a nice artwork? That students learn the elements of art and principles of design? That students can name some famous artists? Or perhaps your instruction and the things on your rubric are more like these learning-focused outcomes of quality art instruction:

  • Design Thinking
  • Perseverance
  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Strategies for Creative Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Visual Language
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration (related article here)
  • Self-Expression
  • Grit

By starting to adjust the things we believe, say, and do, we can begin to become more learning focused, and perhaps more importantly, show others how learning-focused we are. This is the path for art instruction to become central to a quality education. Here are a couple of other related articles to check out:

If you would like to hear more, or are interested in the new and improved version over the first Stop Teaching Art presentation, you’ll just have to come to New Orleans in March. I hope to see you there!

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8 thoughts on “Stop Teaching Art”

  1. I have had many conversation with my principal about Art and I, too, had explained to both him and my AP about our Program of Study and how it’s geared toward developing skill set and problem-solving. My principal said to me that “I am a lefty and back then it was not a lefty-friendly environment. I just didn’t think I was very good at Art. The kids are lucky these days and I wish I was in your art class now because I would enjoy it much more.” (BTW he knows I am also a lefty and had to learn to use my right hand to adopt the right-handed world so I’m very aware of those children as well.) I feel blessed that I have bosses who listen.
    I have worked with many principals since I graduated in the late late 90’s, many of them show signs of “frustrated artists” so I would gently explain to them about “it’s not about artistic talents, and how I value hard work and try to teach them the skill and appreciation in art. Not too many people can understand what art teachers do so I try to be gentle with them when making a connection. (And we all know how to “make connections,” don’t we?) When people ignorantly say, “You are just an art teacher, you are not a real teacher.” I don’t get offended — Sounds like a project for me. I need to educate this person about art.
    As an art educator, we are not just educating children. We are educating their parents, people we work with, and even our superiors. We have a very important job.

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