Only Two Ways

If art educators intend to teach students how to create, we must teach them — not just how to use media — but also the various approaches to engaging in the creative process. So what are these approaches? I believe there are only two.

Atlantic by Amanda Wright, art teacher
Atlantic by Amanda Wright, art teacher

I have thought about this for a while (longer than I care to admit, in fact… I’m kinda slow), and despite my efforts to identify “all” of the ways to engage in the creative process, I only see these two:

  1. Start with an idea and use media to communicate it.
  2. Start with media and let the artwork emerge.

That’s it. There are no other ways.

I admit, this is a dramatic and absolute statement, but to a purpose. I want you to push back. If you believe there are other ways, I want you to tell me.

I will acknowledge, first, that there are infinite variations within these two choices. There are many variations, just for example, of the steps of the creative and/or the design process. Just search “creative process” and “design process” on the interwebs and you will find infinite ways to combine and sequence various process steps such as idea generation, planning, refining, reflecting, etc. At their heart though, the variations are essentially the same.

I will also acknowledge that at times these two approaches can blur into one another. Someone who starts with an idea may experiment with media in the process and something new might emerge. Someone else may begin with media and then get an idea they want to communicate. Does the potential for blurred edges make a third possibility?

Art educators must do far more than tell the students what to do at each step along the way (even if this approach gets nice looking products). Rather, we must teach them to understand what they are doing and why. They need to understand the creative process and how to engage with it to solve problems — and not just artmaking problems, but any problem. We can teach students to be creative problem solvers if we help them know what strategies they can use to find a solution, and to  reflect on the processes that work best for them.

Knowing how many ways there are to approach artmaking is a good start. So, are there two? Or are there others?

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