The Role of Art Students

If you’ve never watched this TED talk by Cindy Foley, you should. She makes many good points, including ones that I have tried to promote in my writing and presentations to art educators.

I have listened to this one more than once and there are many parts worth consideration, but one idea stood out to me recently as a great litmus test for art teachers. She points out that the way we design instruction determines the role that our students play in the classroom. An art teacher should consider these ideas and ask themselves on a regular basis, “What role have I created for my students in this lesson?”

Foley provides three likely answers: factory worker, apprentice, and artist.

A factory worker is given a specific  sequence of tasks and is expected to perform these tasks as instructed to result in the product being manufactured. Have you ever witnessed art instruction that looks like this?

The artist’s apprentice, at least, is expected to learn to independently apply art skills and techniques, more like an artist and less like a factory worker, but an apprentice still serves in the master’s workshop to produce artworks based on the master’s vision.

It is the role of the artist to generate new ideas, formulate a plan for communicating those ideas and producing an original product. Our students need to engage in these activities to learn the creative and critical thinking skills we know they need.

I was especially happy to hear Foley point out, as the ideas above suggest, that it is often the teacher, not the student, who is engaged in the creative activity. I believe this happens too often, not only in the visual arts, but in performing arts as well. We need to be careful not to get so excited about a new idea of our own that we forget to give students the opportunity to participate in the creative process and develop their own ideas to pursue.


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