I admit to being on the fence about some media techniques we teach in elementary art. Take stitchery for example.
Is stitchery a medium and art form artists might choose to express their ideas in an artwork? Absolutely! Is stitchery a useful skill? Sure. Is it a skill all children should learn while in school? In this century, maybe knot (oops, a little mispelling there). Is stitchery a fundamental art skill that must be included in a quality art program? I’m gonna go with no.
I guess this is one of those art vs. craft arguments. I put stitchery in a class with weaving, leatherwork, sewing, basket weaving, carpentry, and pottery (I’m sure there are others). Functional objects are at the core of each of these crafts, yet in every case the skills and materials of the craft can be applied to create meaningful works of art. Where to draw the line is the subject of a long-argued aesthetic debate.
What do you think? I’d like to know.
The amazing, blanket-sized stitchery techniques display shown above was created by one of our passionate stitchery experts in the elementary art program. Thanks, Virginia, for sharing your work with everyone!
I am extremely lucky to work in a school system where we don’t need to worry much about whether or not student’s get art instruction or have art supplies. In fact, I am often focused on raising the level of instruction to be more conceptual and challenge students to think at higher levels — to not simply focus on media and technique, but also teach creative problem solving skills.
The video below, however, is a wonderful reminder of the power of art to bring joy to others, even when it’s just a portrait from a photograph.
Students in one of our high schools participated in the Memory Project by creating portraits of children in orphanages and refugee camps. To learn more about the Memory Project, go to www.memoryproject.org.
Jacqueline S. McElhany has a nice article in the January 2017 edition of Art Education. In Awakening Student Ownership: Transitioning to a Student-Centered Environment, she describes taking some very important steps toward improving the art experience for her students.
This transition included the very important step of switching from teacher solved art making assignments, to designing instruction around big ideas — turning over the problem solving to the students.
THIS IS OUTSTANDING, AND A GREAT FIRST STEP!
For this lesson, she told the students they would be “creating their own unique mask sculptures that represented their identity.” The article goes on to describe the delivery of this student-centered lesson in a fair amount of detail. Students were encouraged to explore and experiment, and the teacher served as a “guide on the side.” Again, all good, but I fear there is something missing: INSTRUCTION!
One of the challenges of facilitating student-centered instruction is not going too far. Art instruction can be too restrictive, and it can be too loose (In fact, how tight and how loose can be adjusted in response to the abilities of the students). In every case though, we must balance the open-ended aspects of our lesson with some structure that will result in expected learning outcomes. Turning over every aspect of choice to the students discards the opportunity to teach the students specific content.
As one example, a specific media technique could have be taught (and assessed) through this lesson and it would have been significantly stronger. This would take away the full range of choice of materials from the students, but they could still have a lot of flexibility in the choices they make in addition to using the specific material and technique that is taught and assessed.
So you decide to make an artwork. What materials will you use? How big will it be? What is your chosen subject? What style will you employ?
You haven’t even started, but already you have put a number of restrictions on yourself. Why is this such a natural part of artmaking?
In one of my Big Idea posts, Why Teach with Big Ideas, I mentioned Embrace the Shake, a TED talk by Phil Hansen that addresses the idea of working within limitations. Not all artists have something happen to them (like severe nerve damage) that forces a particular limitation on their artmaking, but whether they know it or not, artists apply limitations to their ways of working all the time.
As educators we should embrace the shake for one very big reason: Working within limitations is the nature of problem solving. I mean, come on… describe a math problem you have ever seen that doesn’t provide parameters?
Consider how you could develop a learning sequence to help students understand that/how artists create restrictions for their artmaking and eventually prepare students for designing their own restrictions.
I am lucky to be able to visit many art classrooms. As I travel around to our different schools, few things are more obvious than the way the art rooms are set up and the message they send to our students.
Without a conversation, I can walk into a classroom and begin to know what is important to that teacher. (On occasion I walk into a classroom and begin to understand what was important to the teacher who retired ten years ago.) The physical space we create (or fail to create) communicates a huge amount of information, intentional or not, to our students and can have a significant impact on the way the students feel about being there. If you are thinking, “that could impact enrollment,” you are absolutely right!
If you haven’t thought too much about the FEEL of your classroom, you should! I could share many great examples, but today I will share images from just one teachers space.
A welcoming doorway, rugs and playful ligthing do so much to make this an inviting space where kids love to be. It doesn’t hurt any that there is enough extra space in the adjacent storage room that it could be converted into a student lounge where students are welcome to gather for lunch, or sit in a comfy old couch before or after school.
Think about your space and how you can make it more inviting! In a future post we will get a little deeper into what your classroom says about what students learn. Stay tuned, and I look forward to sharing more of our awesome art rooms.