Art Education, Specifically

In my experience all people want to be better at art. I’ve never met someone that didn’t wish that they could practice more art. I’ve met many who have believe in a story called “I can’t do art, I’m not good at it”. This is an effective and powerful story. A story that is taught to us. Being “good at art” is not something you are born with. Somewhere along the way, somebody tells you that you are no good at what you draw and create. Some of us survive that criticism, in fact we welcome it, and we grow up to become self-designated artists. Most people, however, are robbed of the ability to recognize their inner artist by a single comment, usually given by a teacher, that they aren’t good.

Being robbed of the ability to express oneself through wonder of artistic representation is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that must be combatted against. There is no reason for this story to perpetuated. I believe that the first steps in combating this tragedy is to develop a rhetoric with every person I meet that firmly believes that everyone is an artist, even you. Not only to I believe that everyone is an artist, but furthermore I believe it’s the mission of all educators to start their student discourse firmly in this belief.

If we don’t, we’ll lose this war to the inner critic inside the minds of our students. I see the critic win everyday, and the critic is winning more minds than we are. It starts with us not only saying “you are an artist” to all of our students, but also believing it – especially when they don’t believe it themselves.

Art education is not just something that is just confined to the the teaching of the line or painted picture, it is a life approach of finding joy in being original. We can find our art in anything that we do whether it be painting, carpentry, driving a bus or doing chemistry. When we approach our work with the intention of reflecting our lives within every movement with care, mindfulness, and joy we become artists.

7 responses to “Art Education, Specifically”

  1. Consider defining your terms. I think you mean “Fine Arts”. There are to main general catagories in education: arts & sciences. Bus drivers are not creating fine art unless they are involved in visual and performing arts,two divisions of the fine arts. Painting, sculpture, architecture, and craft arts are visual art while music and theater are performing arts.

    Secondly consider quality. In literature,yes,virtually anyone can be a writer – but that doesn’t mean all writing reaches the summits. Same I will say with visual arts. Yes all people can and ought to engage in creative art production. People become discouraged when their own work they feel is not up to par with others who have devoted a lifetime to practice and who have taken risks in experimenting with new techniques and materials. People today seem obsessed with instant gratification or else they can’t handle, it seems.

    Another problem lies with the obsession with representation and drawing as indicators of quality. That is a primary misunderstanding of art by those unfamiliar with the elements of art. I could go on, but will tell you “yes” I agree generally with your premise. Now give yourself 30 years of experience and keep going. Good luck ! : )

    • Ok, so I do not want this to come off as argumentative, and if it does it has more to do with my own pain around the subjects you are raising and less to do with you personally. (I don’t actually even know you Rob, so it can’t be personal). I know where you’re coming from when and I have respect for your perspective.

      Fundamentally, however, I have always rejected this western-civ-dominated view of art. I can appreciate the language & rhetoric created by generations of fine art scholars, though I honestly find it boring and irrelevant. As a child I would go to museums and always wonder, “Why is this painting of a guy in a fancy coat called art and the tree outside my window isn’t?” (The reason why they are different has more to do with the role of “meaningfulness” and its relationship to art, but I will wait to get into that in another post). This feeling of fine arts dysphoria followed me all through adulthood. In 2002, the choice between going into a BFA vs. going into a B.S. in Graphic Design was no contest. I went with technology. My earliest resonance with art was with comic books and the emerging tech scene had more mysteries to me than the stuffy world of fine arts. In my teens I connected to the southern California graffiti/street art scene heavily. In the fine arts world these things are deemed “low art”.

      This is why I reject the definition of art hierarchy as imposed on by the world of fine arts. Furthermore I reject the terminology in my own teaching. Generally speaking, the world of fine arts is fundamentally dictated by the people who have money and power. As I have just spent the last eight years working in a Title 1 school district on the border of Mexico, to an 80% hispanic population, I find little about the fine arts world that is relevant to a general population ninth grade arts student body.

      What am I supposed to tell them? “One day you can become a starving artist like Van Gogh!”

      No – I wouldn’t tell them that, because, generally speaking, the fine arts world is secluded only to the rich and white.

      I do actually use the elements and principles of art to discuss visual art, as well as concepts relating to visual arts. But only when they go in tandem with what we are trying to achieve within the work that the students are doing.

      In general I find that the language around art is only helpful if it is used to progress the conversation around practicing life with creativity. Generally speaking, if my teaching is not facilitating joy, awe, and wonder in relation to the word “art” than I am not doing my job as an educator. At the high school level, for the majority of students, the art class they took with me will probably be the last time they do art for the rest of their lives.Art education and art language shouldn’t be a hierarchal system designed to keep people from practicing art, it should be a language designed to heighten our enjoyment of life.

      I subscribe the Peter London school of thinking about art. I also believe that art is everything, and comes the moment we first perform an abstraction of a concept during our living existence. It is the wonder of interpretation. It isn’t Michelangelo’s “David” (or, rather, it isn’t JUST “David”).

      If I seem a little huff and puff about this language it is because I have been on the other end of the fine arts world my entire life. I like, and practice, comic making and street/public art. I have degrees in technology and in education. I have never been put through a fine arts degree practicum, and honestly, from what I have seen – I wouldn’t want to be. I have been judged by other art educators for the entirety of the near-decade I have been teaching because I wasn’t a “real artist” (this was said to me).

      I was raised by an elementary art educator who has been practicing for 33 years. She was a teacher who believed that even I could be an artist, and I always was, and always will be – no matter what a degree says about me. My mother’s art education philosophy is more of what we need in the world. One of acceptance, joy, and enthusiasm.

      We need to let down the gates of this language that dictates what is and isn’t so that we can let people into our world of lifelong practice in the arts. We need to let the people in.

      Hopefully I helped clarify some of the language I was using with this response. Heck, I may have introduced you to a couple of new concepts as well. If you’d ever like to discuss emerging art forms & curriculum approaches, feel free to reach out.

      • We are on the same page friend. And you do know me through a friend who was a student of yours at High Tech, who I won’t say but the art of her father, my brother, and myself hangs in her family’s home- she was raised in it and likely the reason for studying with you. Tech or oil paint – all same – all art is art, but “everything” is not art, and art is not fun; art is work and oftentimes painfil. “Stuffy white men? Try look at Rembrandt’s Titus? All art is self portraiture one way or another. Strive to avoid coming off as a techno-bully – and realize the term “Fine Art” needn’t exclude comics. Consider architecture, which Oscar Wilde describes as “frozen music”. But “everybody” is not and cannot be an architect – the building would collapse and kill people. I dont know anyone who thinks of non-white- establishment art as illegitimate. White culture has preserved and created great museums to protect its finest examples. Don’t stereotype all Caucasians as evil “white people” please. And let’s not argue. Otherwise we are fulfilling the agenda of those seeking to destroy pulic education and especially art education altogether. We all need to unify and uplift teaching in free public schools and free colleges and live out loud against the corporatocracy of gazillionaires and to use use art, all art, as political instruments of free speech – choose your weapon! : )

        • We will have to agree that our definitions of art contradict each other. Which, in itself, is interesting. I am glad that my writing did enough for you to cause a reaction. That is a kind of art in itself.

  2. Phil says:

    I am certainly not an artist in the traditional sense. My children’s drawings have already surpassed my own. Yet I do feel like I am being creative and artistic in my work and hobbies.

    When a bus driver (or a cab driver) is able to move through crowded intersections and come up with ways of quickly arriving at my destination in spite of the constraints and issues I am impressed by their skill. When I see a piece of code that is so clear and simple I am in awe. Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist was saddened that his friend the painter thought science killed beauty and art by dissecting it and understanding the unknown. Feynman suggested that this beauty of the universe and pursuit of understanding was as much art as any beautiful painting.

    Fine arts for me (untrained plebeian) has always meant for me great skill (fine = precision) and not necessarily the quality of one’s output. Otherwise, how could I take a class in high school called fine arts? The teacher never told me the goal was to make a high quality piece of art. The expectation was never that I would become a famous painter. Similarly I never expected my math students to become mathematicians (though some have pursued it) but I did instead want them to understand how to solve and think mathematically.

    I’m not sure how high quality/beautiful work can be defined in terms of an objective scale. I have walked into art galleries amazed that a painting was worth $10,000. Now I do agree that one becomes highly skilled after thousands of hours of intentional effort and practice but not all of these artists are universally recognized as great artists.

    And how can one deny the feeling of satisfaction when one creates something? Not to assume, but I think Patrick is lamenting that we stop seeing ourselves as artistic at a certain age. I see it too when someone says, “I’m not good at math”. If this ceased to be a mentality, we wouldn’t suddenly have thousands more Rembrandts or Mona Lisas but we would have people creating and actively participating in our culture rather than just leaving it to those “good at art”.

    I guess for me the question is, if a child came to you and presented you something they had made how would you respond?

      • Not well said. Driving a cab well is the opposite of art. A cab drive you want to be in takes the shortest or at least most economical path from point A to point B, a skill. Art is for instance, ballet, the point is to take (waste) time swirling, twirling, jumping, running round and round and round, and deliberately pausing for the sake of displaying beauty in the human form and composed expression. You could really call it “stuffy” if you were unable to appreciate that ballet could be for all. Twerqing and tea bagging art art too, and not at all “stuffy” in its vulgarity, but cab driving art is skill. Your line of thought would empower those those are trying to destroy art education. I wouldn’t be surprised if you are but (HOPE) you are not a conservative, subversive, operator undermining teacher certification in order to give away teaching jobs to you unemployed cousins.