Robert Henri stated, “The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a
byproduct and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past.
The object, which is in back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a
state of being, a more than ordinary moment of existence.” His statement is also
applicable to art education. I believe what he was trying to convey is that art
can affect and transform our consciousness. If I am effective as an art teacher,
I lead students to the threshold of their own minds and get them to push beyond
former ways of seeing and thinking.
Teaching the arts should heighten the student’s senses and increase their ability
to experience the world in a more complex, subtle and meaningful manner. As a
teacher, I try to serve as a catalyst providing stimulus, opportunity and space where
this ‘more than ordinary moment of existence’ can occur. A boon of insight can
occur about the self, the world and everything within it. Through teaching, I want to
engage students on a personal level and have them confront their own thinking through art.
It is often too easy to get entangled in the technique of art (the how) instead of, the why
and what of art. Henri alluded to this when speaking about the true aim of the arts; it isn’t
only about making a painting. The arts help students to find creative solutions through
problem solving opportunities unique to the arts. Too often art educators only skim the
surface of art, by teaching technique and manipulation of media alone and fail to harness
art’s core, it’s content.
While the wind behind the sail of any craft is the emphasis of my teaching, it does not come
at the expense of skillful knowledge of media. Exploration of various media is a natural extension
of exploring avenues of thought. Control and facility of craft and mastery of technique is just
as important as purpose. Articulate expression through materials, when directed by purpose, is the
ideal. I expose students to various media; drawing, painting, mix media and printmaking.
I also provide my students with skills and options from figurative to abstraction.
The arts enlarge the student’s imagination and widens their view of the world through visual thinking.
In my classroom I provide appropriate boundaries that allow for a great deal of student autonomy
and media exploration. I believe that choices allow and motivate students to connect
new aesthetic experiences and scaffolds prior knowledge.
An important part of my role as teacher is to help students see the relevance of what we do
in class and how it ties to their lives outside of school. Making significant connections is
important. I believe that seeing one’s relevance within the vast chaos of the visual culture in
which we live is essential. While I instruct students about the histories, theories, aesthetics and
techniques of art, I believe I provide students with something more valuable; how to think and
become critically engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.
In order to achieve this, I use different thinking routines that provide a framework to assist students
in engaging deeper into the meaning of art and art works. These exercises largely consist of
stepping back and asking questions; what do I see? What could it be and what makes me say
that? What else could it be or mean? This process helps students to make connections, use deductive
reasoning and explore different perspectives. These routines facilitate student thinking and make
students thoughtful about their own course of learning (metacognitive awareness). This approach
also helps to build the student’s conceptual understanding through the evaluation, creation and
reflection of art. The inner workings of the mind are literally made visible through art.
An additional way I encouraged my students to explore different perspectives within the arts is by
exposing them to artists of various disciplines. Twelve to sixteen artists visit our campus each year
to share their work and insights and ideas about art.
Real, deep and lasting understanding is a product of critical thinking is not taught but needs to be
encultured and nurtured over time within a hospitable environment. I attempt to create such a
climate in my classroom and within my art courses. I believe that art has potential to expand
and deepen human understanding. The arts provide the greatest avenue for allowing exploration
and expansion of the mind in education.