The SKSS Visual Arts Department believes that the quality of a student’s life is uniquely enriched in essential ways by the development of skills and values learned in the creation of artworks. Visual arts encourage the students to function on multiple intellectual, analytical, thoughtful and expressive levels.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Thoughts on Art Education

Recently, a teacher in our district emailed with a few questions about specific aspects of teaching visual arts.  I've posted both the questions and my personal responses as a way to share about the happenings in our high school art studio at SKSS.

What kinds of projects have you done that you most love and would love to share?

Developing student engagement within the community has been most rewarding for me personally as an art teacher!  It’s incredible to see students come together for an exhibition outside of the school and share their work beyond our classroom and hallways.  We are fortunate to have access to a gallery space attached to our school. Subsequently, over the past 12 years we have brought our classes together to share group exhibitions for our community surrounding a variety of themes.  Specifically, the most memorable art exhibitions have surrounded aspects of teaching and learning about social sustainability: Environmental, Homelessness, Mental Health & Wellness. Engaging students in aspects that affect our community speaks to the powerful voice of the arts for social change.

I stay up to date posting project ideas and assignments on my Instagram feed by sharing student process and finished artwork.  Instagram has been a fun and positive means of sharing what happens in the classroom. I think it also keeps me mindful of what students are learning over the course of the semester.  I'm so fortunate to have hardworking students who create some fantastic artwork! I also love the inspiring work of other artists on Instagram.  It's such a wonderful platform for creativity.

As far as teaching specific or repeating art projects, I try to mix things up as our department has multi-grade level courses and (thankfully) repeating students each year.  Variety also keeps the teaching aspect interesting for me!  I do repeat successful project learning every second or third year.  It is exciting to plan ahead and teach new technique and materials.  

I was wondering if you have done anything art with technology? Anything on the iPad or computer? 

I have to admit, although I love many aspects of modern technology it is not always easiest for me as an art tool!  Having said that, we have tried to develop small aspects of technology as it is meaningful for many students.  Keeping art processes simple with technology is best and reaches the broad spectrum of student knowledge within the art room.  SKSS art students have used scanners and iPhones with a successful range of student work.  In June 2017 we had the opportunity to develop a lesson using Pop Art as inspiration for a Scholastic Art Magazine publications.  I was surprised how many students could not work a simple editing program!  By the end of our unit, I witnessed how much they really enjoyed the process and finished artwork.

Over the years we have had the opportunity to use a group of tablets in the classroom and they were an excellent source for student ideas and digital posting. Although we no longer have classroom technology tools, our school has just purchased 10 iPads which we can access from the school library. I’m in the process of developing a unit for the app Procreate (honestly, this is a slow work in progress for me!) and consequently a current teaching goal (finding time is always a challenge).  Having said that, I’m mindful to begin and end each tech tool unit with students working with their hands and creating tactile things as I'm sensitive to the time our student learners spend online.

Have you done any projects around design? 

I incorporate design and image development strategies within the exploration of assignments:  colour theory, composition, balance, repetition etc.  For any particular unit of study, I teach and demo technique and process with 2-4 smaller exercises/experiments (sketchbook) as aspects of purposeful creative play leading up to a larger assignment. I find that these smaller development assignments allow students to experiment with materials prior to a more finished and larger assignment.  Often, it may be the first time they have worked with the specific art material. It really allows time to explore, play, make mistakes and figure out what they like as a growing visual artist.

Also, illustration and pattern design activities seem to pop-up frequently in drawing and painting courses. I think this will lend itself to including ipad images for future students.

How do you teach creativity!?!?

Of course, as artists we spend a lifetime learning about our personal creativity!  I believe that creativity is a process and everyone's creative process is unique. Through art education, teaching about creativity shares common roots and opportunities for growth in the studio classroom. In my experience developing student creativity begins with a positive community within the art room that embraces aspects of risk taking, progress and practice.  Students who actively create art each day in the classroom begin to show development in creativity by making art they enjoy and (most importantly) the ability to move past art they sometimes do not. It's about embracing our imperfections and allowing for mistakes.  I also believe that when students begin to share techniques with others, a creative and supportive community grows.  For instance, a student who develop skills on the pottery wheel and actively shares the learned techniques with others contributes to our classroom community.  Evidence of this learning is the amount of wheel work piling up for the kiln!

Investigating about creativity has helped encourage my personal art making and sharing creative processes with many students.  I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's, Big Magic as a great perspective about creativity and embracing curiosity. Another positive perspective on the creative process is Canadian David Usher's Let the Elephants Run. Also, the PBS series ART21 has been a fantastic resource on contemporary creative processes. 

How has the new curriculum changed what you do?

Although most aspects of the new Arts Education Curriculum parallels much of the natural learning we see through the arts, there is a significant change towards connecting student to community, creative & critical thinking .  The focus on 'big ideas' allows art educators to provide opportunity towards meaningful cross-curricular aspects of student engagement and personalized learning. The drafted proposal of the grade 10-12 arts education curriculum encourages teachers to engage in meaningful curricular development and student development within visual arts programs.

I found the following list a useful introduction to the main goals of the new curriculum (Arts Education, Ministry of Education, BC) as it makes sense for artistic learning and creative teacher planning.

The Curricular Competencies, which are directly linked to the Core Competencies, are structured around artistic habits of mind and engage students, when it is developmentally appropriate to do so, in:
  • Exploring with artistic curiosity
  • Creating with artistic intellect
  • Reasoning through considerations and possibilities
  • Reflecting on choices and imagining opportunities
  • Communicating ideas and perspectives
  • Documenting artistic growth and understandings
  • Connecting with themselves, artists, artworks, and the world
  • Expanding artistic capacity through perseverance 
In addition, academic disciplines are starting to pay attention to studio practice and exhibitions in the Fine Arts Department as they relate directly to project based learning and presentations of learning.  This allows for growth within all of our student body as they share creative practices throughout their courses rather than only when they are in the art room!

I'm fortunate to share that I expect to have many more fantastic years of art exhibitions and student learning in the art room.  Perhaps most importantly, I can honestly say I love teaching visual arts and learning alongside my students.  I am so grateful for the amazing South Kam artists who inspire me everyday!