Flash Points

Multiple Intelligences

Student Project; New City School; Photo courtesy of Shannah Burton.

I teach art at a school where the subject is not just a once-a-week occurrence.  New City School is a Multiple Intelligences school where art (using spatial intelligence) is used daily by teachers in every subject to help students explore, process, learn, share, and demonstrate. Howard Gardner developed the Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory in 1983 to expand the scope of what intelligence encompasses. Gardner has now defined nine intelligences: linguistic, logical-­mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-­kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, existential, and spatial.  The first two, linguistic and logical-­mathematical, are heavily favored in the vast majority of schools.

I asked Tom Hoerr, head of New City School, for his thoughts on Multiple  Intelligences as it relates to experience. He responded, “I’m  a constructivist; people learn by making meaning. MI is particularly suited for active learning because it enables each of  us to use our strengths and passions in making meaning.” I would also add that among the intelligences, the use of our spatial intelligence is particularly important in this construct.  When we make art, we make meaning, learn through experience, and construct our own understanding. Through art we can better understand math, science, literature, etc. If only someone had told me in elementary school that math is beautiful, it might have saved me from many tearful homework assignments.

Learning is not a passive process in education or in art.  John Dewey’s Art and Experience is an interesting testament to this. So how does all of this play out in art class? Here are some examples from a conceptual paper portrait project I do with my 6th graders.

Student Project; New City School; Photo courtesy of Shannah Burton.

We start by looking at the art of Cindy Sherman and Kimiko Yoshida and discuss identity as it relates to visual culture, particularly the concept of gaze. This project, inspired by a New Art in the Neighborhood workshop from the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, has them considering the unlimited possibilities of a single white sheet of paper. Students decided what identity to create for their portrait using the blank piece of paper as a conceptual starting point, producing very creative and often humorous results. Ultimately, the experience causes them to reflect on their own identity and they begin to understand that all identity is something invented, created, and ever-changing. A big concept made meaningful through artmaking.

Shannah Burton teaches art at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri.


  1. Sabine Rousan says:

    That is a very fascinating concept. It causes one to contemplate the reality of individual expression and unique interpretation fueled by individual talent and passion.
    Therein lies the key of what a little girl once told me “Why should I try, someone is always better than I am in creating art.”
    Yes, but no one will interpret it and express the meaning like you do. The beauty and essence lies in this individual expression.
    May this in turn ripple outward and motivate us to realize the beauty of diversity in one another and not compare it to our own interpretation of understanding. It is freeing indeed. Thank God for teachers like you and encouraging this individuality to teach our children meaning….I think back to my own early childhood paper cutting instructions and how each had to be exactly the same shape. We all had to be perfectly measured up.
    I enjoyed this blog, thanks.

    S. R.

  2. bababla says:

    I believe that art is the personality
    To others
    The alternative

  3. nelson says:

    good article, this is art

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