Teaching with Contemporary Art

Skills Worth Teaching

Image: toysonline.com.au

This past April at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in Baltimore, Craig Roland hosted and participated in a panel presentation called “What’s Worth Teaching in Art?” But before the panel even began, which was running in a Pecha Kucha format, the title of the workshop itself begged another question: What’s worth learning in art?

And this gets me to thinking about skills.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague (and then myself) about the kinds of skills worth teaching in K-12 visual arts classrooms today. In the past, so much time has been spent teaching very specific techniques and approaches, that alternative ways of thinking about and making art have been largely ignored. In many, many schools even today, students spend countless hours of class time mimicking artist styles instead of thinking broadly and figuring out how to best represent the things they’re thinking and dreaming about.

Today I’d like to start a running list of some important skills we may want to begin considering seriously in contemporary art education, if we aren’t already. Perhaps this is the start of the book I keep forgetting to write? I don’t know.

When I think about the skills I want students to possess after taking a course with me, I think about teaching things like:

  • Sketching
  • Brainstorming- creating multiple solutions to visual problems
  • Embracing ambiguity
  • Working with and without a plan
  • Exploring the tactile qualities of materials and finding qualities that best serve big ideas
  • Experimenting with a material before committing to a certain form or way of using it
  • Using traditional and non-traditional materials to make art, including various forms of technology
  • Collaborating with others to make art
  • Juxtaposing art and artists to learn through association
  • Giving and receiving feedback in order to improve ideas and works of art

In the interest of teaching kids things they can use beyond the classroom, I feel that the list above can initially be part of a new set of skills rather than focusing on teaching my high school students to crank out projects about pointillism, cubism, or any other ism for that matter. If the ism fits, let’s learn from it. If not, let’s think a little more broadly and find skills that better suit our students today.

Your thoughts?


  1. Pingback: Skills Worth Teaching / Art21 Blog « word pond

  2. B Guttman says:

    In my oppinion, one thing that is missing in most approaches to art education including this one is involving students and asking them what would they like to learn and how would they like to learn in arts. It is always that someone on the top decided what is best for those below.
    I do not think that art education should be standardised if we want it to be alive and creative activity of our students.

    I do like the list in your post, as it widening the current approaches andgiving life skills really needed for contemporary artistic expression, still it seems to me that we adults , often think we know what is the best for students. I try to teach students more interactivly…try to bring in matherials related to contemporary arts and work out together how and what direction we take form that one. This means that each group may take a different direction – but I have hardly seen students more motivated and more interested in my subject than when their oppinion and needs were appreciated in creating a lesson.

  3. Joe Fusaro says:

    I think that there’s a lot to be said for asking kids what they want to learn, but it cannot be wide open and without any kind of guidance or direction, especially in large classes. Creating curriculum informed by student interests is where truly meaningful teaching can take place. But I also believe we have to structure opportunities and environments where these interests can take shape.

  4. B Guttman says:

    I personally believe more in mutual work on creating meaningful learning-teaching…It does not mean that only students take over the lessons and teacher has to obay, or vice versa. Mutuality means having both sides engaged in tilting the common goal. It is an interaction between teachers and students – alowing real needs to be expressed and taken into consideration.

    My oppinion does rise some questions like who is responsible for learning? How much responsibility about learning can be given to students? Can we trust that they may know better? Do we know what their needs are? Is teaching a service provided to students or is it something else? Are we (teachers) alowing ourselves to be fully genuin and even voulnerable in our lessons? etc….

  5. B Guttman says:

    I wanted to share this fascinating animation to a lecture of Sir Ken Robinson. I find both the animation and the lecture very mach relevant to the curent educational matters:

  6. B Guttman says:

    I thought that you may be interested in seeing this amaising animation to a lecture o Sir Ken Robinson. Both the animation and the lecture were very inspiering for me.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=related

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