Teaching with Contemporary Art

Follow-Up (and, To Sir Ken With Love)

Two comments from the recent When One Day is Not Enough post inspired me to write a little bit more. Plus, I want to pass along a superb video link this week before I go.

First, this from Erin:

As an art teacher, I find that the point about “Talk{ing} with kids seriously about their work” is one of the most valuable tips for incorporating art into a child’s life. I teach high school students, and they often don’t want to talk about their work, or will say “I don’t know” when asked a question. However, when I start the discussion offering constructive feedback and praise, the student opens up and will often start talking about their work as well. Simply saying, “its great” does not foster a discussion, and feels forced. By beginning a discussion, a student can begin to understand that art has the power to open dialogue and be more than just a “pretty picture”.

Erin’s point about starting a discussion is so important. Students will indeed open up if we begin to ask questions and convey that we truly want to learn more about what’s behind the work. What’s the idea? Where did the inspiration come from? I often remind students in class discussions that if they think something is great (or not so great), they need to explain what is great about it. This is obviously good to remember as teachers, too.

Responding a few days later, Martin had this to say:

Many people lose their creativity when they get older. As children they could paint, draw, sing and dance. But after a while they “lose” it. I think it is because of “expectation”. First they feel what others expect from their creative works. And after a while children expect the same from themselves.
Of course its not the “end of creativity” – it’s the end of being creative.

I think what Martin has in mind is worth fleshing out. Students will, as much as we find reasons (as teachers, as a nation) to argue otherwise, live up to our expectations if we encourage them and help them along, But students who feel peer pressure to produce certain kinds of works, or students who don’t feel safe taking risks in our classrooms, wind up being stifled by expectation. They wind up producing what they think others will see as acceptable or cool. But they’re not exactly following the freedom they possessed as younger children. Building communities in our classes that foster risk-taking, experimentation and unique perspectives allow students to resist this pull to fall in line with the wrong kind of expectations.

Now this leads me to Sir Ken…

If you have ever seen Sir Ken Robinson give a talk, whether featured on TED.com or through another source, you’re probably already aware that the man literally makes you lean forward to listen. I mean, he makes so much sense (and clear sense at that) it’s often intoxicating.

A former student passed along this link and I just thought it would be a great way to end the column this week. Grab a cup of coffee, take 11 minutes and 41 seconds off your busy day and enjoy this one…. illustrated:

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms