Teaching with Contemporary Art

Brainstorming Big Ideas and Arriving at the Best Idea

Elizabeth Murray at work: Art21 production still, 2003

Every art student (and I mean EVERY art student- K-12, undergrad, graduate, adult education, private lessons, you name it) has had one or more situations when an initial idea for a work of art was rushed, moving on to the “finished” piece long before the work was really, truly ready for that final phase. I have watched many students over the years hustle to complete a work of art that never really had the chance to develop, and then become frustrated as they realize that the work they just spent weeks on will probably wind up under the bed with some little schnauzer sleeping on top of it. It’s sad, really.

More and more, I encourage students to take their time developing ideas, and not just through multiple sketches and using their sketchbooks. While this is extremely important in the development of ideas and designs, it’s just as important to talk with classmates, teachers and even friends about the idea in order to get multiple perspectives and suggestions. As students work through visual design problems and wrestle with works of art driven by big questions and themes, it makes sense to plug in as much time as possible for everyone to look at the range of possibilities and then make suggestions for next steps.

One way this can be done is to have in-progress critiques rather than final critiques. Students in an in-progress critique get to make suggestions that classmates can act on, rather than getting feedback after something is “done”.

Another way, as stated above, is to encourage sketching and getting multiple ideas before deciding on the best one. Brainstorming big ideas and then coming to the realization that one idea stands out among the rest is a great way to avoid falling in love with a knee-jerk reaction to a given assignment.


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