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?


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