Unordinary tales of the ordinary.
I like to consider myself an ideas kind of gal. Ideas are to me what blood is to a vampire. I thrive on them. I like the excitement of coming up with an idea, toying and playing with it to see how it can grow or what can come of it. I like the challenge of coming up with something new, or taking something old or existing and giving it a new life. And when I am flourishing in my full geekdom, you’ll definitely find me my happiest self when I am brainstorming, building and creating. I like experimenting. That doesn’t always work in my favour, but that just makes me all the more determined. I like the end product, too. Well, I like seeing how all of those ideas manifest and take shape. I guess it is one of the reasons why I love my job so much. The art room seems like the most perfect place for ideas to grow. I like throwing something out at my students and seeing what they do with it – seeing how their own ideas make the whole thing change and grow. That’s how I see art – just the birth of ideas, of creative thinking and I like to think of my art room as more than just a place of prescribed technique and skill. I imagine it to be a ‘thinking’ room where ‘thinkers’ grow. I see my role as that of a provoker, the person who pushes them to just think about things differently.
I am fortunate enough to have a principal who values his staff members input, skills and ideas, which only makes me value and love my job even more. On the arts side of the school, I get to have a bit of creative license with the program and any ideas that surface in creatively enhancing the school. Just before the term 2 end, my principal asked me to put together an arts vision – how did I see arts at the school? How can we achieve this? What is your teaching practice when it comes to the arts? In true me fashion, this kind of excited me. It was my opportunity to pen my thoughts on why I do what I do, why I love it and why I think creativity is just so fundamentally crucial to our very being. Needless to say, my ‘vision’ went a little beyond the one paragraph he asked of me because really the vision is endless. Where does creativity ever come with a full stop? I started with the foundations of what art is. This small paragraph was what I assumed parents perceived art as – the physical act of painting, drawing, sculpting, moving and creating. Though what I really wanted to write about was the ‘creativity’ side of things. Artistic ability and creativity are interconnected, naturally, but I have also come to perceive them as two distinguishable things. There are a lot of people who do not believe they are ‘creative’ because they think they are not artistic. Yet, their thinking and problem solving skills, and ability to see things from different perspectives, to me suggests otherwise. It’s kind of what I was lending my thoughts to up above, I consider my art room to be more about ‘creative thinking’ then teaching kids how to paint or draw. Sure, we cover all of that – we learn about artists, art movements, styles and techniques – but essentially I am interested in how my students think and what they bring to the table. In trying to articulate this on paper, I stumbled across an article by Eric Oddleifson called ‘The Case for the Arts’, which was very much aligned with the way I think about arts education. He said:
“Many people do not associate the arts with “thinking”. We are aware of the art “product” – the song, the picture, the play – but we are less aware of the process which creates that product. Yet the arts are not so much a result of inspiration and innate talent as they are a person’s capacities for creative thinking and imagining, problem solving, critical judgement, and a host of other mental processes. The arts represent forms of cognition every bit as potent as the verbal and logical/mathematical forms of cognition that have been the traditional focus of public education. The most important benefit of the arts may be the education of the imagination. Imagination is a powerful tool indeed; if we can imagine something, we can make it happen. Imagination is an invaluable resource for seeking – and finding – solutions to problems, as well as in defining and acting on opportunities.”
Reflecting on the pedagogies of ‘Teaching for Artistic Behaviour‘ and ‘Reggio Emilia‘, I wrote my ideas about how I believe the art classroom operates, how I see my role as a facilitator, how we balance information and choice, how important the physical environment is for nurturing students’ curiosities and creativity, about fusing both horizontal (teaching art as a stand alone subject) and vertical (teaching art with an integrated approach) teaching, the endless benefits of art education and about developing our school as a place alight with creativity. I also found this brilliant list, an arts advocacy document, from the Kennedy Center that clearly shows the vast scope and imperative nature of creativity and Arts Education.
Art is for Learning
- Can reach a diversity of learners. Not every child learns in the same way. The arts by their very nature embody multiple learning modalities – visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic/tactile – helping all students learn.
- The Arts help make abstract concepts more concrete and understandable. For example, math concepts such as symmetry, reflection, rotation, are more easily understood when students can explore them through dance/movement. In social studies, the study of the arts and world cultures helps students understand the diverse world we live in.
- The arts (dance, drama/theatre, music and visual art) enhance the learning process for all young people. The systems they nourish, including integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities are, in fact, the driving forces behind all their learning.
Art is for Developing Life Skills
- The arts develop lifelong skills of critical and creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration, reflection and persistence.
Art is for Developing 21st Century Skills
- Arts experiences that develop skills of communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity are needed for students to succeed in the competitive global economy and work place.
Art is for Multicultural Understanding
- Arts experiences that build students’ appreciation of their own cultural heritage and the commonalities and diversity across cultures are essential to understanding our interconnected world.
Art is for Cognitive Growth
- Arts experiences build cognitive, emotional, and psychomotor pathways in the brain.
Art is for Developing School and Classroom Culture
- The Arts can transform the school and environment for learning – making schools places of collaboration and discovery.
Art is for Developing Personal and Interpersonal Connections
- Arts experiences help students connect to themselves and each other.
- Creating art is a personal experience – students draw upon their own understandings and resources to produce the result.
- The arts develops young people’s abilities to express their personal vision and communicate it to others.
Art is for Sustaining Democracy
- “The challenge to (American) education has always been to raise citizens who are capable of active participation in the social, cultural, political and economic life of the world’s longest experiment in democracy, an experiment demanding a free, educated and committed citizenry. We are amazed to discover anew the role of the arts in realizing that vision and creating that democracy. That is why we offer it as a compelling reason to fully embrace the arts in our schools. It’s how to sustain our democracy.”
And, of course, given how much I love my quotes, I couldn’t help but include a few of those too.
“The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.”
–President Barack Obama
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have lots of dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solution without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”–Steve Jobs
“I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st century.” – Gerald Gordon, Ph.D., President/CEO, Fairfax County (Virginia) Economic Development Authority
“Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence.”
– Joseph M. Calahan, Director of Cooperate Communications, Xerox Corporation
“We need people who think with the creative side of their brains—people who have played in a band, who have painted…it enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively.”
–Annette Byrd, GlaxoSmithKline
With all of that in mind, I’m also a wee bit excited about the term ahead. Largely because we have some great things planned both in and outside the art class – our yarn bombing of the school fence, our hip hop choir and getting a school band up and running. Not to mention some pretty mind blowing artists that I get to share with my students.
(Art work of Nobuhiro Nakanishi. Source: Design Milk)
I recently discovered a Japanese artist by the name of Nobuhiro Nakanishi. He creates these amazing layered landscapes through photography and sculpture. He photographs a landscape or object repeatedly over time, laser prints each shot and mounts them on to acrylic, which he then layers as sculptural installations. His work is mesmerising, showing the subtle changes in landscape and the passing of time. This idea really appealed to me and seemed like a great way to explore the way buildings and structures change a landscape, in particular the way they have changed Melbourne city. I’ve also fallen madly in love with Slovenian, New York-based artist - Tobias Putrih. He uses everyday materials such as plywood, styrofoam and cardboard to create fragile structures that range from small objects to massive installations. He is all about process and experimentation. Students will be working collaboratively to build their own structures of their wish from everyday objects, too. It will be up to them to experiment with how the structure will stand and be used.
(Art work of Tobius Putrih. Source: Booooooom.com)
And so, I think my job is pretty important and I treat it as such and no doubt will continue to thrive on the hunting and gathering of ideas, of watching my students grow into their creativity and of continuing to grow into mine, too.