I teach art to junior and senior high students. Yesterday, my grade nine’s were working on a visual problem exercise inspired by one of my favourite artists, Carla Sonheim.
My teaching philosophy is such that I want students to push past preconceived ideas about rules within art and learn to take creative risks and solve problems on their own. As such, I rarely show examples and after teaching the required skill and explaining the piece they will be working on, I explain and then write my “must have/not have” rules on the board, (for example: you must include three different types of line, use two different media, or, you will not use cartoon bubbles to show dialogue) and then, I let the students loose to create.
As they first begin working, I try to make little direct eye contact with students and their artwork to minimize the non-verbal reassurance that we all seek to find out if we are doing things “correctly”. I tell my students I want to be surprised. For some, this is extremely challenging and they use every tactic they can think of to get me to check their work. I rarely answer those kinds of questions; more than not, I re-state the must have/not haves instructions written on the board. Over time I see students not only using their imaginations more easily but also making decisions on their own. Hallelujah! This is a transferable skill that will help them improve in all the other subjects they take.
In can be difficult, even with encouragement and practice, to approach a piece differently than one’s peers. If one student chooses pastels, I frequently see the whole table choose pastels. Junior high students are especially known for wanting to do the same as their friends and not wanting to do things that are for “little kids”.
Yesterday, after teaching and giving the instructions, I set my grade nine students to work. After waiting a few minutes, I began walking around the room and after passing the expected and usual marker and coloured pencil pieces, I came to a student who had pulled out and was using my box of 64 Crayola crayons from the art cupboard.
It honestly made my day.