In Their Own Words: Critical Thinking in Artists' Diaries and Interviews

By Green, Gaye | Art Education, July 2006 | Go to article overview

In Their Own Words: Critical Thinking in Artists' Diaries and Interviews


Green, Gaye, Art Education


One wonders bow the rigors of artmaking appreciated by the public hundreds of years ago can be ignored by a contemporary society who perpetuate the misconception that art is a purely emotional endeavor better viewed as entertainment and best conveyed by realistic representations.

How many times hare you as an art educator felt the need to justify that artmaking is a serious endeavor that requires thought and reasoned judgment? Or, how many times have you worried that the arts will he reduced or eliminated when districts announce that cuts are needed to balance the budget or provide more room for the basics? Unfortunately, such scenarios are all too common and familiar. Part of the problem lies in the public's assumption that the artistic process is a purely emotional, haphazard activity whose role is best viewed as enrichment, rather than necessity. To counter these misconceptions, this article offers evidence to the contrary through an examination of the critical thinking processes evident in the diaries, interviews, and work of artists.

The belief that art making is a scholarly, indeed intellectual endeavor is not a new concept. Permeating 13th-century Italy, it was a commonly held belief that the construction of images relied on information garnered from realms as diverse as philosophy, science, history, geography, religion, and politics. As early as 1440, the concept of the erudite artist whose training required more than the study of aesthetic matter was a conviction promoted by Florentine goldsmith, painter, and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti. Believing that 'sculptors and painters should be trained in all of the liberal arts: Grammar, Geometry, Philosophy, Medicine, Astronomy. Theory of Design, and Arithmetic," Ghiberti's views were supported by both early anil latter Renaissance artists such as Brunelleschi, da Vinci, Raphael, and Titian (Bersson, 1991. p. 274). All of these artists severed their ties with the manual trade, arguing that "the act of creation utilized scientific realms such as "anatomy, optics, and mathematics"(Bersson, 1991. p. 274). Moreover, such claims were not speculative boasting. The visual output of these artists supported their beliefs.

Today, the complex content that permeates the work of many artists testifies to the necessity for in-depth research. Indeed, educator Henry Giroux (1996) described contemporary artists as public intellectuals who "cross borders, invent new forms of representation, and at the same time, interrogate the quality of social life by addressing the language of sexuality, social exclusion, identity and power while avoiding a doctrinaire politics or narrow critique of the sites in which art is produced" (Giroux, 1996, p. x).

One wonders how the rigors of artmaking appreciated by the public hundreds of years ago can be ignored by a contemporary society who perpetuate the misconception that art is a purely emotional endeavor better viewed as entertainment and best conveyed by realistic representations. To examine how artmaking involves cognitive processes, I explore three aspects of critical thinking that I believe are exemplified in the arts: skills, dispositions, and characteristics.

Defined by Richard Paul (1993) as "thinking that is explicitly based on standards, thinking that is disciplined and selfmonitored, thinking in short, that intrinsically leads to self-assessment and improvement," critical thinking is well represented in the work of professional artists (p. 237). In the next three sections, I outline attributes that represent critical thinking and are exemplified in the diaries, interviews, and works of accomplished artists. Culled from the work of Lauren Resnick (1987) and Richard Paul (1993), these traits represent the complex rigor that exemplifies critical thinking.

I examine each of these skills by exploring the work of 16th-century Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci in relation to his painting, Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. …

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