Enhancing Critical Thinking with Aesthetic, Critical, and Creative Inquiry

By Lampert, Nancy | Art Education, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Critical Thinking with Aesthetic, Critical, and Creative Inquiry


Lampert, Nancy, Art Education


Inquiry-based classroom activities require students to solve problems and answer questions that have more than one possible resolution. These types of activities stimulate critical thinking skills and dispositions in students (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 1999; 2000; Housen, 2001; King 1990; 1992; 1994; 1995; 2002; King, Staffieri, & Adelgais, 1998; Lampert, 2006). PreK-12 art classrooms are rich with opportunity for inquiry-based activities for children and adolescents .This article reviews research on inquiry-based instructional techniques that enhance critical thinking and offers suggestions on ways to use aesthetic, critical, and creative inquiry in art classrooms to stimulate higher order thinking in art students.

Definitions of Terms

This discussion focuses on the ways that critical thinking skills and dispositions can be developed through aesthetic, critical, and creative inquiry. Many researchers and theorists have defined critical thinking, and although each describes the construct in a slightly different way, most include language in their definitions that describes it as thinking which is focused on the evaluation of various alternatives (Jones, Hoffman, Moore, Ratcliff.Tibbits, & Click, 1995; Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997; Perry, 1999; Ennis, 2002). In acknowledgment of the many permutations of the construct which have arisen in contemporary literature, Ennis (2002) has developed what he refers to as a "super-streamlined" definition of critical thinking, which is: "reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do ."This description aligns with the synthesis of definitions cited above and illustrates how many contemporary researchers describe higher order thinking.

Dispositions are the inclination to use existing skills (Perkins, Jay, &Tishman, 1993; Facione, Giancarlo, Facione, & Gainen, 1995). Students who develop critical thinking dispositions approach experiences with an inclination for accepting that when confronting complex problems there are many possible solutions which must be reflected upon and decided on.

Aesthetic inquiry is an exploration into broad questions about the value, nature, meaning and definition of art.Aesthetic inquiry does not focus on analysis of specific artwork, but rather on discussions of art in general. Critical inquiry and analysis is the exploration and investigation of a specific piece or body of artwork (Stewart, 1997). Creative inquiry is artmaking, which entails exploration of expression with visual language. In many art classrooms, there is a great deal of crisscrossing and overlap in these three types of inquiry.

The Value of Critical Thinking

Developing critical thinking skills and dispositions in young people affords them the means to make thoughtful choices. Aesthetic, critical, and creative inquiry can help facilitate the development of these skills and dispositions in art students. Lampert (2006) compared the critical thinking dispositions of arts and non-arts undergraduates and found that college students who were exposed to a fine arts curriculum that includes aesthetic, critical, and creative inquiry had significantly higher critical thinking dispositions than students who had no exposure to this curriculum.The instrument used in this study, the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (Facione & Facione, 1992) tests the discipline-neutral internal motivation to approach problem framing or problem solving by using thinking and reasoning (Giancarlo & Facione, 2001). Lampert's findings, which showed that art students had significantly higher discipline-neutral critical thinking dispositions than non-arts students, indicate that the art students in the sample were more inclined than the non-art students to use thinking and reasoning when solving all problems, not only art-related problems.

Research with K-12 students has also shown that inquiry-based art curricula enhance critical thinking skills and dispositions (Burton, Horowitz, &Abeles, 1999; 2000; Housen, 2001). …

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