Creativity and Imagination: Tools for Teaching Artistic Inquiry

By Heid, Karen | Art Education, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Creativity and Imagination: Tools for Teaching Artistic Inquiry


Heid, Karen, Art Education


The use of synectics and surrealism may assist children in generating symbols and metaphor in order to promote creative and imaginative ideas for artmaking. According to Levi-Strauss (1962), experience with metaphor enables students to generate ideas for creative expression, rich in meaning and at the center of discursive thought. The use of metaphor may also provide students with cognitive tools for increasing imagination, creativity, and intellectual inventiveness (Egan, 2005). Relative to the discussion of metaphor making, and within the synectic and surrealism dialogue, the author discusses strategies for extending imaginative and creative thinking by encouraging fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration (Torrance & Safter, 1999). When these four techniques for encouraging creativity are exercised, students are more likely to become creative problem solvers (Starko, 2004). In this article, I argue for the use of creative thinking skills-fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration-to help students arrive at ideas for artwork as an inceptive means to utilizing the cycle of visual inquiry (Siegesmund, 2000).

The cycle of visual inquiry suggests that artists arrive at decisions for making artwork by perceiving, conceiving, expressing, and reflecting. This theoretical model provides a specific framework to assist art teachers in constructing art lessons. A case study is presented in which a teacher uses the cycle of visual inquiry to challenge students in an elementary classroom. In particular, kindergarten and third grade students were paired for a lesson in synectics and surrealistic artmaking.

Helping children to develop skills in creativity and imagination so that they might generate original artwork always interests art educators. Torrance and Safter (1999) suggested that strategies to support creative thinking skills may be developed through techniques of fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. These strategies suggest a beginning point for Siegesmund's (2000) cycle of visual inquiry. According to Siegesmund, artists work through their ideas for their artwork by engaging in a cycle of visual inquiry. This cycle involves a sequence of stages: perception, conception, expression, and reflection. Important components of the visual cycle of inquiry as it relates to generating ideas are perception and conception. It is through Siegesmunds first two stages of perception and conception that students may begin to engage in the creative thinking skills put forward by Torrance and Safter (1999). Ultimately, when students master the creative thinking skills they are likely to complete the next stages of the visual cycle of inquiry-expression and reflection-and thus, solve the artistic problem.

Another powerful strategy for developing creative and imaginative ideas for artwork is the use of metaphor. As suggested by Egan (2005), the use of metaphor may be crucial in supporting creativity and mental capacity for children.

Background

Elementary art teachers often introduce the concepts of surrealism by looking at the images of Dali, Magritte, or Chagall and discussing how dreams, fantasy, and the subconscious mind inspired these artists. Teachers may explain that the surrealists' artworks typically included two or more familiar things that were fit together oddly. For example, the surrealists juxtaposed seemingly familiar objects in order to make the familiar appear strange (Starko, 2004). This mechanism used by many surrealists resulted in dreamlike and fantasy images. The surrealist technique of putting two familiar items into an unfamiliar juxtaposition is called synectics. Using synectics is one approach for developing habits of creative expression in the art classroom.

To put it another way, synectics can make the strange seem familiar or the familiar seem strange (Prince, 1968). When an artist combines something recognizable with a familiar condition in order to solve a problem, he or she may be taking the two familiar images and making them strange and surreal.

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