Skills and Dispositions for Creative Problem Solving during the Artmaking Process

By Pitri, Eliza | Art Education, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Skills and Dispositions for Creative Problem Solving during the Artmaking Process


Pitri, Eliza, Art Education


When allowed to make - and explain - their own choices, students develop invaluable creative problem-solving skills. Opportunities for such critical thinking abound in the art classroom.

A child, called Nino (pseudonym), was identified as a creative problem solver at the age of seven by his art teacher based on vague criteria, which she had described in Nino's school report. Nino's mom showed me his report and even if I would not hesitate to agree with the teacher because I have known the child from preschool and experienced his"unique"artworkand behavioron numerous occasions, I still could not stop wondering: How does that teacher know Nino is a creative problem solver? What does that mean and what does it "look like"? In order to specify what creative problem solving means and what skills and dispositions relate to the process, I studied Nino's artmaking process through observations of his behavior and interactions during his after-school visual arts activities once a week for 2 years.

During these activities, Nino in a group of six children between the ages of six to nine worked with a local artist at her studio and produced mostly individual artwork using age-appropriate tools and materials of their choice. Each child was free to make choices not only of what media to use but how to use it as well. The activities were mainly self-initiated but the teacher's guidance was always available to motivate children to think before and while producing their art. As a participant observer of Nino's art activities, I focused on his behavior and initially identified cases of conceptual problem solving, which refer to problems related to ideas during the artmaking process. More detailed descriptions of these cases resulted in identifying skills and dispositions related to creative problem solving, and their effects on art and more specifically the artmaking process. The importance of identifying how skills and dispositions related to creative problem solving are expressed in a child's behavior and artwork lies in attempting to develop educational techniques and strategies, and organize the educational experience and context to help other children acquire the necessary attitudes for solving problems creatively and learn that they can each be creative in their own way.

What follows is a section on the relation and distinction between critical thinking, the process of problem solving in general, creativity, and creative problem solving, as described in related literature. I had also used existing literature to support the information I include on skills and dispositions related to the creative problem-solving process based on Nino's artmaking. The examples of artwork in this article are some of the results of Nino's creative problem solving during my period of observation.

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Creativity, and Creative Problem Solving

Many educators have long advocated the teaching of critical thinking skills (Beyer, 1983; Chambers, 1988; King, 1995). Paul (1988) calls critical thinking the ability to reach sound conclusions based on observation and information and Lampert (2006) describes it as thinking that is focused on evaluating various alternatives. According to Walsh and Paul (1988), critical thinking is not the same and should not be confused with intelligence; it is a skill that may be improved in everyone. Critical thinking skills identified as important for various disciplines may differ, but skills common to most lists are included in three categories: enabling skills, processes, and operations (Costa, 1985; Howe & Warren, 1989). Enabling skills include observing, comparing/contrasting, grouping/labeling, categorizing/classifying, ordering, patterning, and prioritizing. Processes include skills related to analyzing questions, facts, or opinion; relevancy of information; and reliability of information. Processes also include skills necessary for inferring, understanding meanings, cause/effect, making predictions, analyzing assumptions, and identifying points of view. …

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