Painting with Scissors: Art Education beyond Production

Article excerpt

People can interact with visual art in four ways. They make it, appreciate it, understand it and make judgments about it (Brandt, 1987/1988). According to Gardner (1990) and Spodek (1993), art education for young children historically has concentrated primarily on making art; that is, art production.

Art education, however, ought to be much more than mere production. Art education is a way of knowing, encountering and understanding our world (Eisner, 1988; The Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1985; Smith, 1982; Thompson, 1995; Vecchi, 1993). The Getty Center for the Education of the Arts (1985) proposes that art education should include art criticism, art history and aesthetics, in addition to art production. Some art education programs, such as Arts PROPEL, emphasize reflection and perception as well as production (Gardner, 1988, 1990). Only recently, and only in a handful of early childhood education contexts (e.g., Reggio Emilia), has children's art been viewed as the construction and expression of knowledge, rather than simply the production of aesthetically pleasing works of art.

The authors will first examine the benefits of art education that goes beyond art production to encompass an expansive view of art. Second, the authors describe a kindergarten art project called "Painting with Scissors," in which the first author implemented this expansive approach to art education.


Gilliatt (1983) emphasizes the need for teachers to create opportunities for children to interact with art beyond the production level. Otherwise, they may never develop an appreciation for and an understanding of the arts. Unfortunately, in classrooms there are missed opportunities to capture young children's natural interest in looking at, talking about and reflecting on visual artwork. These missed opportunities are tantamount to withholding from children the following benefits of an expanded art education: broader mental functioning, meaning-making and aesthetic sensitivity.

Art Education Promotes Broader Mental Functioning

When children think and respond to visual art forms, their minds are enriched in many ways and they develop "unique and important mental skills" (Getty, 1985, p. 64). The cognition required when responding to art is not limited to the rule-governed cognition that lies at the heart of mastering subjects like math and spelling. Appreciation and understanding of art as expression requires judgment. The viewer must consider ambiguities, nuances and subtleties. Constructively dealing with ambiguity requires broader thinking and the ability to find multiple solutions to problems (Getty, 1985; Eisner, 1988; MacGregor, 1975). Thus, art education develops broader or divergent thinking.

Perkins (1994) posits that responding to art and becoming visually literate is critical to the development of productive thinking dispositions. Unproductive or negative thinking dispositions are likely to result in hasty, narrow-minded, indiscriminating and haphazard ways of thinking. Productive thinking dispositions, or reflective intelligence, derails negative thinking. Productive thinking moves 1) hastiness toward patience, 2) narrow cognition toward broad and adventurous insight, 3) indiscriminating understanding toward comprehension with clarity and depth, and 4) haphazard stream of consciousness toward organized thought.

The presence of a physical object made available for repeated examination and probing makes visual art uniquely capable of fostering productive thinking dispositions. Visual art encourages the viewer to make a variety of meaningful connections with other experiences and ideas and requires the convergence of affective, logical and sensorial responses. In art, the invisible must be made visible. Therefore, meaningful interaction with art demands reflective and intelligent thinking (Perkins, 1994).

Art Education Promotes Meaning-Making

Art education beyond production helps children understand their world. …