Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

From Theory to Practice: Concept-Based Inquiry in a High School Art Classroom

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

From Theory to Practice: Concept-Based Inquiry in a High School Art Classroom

Article excerpt

Cezanne was not "satisfied with trusting the eyes and minds of others as a basis for his observations. As he explained to Emile Bernard in 1905, once understood, conventional practice served best as a basis for what not to do" (Sullivan, 2009, p. 41 ).

Problem Statement

"I think I'm just not very creative," Anita said one day, as she struggled to translate her complex thoughts into visual imagery. This is not the first time I have heard this remark from one of my art education students, and it always strikes me as one of the most poignant concerns an aspiring art teacher can have. As I looked out on the group of university students sitting before me-all of them practiced artists in some medium, who had enrolled in my studio processes course because of their interest in becoming art teachers-I wondered about the self doubt behind such a comment. These students were, without exception, creative and talented artists. Yet, when presented with an artistic problem that goes beyond the task of creating a realistic depiction of an object-say, creating a persuasive visual argument about an issue that concerns them-some of them struggle for ideas, and all too often put their difficulty down to an innate lack of creativity when in reality, they simply have never been asked to explore an idea through artmaking before and have no idea how to begin.

It is not uncommon today for students to graduate from high school with a strong grasp of artistic skillsets but with little understanding of art as a reflexive, expressive, or problemsolving process or a tool for communication and understanding. From my experience working with art studio majors at various universities, reviewing art curricula from around the nation, and visiting high school art shows, it would seem that many school art programs are training large numbers of draftsmen with little idea of how to use these skills to communicate ideas. It is time to consider the notion that there are multiple skillsets relevant to student learning in the Arts, and they are not all based on the elements of design. "It is important that we identify and focus on truly foundational principles of art education-meaningful ethical, intellectual, and artistic principles that inspired talented and dedicated people to become art teachers in the first place" (Gude, 2007, p. 6). (Italics added.)

Olivia Gude (2007) has written about the "transformative power of art and critical inquiry" (p. 6) when art instructors exemplify the best practices of arts education. Among these practices she has included encouraging students' growing aesthetic and intellectual sophistication, nurturing their identity development, and increasing interest and joy in learning. She has described a contemporary curriculum based not on formalist elements but on what she has deemed the "truly foundational" (p. 6) principles of artmaking based on the fusion of a visual form with a conceptual artmaking strategy:

Through a repertoire of projects in which students use diverse styles of representation of the self and various symbol systems to explore various aspects of experience, students become aware of the self as shaped in multiple discourses, giving students more choices about constantly shaping self. (p. 6)

At the same time, Sydney Walker (2006) has argued for instructional practice in schools that

.. .focuses on making meaning and incorporates the perspectives of contemporary culture, personal relevance, and contemporary art and practice. Although art educators currently recognize these as key areas for creating meaningful art learning in the classroom, classroom artmaking often lacks these connections, (p. 190)

Both Gude and Walker envision a K-12 art curriculum that expands beyond the traditional focus on skill building and takes into consideration the teaching of art through critical inquiry. Even though art educators have been arguing since the 1970s for a movement away from curricula based purely on Dow's elements and principles (Mittler, 1973), Doug Boughton found in 2004 that these elements and principles were still the sole foundation for the curricula in many of the classrooms he visited. …

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