My Recent Experience with Art Education

I started working for a local studio last May, Bad Dog Arts, and honestly when I went in for the interview I had no idea what to expect. I was in search of additional work, and sincerly hoped I would have room to grow and feel creative in the work place. During the interview they told me they were a non-profit arts organization for youth in our community, creating a safe place for kids to feel confident in their creativity. I have to tell you, as an art major, I was slapping myself in the face to be sure this was really happening. My thoughts had been in the realm of art and teaching, and here was a gold plated opportunity to decide if this really made sense to me, by giving it an actual go.

I was able to assist through the summer art camps, where week long themed camps were held for different ages of kids, and we explored various facets and mediums of art. We were sculpting, painting, drawing, building, destroying, and letting our minds run wild with ideas, and then making them happen with our hands. I openly admit, children are extremely tiring, but their minds are miracles. They are fearless little creatures, and something I so badly needed to observe. I would inquire what a kid was creating, and proceed to say "What colors do you want to paint your sculpture?" They would respond with a slew of colors, and I would think to myself, "well, those do not go together at all, but okay!" Then, they would show me their finished project, and I would stare amazed at what they had accomplished. They literally started with nothing, wanted to build an ice crystal breathing dragon, and made it happen. SIMPLE. There were times, I tried to explain something was not going to work properly, rattling off a list of reasons: the weight wasn't proportional, mixing those colors will only give you brown, it will break if it is to thin etc. etc. The kids would look at me with obscurity, and once again the fearless factor prevailed. They would learn quickly, make small suggested adjustments, and resumed making what they intended. I had been caught up in so many rules I forgot what it was like to not know them. Someone once told me, "You have to know the rules, to know how to properly break them." Knowing the rules can make you self conscious; I thought I was free in my art filled thinking, but I had no idea just how free I needed let myself be.

My observation the past few months teaching art in public schools is this...

I would start the class by asking the kids, "Who thinks they are an artist?" The kindergarten class would almost toss their arms out of their sockets raising their hands. There was no doubt all of them felt and knew they were artists. It was a similar experience with first, a few stragglers in second, and almost half the class did not raise their hand in the third grade class. What happened?! I noticed kids started becoming very aware of themselves, they were suddenly insecure, and waited to see what the kid next to them was doing. By the time kids reach fourth grade, they have started determining who the "good" artists were in class, and this only gets more confining as children get older. Art is being taught out of them instead of being used as a tool to help them further succeed in other interests. It is unfortunate children and most adults do not see the craft in a surgeon, or the creativity in a biochemist; furthering art's segregation from math, science, and other subjects. When I talk about doctors, engineers, and lawyers being artists, kids are completely confused; they do not recognize these professions as being creaitive. We should feel ashamed, because the unrestricted motion of thinking art inhibits is important in developing important ideas in all fields. Our minds work in extraordinary ways, and naturally they interpret and transfer information differently, and that should be embraced. I will be realistic, most schools do not have the funding to hold an art class in their schools; this is not the problem, the problem is when we separate art other subjects when they could be working hand in hand. To drive my thoughts home, there is an amazing TED TALK by Ken Robinson; he makes the case for creating an educational system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. Watch it!