Aesthetics and critical thinking in visual arts education

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  1. How Art Education Fosters Critical Thinking and Why It Matters -
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This might mean that we discuss assignment issues and conduct practice sessions on one day and come back to the same problem on another day.

How Art Education Fosters Critical Thinking and Why It Matters -

Many students forget what is learned, so I ask questions to let them know that it is good to remember what is learned so it can be used again next time. Reviewing some of the practice is seldom a waste of time. Often, if students are not accustomed to listening carefully, they feel lost if I do not show them what it is supposed to look like.

Without an example, I may need to begin at an easier place in the process, or with only a portion of the process. Some are not accustomed to sketching and thumbnailing. They are not used to the idea that they are permitted to originate ideas from their own lives, experiences, and concerns. Other teachers may not ask this of them.


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When I do not show them the answers, they may need practice in learning how creative people develop ideas for their work. It helps if I start asking about things several weeks in advance. A future challenge can be presented long before the actual production so the subconscious mind focuses on it. Creative people generally have several projects going on simultaneously at different stages of development. Creative minds, once focused, continue to work for us while we sleep, go for a walk, or while relaxing.

If I fail to give advance notice, I cannot expect them to be as creative. While "image flooding" showing many examples may be inspirational, it can also be intimidating and very suggestive. It can be argued that "image flooding" creates slicker work, but less creative thinking skills. It may win the scholastic awards, but it teaches us to go through life in other people's skins. We never learn the ecstasy of achieving success based on original ideas.

Also see 10 below and 1 above. If messiness and neatness is graded as a symptom of not caring, would it not be better to call it "caring"? In any list of grading criteria, originality and caring must have more importance than neatness. In art, neatness may be used as a style. As a style, neatness can get some credit if it adds substance in a relevant way, but messy styles can also add evocative communicative content.

Art includes both objective definable ideas and feeling as well as non-discursive ideas and feelings. Conformity and even following the assignment too slavishly may be a negative indicator when assessing art. I believe that product centered education makes very good slave training--not good education.

What I want is student ownership and self-learning. I often imagine what it might be like to be one of those artists cranking out "Starving Artist" oil paintings from a village in China. They work as wage slaves in painting factories. If I ask students to do whatever they want to do, they often avoid risk by doing something they already have learned in the past. The amount of creative thinking may be zero. When there are limits , there is a better chance of having a challenging task. I like to discourage mindless repetition of past success by asking questions that require variations.

Students can have some choice in how to limit their own redundancy. Of course, doing a thing again can be creative when we are trying variations or making comparistons. Imposed limits are harder to make compelling and interesting to the student. It is only fair to be sure that students understand the reasons that limits can help focus and give depth and greater quality to their ideas. Good lessons ask questions, provide learning goals, reasonable objectives, and so on.

As a teacher, my job is to make the easy things more challenging and to make the hard stuff accessible. If a student is paralized by a limit. I ask the student to choose an alternative that is more of the student's own choosing or developmental stage. Contrary to some common assumptions, it is often better for the students themselves to set the limits and the focus, so long as they understand that they go beyond simple repetition of a previous success.

Repetition with focused variation is an excellent way to make qualitative comparisons. However, easy repetition and self copying needs to be limited. As teachers , we also benefit from self-imposed limits that force us to move beyond our self-copying and past successes. If I have been routinely teaching something with a demonstration, it can be very creative for me to come up with a way for students to learn the same thing with hands-on experiences that I have them do as a warm-up or preliminary practice routine.

If I have routinely been teaching by showing examples, it can be very creative for me to come up with alternatives that use questions, experiments, preliminary sketches, team discussions, and list making instead of me showing visual answers examples. Students of nearly any age can learn to give themselves limits and assignments to learn new things.

We need to cultivate classroom culture where the benefits and rewards of creative expectations are learned. I want there to be student choices that require genuine thinking and decision-making. I must find ways that discourage choices to opt out of thinking, discoveries, problem solving methods, and new growth. Affirmations of clumsy efforts can be stated in ways that encourage new efforts, but also encourage continued experimentation and practice to improve the product quality along with innovative experimentation. I often begin by commenting on a promising and effective thing that I see in the work, but follow that with an open question or reference to how I might look for some additional thing.

A creative classroom culture needs divergent goals that focus outside conventional content goals. A creative classroom environment must include experimentation based on student choice. Modification of expectations becomes the norm. Entrenched habits of thinking and working are questioned. In the end, I hope students choose to work this way on their own.

While limits that ask for change can insure that students are challenged, if students do not see the purpose of it, a teacher's limits often are seen as boring external requirements. This is helped by student choice in certain aspects of every creative project. Student choice provides for autonomy and ownership. By the end of a semester we want a culture of self-challenging choice and focus. In art class, the rubrics and critiques can help to actively move students in the direction of self-planning for creative thinking.

Even rubrics and critiques can be constructed by using student responses to open-ended questions. While we may be tempted to plan on the basis of content standards, this can calcify thinking processes and kill creative opportunities.

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The most important standards should be thinking and working habits that in the end will produce the most self-learning. This is helped by including self-challenge, self-learning choices, and enough difficulty to get practice in persistence in the search for better answers and stronger artwork. Students themselves need to understand the benefits of self-assigned challenges. Too often I am so glad I have what seems like an intelligent suggestion that I blurt it out without thinking.

When I do this I am taking away several important things. I make my students less self-reliant and more dependent on me. I teach them not to think for themselves. Would it not be better to bite my tongue - to pause long enough to phrase a question or two that helps students realize that what they think is important.

I can often simplify the problem by asking them to solve a smaller problem that helps with the larger question.

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My Open Questions - What would happen if I would ask those who observe my teaching to help me overcome my tendency to give answers? How could I be teaching thinking and self-empowerment? Could I ask students do this for me? What if my students learning to be teachers, when observing other teachers giving an answers, would jot down ways to revise these events into empowering teaching moments instead of spoon feeding students with suggestions?

Hmm, how could I have stated these questions better? How might I replace my suggestions in this list of 10 creativity killers with better questions that would motivate your experiments?