Art, Creativity, Nature and Spirit

Art Education

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Art Education


Not a Pretty Picture


I am an art educator because I believe passionately in what the creative process can do for kids…and adults! It is not about making a “pretty” picture. There is so much more involved. Because there is no one “right” answer in art class, students learn to use a variety of problem solving techniques and are challenged to find alternative solutions to  what they consider mistakes. They learn ways to think “outside the box”.  These are life skills, not just art techniques. The creative process is the “glue” that helps to integrate the total development of a student in all subject areas.


Because these skills transfer to all areas of learning, studies show that students who receive regular art instruction (not haphazard art and craft activities) improve reading and math scores as well.  They are more confident learners because they are engaging a process from within themselves, rather than simply recording informational facts from an external source. Such a student will go on learning after s/he leaves school.


The creative process, when consciously engaged, exposes and challenges kids to experience a totally different way of learning. It introduces them to techniques of spatial and intuitive learning and actually uses a whole different area of the brain…. that which is referred to as “right-brain”. We are all “right” and “left” brained. The right-brain processes information experientially and intuitively in contrast to the left-brain, which more naturally processes factual information.


Is the creative process limited to the fine arts? No.

Are all fine art classes built on a philosophy of creative process? No.


Some educators,  who don’t teach art, have an innate ability to use both “right” and “left” brain activities in their classrooms, while some art teachers build very little “experience of art” into their curriculums. Students of these art teachers may have fine technical skill, be fluent in the appropriate vocabulary and be walking encyclopedias of art history. They may make “pretty pictures”, but their work lacks the “soul” of art.


Activities that stimulate both brain functions are necessary for a balanced educational program if we are to develop the whole person within our students and ourselves. This is a challenge. Schools have been traditionally set up to favor linear thinking, the left-brain aspects of ourselves. Therefore, despite the tremendous efforts of our countless dedicated teachers, we fail many of our students. Our schools do not, at this point, consciously plan and set up curricula that balance right and left-brain development.


I believe that the most necessary ingredients in a successful school are: a caring supportive team of administrators, faculty and staff who work with one another to model what they teach, and a curriculum which builds in success for all learners.


Teachers in all subject areas work to educate, nourish and inspire the students in their care. Our strength is in our mutual concern for the full development of the “whole” student…. body, mind and spirit. Effort and good intention are not enough. The latest technology and best equipment, as helpful as it may be, will not do the job. The most effective forms of assessment cannot do it. We must begin to plan more consciously…. using creative process ourselves to build integrated curricula that support right and left-brain learning….and consciously teach techniques of creative process.


In my experience, I have found that some students blossom in art class while others, regardless of talent, struggle. I have come to see this again and again related to creative process. Because schools do not teach the processes involved with right and left-brain functions, many students try doing art in the same way they do math… looking for the “right” answer.  They learn the vocabulary, they follow the directions, but their work is lifeless and brings them no joy. They do the assignment, but never engage their own creative process.


As an art educator, my challenge is not to have students create pretty pictures, but to find better ways for students to access their own creativity. I want to help the student who naturally responds to art methodology, the student who may blossom in art with little success elsewhere, and; I am also very interested in “straight A” students who are terrified of art because they may fail. These students are afraid they won’t be able to find the one “right” answer, don’t dare risk any personal self-expression and haven’t got a clue how to let go of the mental gymnastics that prevent them from experiencing their own creativity.


When constructing a school curriculum, it is essential that we consciously plan and implement goals to support both right and left-brain learning. Why do schools persist in supporting left-brain learning over right-brain learning? Why do we continue to see the arts as a “frill” to the curriculum, making it the first target when budgets are tight? Could our physical body function if we had our right brains surgically removed? How can we hope to fully function as whole persons with mind, body and spirit if we continue to starve our educational systems through lack of funding and support of the arts?


Is it because “right-brain” activities so often bring us joy and delight that we consider them extravagant, or a “frill” to curriculum? Are we so imbued in the strong work ethic, upon which we pride ourselves, that we have yet to learn to truly value the wholeness for which God intended us? Artist, writer, and playwright, Julia Cameron reminds us, “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using it is our gift back to God”.  The Artist’s Way, p.3


An interesting fact is that our dogged focus on work seems to create more of what we are focusing on…more work! We work harder and harder and seem to have less and less money. When can we stop cutting back? Is God trying to teach us something? Isn’t there something we could let God do for us while we renew that part of ourselves starving for fun, joy and delight? Don’t we desperately need to learn how better to recreate our spirits through creative expression? Why then do we not see it as absolutely essential to the curriculum for our children and students?


I believe it is far more “cost effective” to our bodies, minds, spirits, and pocket books to look beyond our current limitations, dare to think “outside the box” …. allowing the Creator (the originator of creative process!) to direct us in a new and greater vision, while doing our part to bring balance to our school curricula.