Can art be taught? We can certainly help someone with technique, perspective, materials, focus and more than anything, encouragement to unfurl the artist within. I believe that anyone can be an artist. Unfortunately many of us are told, ” what are you doing? You don’t have any talent, blah blah, woof woof…..” At a young age, we often take these comments for the truth and internalize them. As result, we cut ourselves off from any further development of our creativity. All children love art and the enthusiasm at the kinder-garden or pre-school age is often boundless, then by the fourth to sixth grade a tightening up or disinterest has sadly set in already. Some students though remain connected to their drive to create. These students run with the suggestions given, expand on their own creativity and produce amazing pieces of art. My philosophy is to offer kids, interesting projects, provide them with and help to handle materials, point out a few things and otherwise stay out of the way of their imagination. If they didn’t dig deep enough I try to encourage them to go further and if they are ready, I nudge them towards developing a critical eye for their surroundings and their own work.
There are several levels of trust that help in the approach to making art. The relationship between student and teacher and the trust within ourselves that we can create. Some kids are confident in their abilities while others can be greatly helped by the teacher’s attention, kindness and encouragement. Teaching kids for a year has shown me how the trust the student develops in the teacher builds confidence in the young artist. Taking away the fear of failure, learning that not every project has to be great and that even mistakes can lead to new turns and discoveries are other elements that I emphasize in the art making process.
When I first started teaching at the elementary school, I used some exercises that are commonly taught in the college level, like color wheel, color bars, gradation, color theory and mixing. I adjusted it to the different grade levels. Generally the students took to it very well. I kept referring to it throughout the year, reinforcing what they learned. Kids often like to do simple things, especially when it leads to new discoveries. I also noticed that the tendency to rely on the computer versus their own imagination increases which each grade. Of course the computer had a valid and useful place in art making, but in 6th grade the answer to the question as how to learn to draw a tree was: “On the internet.” I kept encouraging the students to look outside to see if trees were really drawn with a straight edge. I did take the students onto the field to look at and draw trees and mountains. This activity can be increased.
All kids were excited by the technique of printmaking and some of the work blew my mind. Scratchboards is great for this purpose. No knifes involved.
During grades K-2, most kids relish to make art, then with every grade the enthusiasm wanes for some kids. By 5th and 6th grade the fear of experimentation and failure has settled in and this is sad. By the 5th grade some attitudes have hardened so much that the student has partially shut down to new experiences. This is sad, but with individual attention, a sensitive approach, a surprise turn, some of these students can be reached, and can open up again.
During the year I taught at the Elementary School level we participated in three poster contests, two local, and one national. I am proud to say the we cleaned up in one of the local contests and and won 14 awards during the “Save the Rays” national contest. Of course art isn’t really a contest, but kids also do like to compete (not all) and an art contest can energize them tremendously. Here is a link to the Ka’elepulu Elementary School website art page, which has several slides shows of some great art work.
Many students of course, thrive in the arts and it is a pleasure for the teacher to introduce new views or techniques and see the student reach for new heights.
My teaching experiences range from teaching senior citizens, guest teaching printmaking at Horace Mann School in NYC, the AHAA School For The Arts in Telluride CO and other workshops. I co-taught a 300 level course at the University of Hawaii Manoa Psychology Department called Art and Consciousness. Friend’s kids of all ages visiting my studio are happy to be provided with crayons, pencil, paint and paper and let their imagination fly. Several teenagers and young adults have stayed at my house/studio working along with me or on their own, drawing, painting or printmaking. As a former president and current board member of the Honolulu Printmakers I have participated in many outreach activities involving kids. The year of teaching at the Elementary School level has deepened my knowledge of how kids make art, what they can’t and what they can do.
Every student of art loves to learn about other artists and even some history or big moments in art. Some of my students loved DADA. Was it the wildness, or just the word?
And…… just in case you didn’t know, even if you’re bad at art, making art can reduce stress.
“Embrace mistakes” is something I tell the students. You never know where it might lead you.
Dieter has BA’s in PSY and ART and an MFA in painting.
If due credit is not given on some of the pieces, let me know and I’ll change it. If you think that you daughter’s or son’s art should not be presented here, let me know and I’ll take it off.
……and never forget: