Research from The Educational Forum: A Call for Teacher Support of Art

Dr. Jodi Patterson is an art educator who wrote a paper for The Educational Forum titled “Too Important to Quit: A Call for Teacher Support of Art.” The essay is largely based on her experience teaching an undergraduate course called “Art for the Elementary Teacher,” a required methods course for education majors to earn their teacher certification in Washington state. A variety of students—including science, physical education, and math majors, not just art majors—take her course.

When Dr. Patterson first interviewed for her position, the department chair asked Jodi a key question…

The chairwoman asked me, “What is the most important thing you think your general education students should learn from taking an art methods course?”  

I replied, “I believe the most important thing a general education teacher should take away from my art class is an understanding that much of what they think they know about creativity and their personal art-making abilities is wrong.”

I elaborated on my answer, stating that many people believe humans are either born to be artists or not, or seem to think people are either creative or not. I offered a few key facts, something along the lines of how the workforce demands skills that cannot be outsourced, neuroscience backs up claims that the arts help with cognition in general, and drawing is a skill that can be taught. Then I ensured the committee that I would work hard to debunk art and creativity myths by providing them with concrete examples of what I would teach non-art students, including how to carefully observe the world so they can draw it, how to expand their notion of creativity from mere self-expression to include branches of interdisciplinary innovation, and thus, how to recognize the ways art can be harnessed to enhance both teaching and learning.

My answer to the “most important thing” question was a line in the sand. It was a promise that future teachers would have an opportunity to realize art’s power firsthand if they studied education at our university, and reinforced my desire to take the position.

The “most important thing” question was vital for another reason: It provided me with a focus. Sometimes the teaching profession gets hectic, passion gets diffused, and repetition of content can feel burdensome. But a simple mantra can help fortify convictions and serve as a basic reminder of why we teach. In this case, the department chair’s question framed my mantra: Authentic experience can obliterate fallacy. Such fallacy is propagated in and by our current educational system:

  1. Most young children emphatically enjoy engaging with the visual arts.
  2. Most teens quit art.
  3. Some teens who quit art become the teachers of young children who enjoy art (but as teachers are largely afraid to effectively employ art in their classrooms).

Future teachers need to be exposed to authentic art experiences to help obliterate this creative-crisis cycle. With all of the promises the visual arts bring to education, the specialized art teacher cannot do it alone. I fully realize such a statement is disruptive to both my field of art education and the educational system itself, so I took pains to outline my declaration in The Educational Forum. In reality, teachers don’t need published academic papers to clue them in to the benefits of art. We (the teachers) already stock our classrooms with art supplies because we know students enjoy using them. But what if we expanded art’s offering beyond paint and crayons? What if we believed in the power of active versus passive observation? What if we collectively encouraged divergent thinking over exalting the one right answer? Or if we all believed artistic skills could be taught, honed, and assessed just as readings skills can be? What if we understood the reading of both images and text to be equally vital skills for generations of digital natives? Could we obliterate the pubescent creative-crisis by being confident mentors who modeled, taught, and encouraged artistic behavior? How about instead of saying “I can’t,” we all said “I am learning”? How liberating would it be to the delicate psyche of humans to not feel self-defeated when confronted with trial and error opportunities—to have the confidence to practice, err, and re-invent? These are just some of the things the visual arts teach us.

The field of visual art must release itself from its specialized stronghold. Art is not exclusive unto itself, but rather inclusive to nearly all forms of human existence. If we hone generations of humans who are fierce warriors of mark-making, aesthetic up-taking, and divergent think-tanking, then together we can create a world of humans who, as Edmund Feldman coined it, become “human through art.” Art has the power to make this and many more beneficial promises so, but it needs a collective force to make it be.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Patterson’s essay free with the education community through August 31, 2017. Read the full article here.

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