Understanding the teaching of art

Art is always a favourite with me – despite me being the actual worst artist EVER!! I cannot draw at all. I’m almost embarrassed to even try. Thank goodness for google images!

But I do love creativity. I do love originality. And I believe that enthusiasm is the key to success (not just In art lessons). Just don’t ask me to paint your portrait unless you’re not easily offended!

I believe that you should approach any art focus with lots of questions and an open mind – whatever your age. It is such a subjective area as everyone has different artistic approaches and preferences – and that’s ok! I love looking at art with children and asking them if they like it or not. As we all know, children are brutally and beautifully honest and will say it like it is! I love listening to their answers and always encourage them to justify their ideas. I also ask them what they would prefer? ie another artist or artistic method. I believe that children need to see a wide range of contrasting art across the primary phase. Art that seems to make perfect sense and art that absolutely doesn’t. Art that needs no explanation and art that literally cannot be explained. I also believe that talking about art… is art itself and should be embraced and acknowledged along the way! Teachers can help children to think critically about different representations or artwork by asking both open and closed questions! Have sentences stems or modelled examples at the ready….

Our world display. Art and Geography.
Our world display. Art and Geography.

A successful art curriculum should cover a range of artists, styles, genres, websites, books and galleries. Look at your school progression of skills documents. Art lessons should always build on prior learning and should be connected to a wider context; maybe historical or cultural?

I love having a well equipped art area where children can help themselves and select different media for their work. They need to have take up time to practice using different media at different times. Colour mixing (or discussions about colour/shades/hues) should be taught in most lessons and practised as often as possible!

If we are focussing on an artist, I love sharing background information in lesson one! Really getting an understanding of the character and the facts about their lives. This research may take all lesson! But remember it doesn’t have to be boring! Share the responsibilities! Delegate! One group find examples of the artists’ work, one group find out facts about their lives and another look into their techniques, media and artistic approaches. Then come together and share ideas! Create posters, songs, videos! Celebrate the fact that this artist is famous! Again – discussion is key!

Display made from children's artwork
Display made from children’s artwork

I also love an experimental lesson devoted to practice, copying, studying, discovering, exploring, creating and so on. Blank pieces of paper where lines and form are created on a large scale as children copy specific images or sections from the artists’ work or create their own style based on one particular painting. Mix colours and hues and talk about the colours used most prominently by the artist in question. Discuss shape, take close up photos of your favourite sections of the work or simply divide the work up so that each class member creates one piece – then stick it back together – an old idea but such a great one! Remember not to initially focus on the outcome or end product. It is also, maybe more importantly, about the process!

We must greatly encourage children who have natural artistic ability! However, it is equally important to fuel the imaginations of those who are less technically skilled. We must strike the perfect balance between accurate representation and skill and the freedom of self-expression! I love to bring Growth Mindset into the classroom at this point and watch the children thrive within a positive atmosphere that is conducive to learning; where all abilities are free to reach the stars!

Tuff Tray painting the Taj Mahal using Spices in paint and describing how they smell
Tuff Tray Painting Taj Mahal

Now like I said, I do not claim to be the best artist in the world, but I do have enthusiasm! Plenty of it! And I am also not afraid to act as the learner in my role alongside the children. (The children have often praised me for my efforts during an art lesson where I have produced drawings that I don’t want any other adult to EVER see). Also, what I can boast about is the fact that I have done my research. My subject knowledge is good! I have tried this before over the years and perfected my teaching in order to get across a method or skill! I know the pitfalls and the misconceptions and I am armed! Equally as rewarding are lessons that go off on wonderful tangents as the children become absorbed in their learning!

Talking to the children about their artwork is such an important part of the process. The key artistic vocabulary can potentially be used to good effect as you comment on the texture, colour, form and line within a piece of work when you are giving feedback or praise. Instead of suggesting ways to improve a piece of work, turn it back on them! What could you do here to make the colour more vivid? Or I wonder what adding some shadow here would do? Maybe had some key questions on the board for the review stage as a prompt for all involved!?

So: Art improves our ability to look at the world around us and criticise or appreciate accordingly. Art allows us a break from the literal; a chance to use a different part of our brains and of course a way to release our inner character and emotions. Let your inner artist run free! Everyone is an artist: even me!?

See more on teaching art by following the link below!

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