A Sense of Art
by Emma Justice, YIS Art and Design Teacher
An art room looks very different to what it would have a few years ago; there are still spaces for traditional art-making, but also new ones accommodating textiles, creative design, digital media, performance and installation spaces and more, all contained within the modern art classroom. Despite the constant evolution that exists in all aspects of education, subjects always have to compete against the persisting stereotypes of the past. For visual art these can probably be summarised as "Visual Art is only for people who can draw well" and "Studying Visual Art is really only useful if you want to study it at university or become an art teacher yourself."
Perhaps part of the reason that the old stereotypes endure is because elements of them are based in truth. By virtue of visual art being just that, visual, there has to be art-making and the work produced will be open to judgment from an audience. There is, however, much more: the true nature of visual art is that the experimentation, documentation and recording of the creative process is required to be equal to the final product. The student, as a researcher, needs to understand the wider context of their art and the message they wish to convey with it. They have to experiment with different media, consider who their audience will be and what barriers exist to them communicating successfully. They have to implement, test and evaluate their failures as well as their successes in order to produce the best possible outcome whilst ensuring they document every step in order to provide a record of their journey. The creative process that students go through is one of the reasons why I have always enjoyed being an IBDP Visual Art teacher; the curriculum ensures a well-rounded means to give credit for all aspects of the process not just the final artwork.
To fully recognize our contemporary art classroom, the stereotypes of visual art that persist must be finally replaced. A more realistic and modern view of visual arts and it's place in education, came into focus for me attending a conference while I was teaching the national curriculum in Scotland. A colleague who had been presenting that day commented, "[Visual art] above all, isn't about how well you can draw. It fundamentally helps students learn how to become better researchers." Reflecting on this statement helped me realise how important it is that we break down old stereotypes and help students and wider audiences recognise the far greater contributions to their learning that studying visual art can offer.
The individual perspectives students apply to their projects is a vital component as well; Dr Penny McKeon, Art Education Specialist at University of New South Wales, Sydney stated "The arts are important to the development of a rich personal lifeworld; they also contribute, together with experiences, to an individual's ability to articulate the significance of a personal lifeworld'. In this way, 'A Sense of Art' is also akin to us acquiring a sense of our world". Visual art reflects how we as human beings are entrenched in creative processes every day, whether the final outcome is an artwork, a new business proposal or the resolution of a personal problem. This 'Sense of Art' inhabits our daily lives, and visual art is a place to allow cultivation and development of these facets that will, at the very least, become part of a student's world regardless of the direction they choose beyond high school.
I feel lucky to be in a position to get to know students in such a creative way and to have the chance to therefore understand them better as people. The rigour and involvement that comes with art-making is no simple undertaking, and nor should it be seen as such. It is through our creative lens we face problems head on and lay the groundwork for resilience, perseverance and problem-solving, and it is this which makes studying visual art so much more than the painting or drawing you see on the wall.
McKeon, Penny, Dr. A Sense of Art History in Art Education. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 98-109 Published by: University of Illinois Press.
Smith, Ralph, A. Building a Sense of Art in Today's World. Studies in Art Education, Vol. 33, (1992) pp. 71-85. University of Illinois Press.