Thursday, August 27, 2015

Teaching Creativity in the Art Room

I just found an excellent series on teaching creativity from the Iowa State University CELT department.

I particularly like this diagram which shows 3 components of creativity which they took from Adams, K. “Sources of innovation and creativity: A summary of the research."

Three Components of Creativity

If we think about this specifically for the visual arts there are three separate components that we need to teach in the art room.
  1. We need to teach students creative thinking skills.
  2. We need projects or topics to motivate and cultivate ideas for.
  3. We need to develop students' expertise in the visual arts, which includes: skills to create meaningful art, and some context of what has been done before and what is going on now in the art world. 

I've adapted the diagram for the art room:

Monday, August 10, 2015

What does it mean to teach Creativity?

The world is asking for a different kind of worker or citizen in the increasingly changing world of technology we live in. The first attribute every business says that they need from their employees is someone who is creative. Like when the workforce needed a new type of employee during the industrial revolution art educators are stepping in and saying "Hey we DO that, we teach students to be CREATIVE! We are important!" but are you doing that in your art room? Are you teaching them what it means to be creative, not only in a visual art context, but in a way that can be utilized in other disciplines? 

Let's look at the definitions of creativity. 
Creativity definition by Merrian Webster:

: having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas
: using the ability to make or think of new things : involving the process by which new ideas, stories, etc., are created
: done in an unusual and often dishonest way

What businesses are talking about when they talk about a creative work force? I think they are talking more about the second definition: using the ability to make or think of new things: involving the process by which new ideas, stories, etc., are created. 

Creativity has a magical following. Most people think that people like Picasso, and Einstein must just have an amazing brain that pops out creative ideas. Put an artist in an environment that is open and they can have choices and they will be creative. It is something we have and it will just come out if we give the opportunity.  & that is how I've seen it in the art room. Art teachers ask students to come up with ideas and even grade them on their "creativity" without actually teaching them methods to hone their creativity and come up with new ideas. Ideas are not created in a vacuum. What is the problem needing to be solved, what are some solutions others have come up with, what are the limitations, what are the skills that we can exploit? Then the brainstorming can begin (that we also need to teach students how to do), art production, and reflection. 

Every Creative Solution Starts With a Problem to Solve

Students need to be confronted with a problem to be able to create a solution. If you just tell them to make something new and be creative without parameters they will create substandard work. Not because they are lazy, but because they don't know where to start. Coming up with something creative and new requires having the context and knowledge of what has been done before and what questions need to be solved. That is what projects are for. To create a question for the student to answer using the abilities they have and can put their creative efforts towards. Limitations help drive the creative process, not stunt it. Limitations are similar to situations in the real world. Scientists have to create new ways to acquire energy with the limited resources and the limited technology we have. The real creativity is being able to combine the things we can do despite the limitations and to eventually overcome them through knowledge and experimentation. The question of how to create cheap sustainable energy has created huge strides in wind and solar power in the last decade. Without the question needing to be answered these technologies wouldn't have advanced.

For an art education example in this post, the problem to be solved will be creating a poster that creates an awareness for an animal that is in danger of extinction. 


After confronting students with a problem the creative journey requires some context and research. If the problem you have asked your students to solve is creating an artwork to bring an awareness of an animal that is on the near extinction list, then you need to start with research to define the problem better. You need to give them the context of how an artist or two solved a similar problem. Show them two examples by two different artists. Make a list of what things are present in both posters. Add to the list things that are different in the two posters. This further defines the problem and will give students a direction to create something new. 

Teaching them Brainstorming
Don't just ask the kids to come up with ideas or to make 4 possible sketches. Teach them how to brainstorm! Choose either one method like mindmapping and always use that or teach them other methods as well. Create lists or play a game with the kids around the table. Make them aware that this is something that they can use elsewhere not just a fun game they did in art class. Brainstorming is a learned skill, not an inherent ability. This is how we teach creativity. We give them methods to do it. After they brainstormed ideas and things related to their animal and the the knowledge of other artist's solution to the problem (the examples they looked at) then they can make their thumbnail sketches. 

Limitations & Skills
The limitations in the art room would be what skills the students come to the table with and what supplies can be used as well as the initial problem to be solved. This is where teaching media skills comes in. Teach them a skill you want to be seen in the final poster. Maybe you showed them examples of two posters made in watercolor and then you teach them skills needed to do their own in watercolor: masking, washes, color mixing. This is not limiting their creativity. This is focusing their creativity by using the skills they learned to solve a problem. 

Art Production 
Finally time to get out the art supplies! They have their idea plotted out that is as new to the world as they could get with the research they have done and their brainstorming method. Now they can use the art technique skills of watercolor you taught them in your demo to create an original artwork. Often kids will ask if they can use techniques not learned as well and my answer is almost always yes as long as they display the ones they learned too. If I taught them how to make a wash there should be a wash in there somewhere to be the assessment for the skill learned. This will not limit their creativity, but actually push it because they will have to come up with a solution that takes into account that limitation. Working for companies on creative projects has taught me that there will always be limitations artists have to work inside. When I was hired to create an image for a colored pencil tin I was told it needed to use their colored pencils as the medium, had to show the vibrance of the colored pencils, and had to have fruit and fabric in the design. I had to use my creativity in those confines to make the best image I could. 

Either in the middle of the production,  or at the end,  have the students reflect on the how effective their solution was. Not on how well they could use watercolor or stay inside the lines. It will take years of practice in art to perfect techniques. They should reflect on how well their image gets across the point they were trying to make.  If you do this before the project has to be finished it will still give them time to make changes before being graded. What you really want is for them to put into words their process and their understanding of their creative process. 

I've heard people say you can't teach kids creativity and I completely disagree. Teaching them tools and techniques to focus their brains on creating new ideas is teachable and should be part of their art education.