Saturday, April 24, 2010

Engaging Learners Through Artmaking

Engaging Learners Through Artmaking is a book published by Teachers College Press that describes the use of creative centers to enrich children's self-motivated art learning and expression. The concept is relatively simple. You provide children the means and materials arranged in centers (e.g., woodworking, sewing, clay, painting, cardboard, etc.) through which they can be creative, and give them some training in each center, then turn them loose though not abandoned.

The authors, Katherine Douglas and Diane Jaquith had done an earlier video which I had shared with the head of Clear Spring School as a vision for our future arts center/woodshop.

The image at left is the finished box for my mother's ashes. As with many projects done experimentally, there are some things I would improve in a second effort. It is such an amazing thing to have a wood shop, along with the tools, materials and experience required to make things. Even when they don't turn out to directly compete with the perfection attained by modern manufacturing, there are feelings involved, and opportunities to express and resolve matters of inner landscape. Art is the process through which the self is most clearly revealed. Adults and children all need the opportunity to engage physical and emotional realities through the use of art.

The great ongoing tragedy of American education is that the arts have been repressed for so long. Engaging Learners Through Artmaking offers a formula through which we can get back to what we need most. The use of centers allows the students to make choices of which art materials and methods in which to engage, leading them toward artistic behavior which the authors describe as follows:
Play with materials
Dream and mentally plan
Conceive and expand ideas for artmaking
Risk false starts, abandon failed attempts
Utilize materials in traditional and idiosyncratic ways
Combine materials and genres (e.g.,sculpture with painting)
Complete several pieces in a very short time, or work for weeks on one piece
Pursue multiple works at the same time
Follow a particular line of thinking over time, sometimes repeating a series of similar works
Accept mistakes as the springboard for new directions
Comment on one's life, beliefs, popular culture, politics and history

If you think about it, you might realize that artistic behavior is exactly what the CEO of a multinational corporation might need to respond to changing economic conditions, and what every child must learn in order to be competitive in the 21st century. As we navigate a return to the arts in schools, authors Douglas and Jaquith have provided a useful road map.


  1. Anonymous4:20 AM

    The book on art by children, the box for your mother's ashes and the later post on why anti-depressants are not the panacea they are advertised to be, are all beautifully connected. I feel better when I make things.


  2. Mario, it is a puzzle to me, why there isn't greater acknowledgment of the connection between making and well-being. Could it be that there is hardly any money to be made from it by the powers that be?

    You would think that the art craft and hobby business would have a more effective lobby, and be pushing this information to Congress.