Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist? | Cindy Foley | TEDxColumbus

October 5, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Jihan Chara
Reviewer: Denise RQ We are going to get started
with some kindergarten image-word match. I would like each of you to determine what is the word that matches
the image in number seven. Starting to come up with some ideas? Good. Get them in your head
because I want to share with you what my daughter Adeline chose. (Laughter) Adeline chose ‘art,’ and as her parent,
I thought that was awesome, but this is an incorrect answer
according to the testing guide. The correct answer is ‘mud,’
and I’m sure that’s what you all chose. Right, right? How can something
so nebulous be so concrete? Actually, I think this quiz
is a fitting analogy for the problem in art education today. Art education has been impacted by the standards and testing culture
like all other disciplines, and in a lot of ways, we’ve been focusing
on teaching things that are concrete. Things like elements of art,
art history, and foundational skills. In essence, we’re teaching things
that we can test and assess. But I believe art education needs to focus on developing learners
that think like artists. Learners who are creative, curious,
seek questions, develop ideas, and play, which means we need
to be much more intentional about how we communicate
art’s critical value and how we teach for creativity. So, creativity – let’s do
a little case making around this. Most of this you know. Creativity is being touted
by business leaders like the folks at IBM, by educational reformists, by economists, even folks as Dan Pink as the number one thing we need for student success,
economic growth, and general happiness. We also know the creativity scores
in this country are on the decline, that Torrance creativity test,
which has been administered for decades, has now shown, since the 1990s, a decline, especially in ages 6 to 12
in the United States. We also know due to Sir Kenneth
Robinson’s now famous TED Talk that schools are
fundamentally and foundationally challenged to cultivate creativity. But I’m going to share
with you some research that the Wallace Foundation did
with Harvard’s Project Zero in which they found the number one thing
quality art education can do is develop “the capacity to think creatively
and the capacity to make connections.” So then why is there such a disconnect between creativity and art education? I think there’s actually
a couple of reasons why. But we are going to focus on
communication and messaging. Those of us in the field
have been working to really move art education
out of a defensive place. We’ve been trying to make
a case for our own existence, and we’re trying to move it more
towards an offensive message especially around creativity. But we’re not there yet, and so, we’re going to place that
for another talk, at another time. Instead, I want to focus on a message I think is much more
problematic and pervasive – and I hate to put you on the spot, but I actually feel you are to blame. I mean, not you per se,
but you as a group of people who actually really support art education Let me give some context. As a parent, I often hear adults
saying things to children, as well as to other adults,
and to the educators, things like this, “Oh, my goodness! Look how well
you’ve drawn that horse! It’s so realistic! You’re so creative!” You’ve heard messages like that before? Here’s another one
I think I hear almost daily, “Oh, Cindy! I really support
art education. It is very important!
I mean, I’m not creative. I don’t have a creative bone in my body.
I can’t even draw a stick figure.” (Laughter) These messages are incredibly
problematic and the more … You may not think they are a big deal, but the more society pushes them out and continues to foster these cliche notions
of what is creativity, the harder it is
for those in the field, like me, to begin moving
towards teaching for creativity. Teaching for creativity.
What do I mean by that? I believe teaching for creativity is
embodying the habits the artists employ. Habits in particular, there are three that I think are essential to creativity. They are: one – comfort with ambiguity, two – idea generation,
and three – transdisciplinary research. We’re going to talk
about those in a moment, but first, we’re going to do
a little audience participation. I would like each of you
to use something on your person: paper, pencil, your program,
phone, glasses; it doesn’t matter. And I’d like you –
you’ll just get a couple of minutes – to actually create something
that represents the idea of metaphor. Go ahead. (indistinct chatter in the audience) Alright. Be honest. How many of you had a surge of panic
when I just asked you to do that? (Laughter) I want you to savor that sensation. You actually are off the hook, but I want you to savor
that sensation for a moment. What you just experienced is, I think,
the number one obstacle to creative work: that discomfort, and that discomfort
is ambiguity, it’s not-knowing. I actually learned this
from a group of teachers. We’d been working with them,
and they told us, “You know what? We find that it’s really difficult to engage our students in creative work,
in particular, open-ended projects. It just makes it really hard.” Ironically enough, later that afternoon,
we had that same group of teachers, and we gave them a challenge
similar to the one I just gave you. Interestingly enough, almost immediately, a couple of them announced
they needed to leave for the day. (Laughter) Another group needed
a break at that moment, and still, others stayed in the classroom but refused to participate
in the activity. What we realized is students struggle with ambiguity
because we all do. Artists, on the other hand, realize
that ambiguity is part of the process. They take it, they identify it,
and they tackle it head on. If artists are doing this,
can’t you imagine if art education was a place where we knew students could go
to prepare for lives of not knowing? I work at the Columbus Museum of Art,
and for years now, we provided the kind of art education
that our community requested. So for example, when we had an exhibition
of the work of Claude Monet, we taught about his history, we allowed folks to experiment
with his materials and his process, and then, we finally
would create lesson plans and allow others to do the same. In essence, what we were doing was generating content
and allowing folks to make mini-Monets. But then it dawned on us we were not actually engaging them
in what made Monet Monet. And that was the way he thought;
Monet’s ideas were revolutionary. He questioned the natural world,
the way we see, he questioned the politics of the time, and that’s what made
his work so exceptional. It was at this moment we realized we needed to be teaching
for idea generation. So I’m going to have you jump with me now
from one artist to another. (Laughter) The Lego movie gave us such a gift
when they presented the movie this summer. More or less, what they said was creativity is not the Lego kid
in the direction booklet but creativity is the bucket of Legos
and the potential for ideas within. Legos are just another material
like drawing materials to help us make ideas manifest. What I loved about this movie was the idea of the master builder or the person who has
the courage to have ideas. But it dawned on me, in much of education,
the master builders are the educators. They’re the ones who have ideas,
great lesson plans. But students are secondary
to that process. Students are often
more of the artist’s assistant, or sometimes, even just the factory worker
getting the project done. Visualize a classroom
full of master builders, a classroom full
of master builders at play. Yes, play. Play is essential. Play is a surefire way
to kickstart ideation. Artists play. They play in a number of ways. They either play with materials
until ideas begin to manifest or they play with ideas until they realize what media or materials
they need to bring that into reality. Imagine an art education
where educators were comfortable with the ambiguous classroom where student ideas
and interests lead the learning. So I need to be honest with you: nothing in my career,
my education, or my teaching has influenced my thinking
as much as being married to an artist. I am married to Sean Foley, and what I can tell you about artists
is that they’re voracious researchers. They will research anything –
bizarre things. And what I’ve learned is that they’ll do anything
that furthers their thinking. Let me give you an example. About ten years ago, Sean had this idea that if painting were dead
what if he were doctor Frankenstein? He immediately rereads Mary Shelley.
He rewatches all the classic horror films. He then devours books at the library on natural history, history
of medicine, anomalies of nature. He then starts purchasing
taxidermic animals. (Laughter) But then, he informs me
that we need to go to London. He must go to London in order to study
the museums of the pre-Enlightenment, and in particular,
the early operating theaters. So in essence, his research manifest, and Sean ends up making
monsters of his own, like this one. So what Sean was engaged in
is transdisciplinary research or research that serves curiosity. Imagine if the future of education
was not about discrete disciplines but rather was about disciplines
like math, art, and science being in service to ideas. What kind of spaces might we create
in order to foster that type of thinking? Could we create centers for creativity where we cultivate, champion,
and measure this type of thinking? I don’t want you for a minute
to stop championing art education, but I do want you to be thoughtful
about the chant. When we say we want creativity
in our schools, we often say, “Don’t kill the arts,” But today, I want that battle cry
to address art’s critical value, “Don’t kill the ideas.” I want my own children
to think like artists no matter what career path
they may choose. I believe art education is essential
for 21st century learning. And with your help, we can flip
the counterproductive messaging and allow our educators
to develop centers for creativity where ideas are king and curiosity reigns. Thank you. (Applause)