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How Do You Teach Art?

by Sharon Jeffus

Teaching art is not an abstract. There are abstract elements to it, but there are also concrete elements to a good art program. The basic concrete elements of an overall well rounded art program are as follows:

  1. An understanding of the vocabulary of the arts. These vocabulary words should be interspersed in every lesson.

  2. An appreciation of great works of art throughout the ages. Each lesson should contain at least a review of a master work of art.

  3. An experiencing of the various media of art. Children should be exposed to a wide variety of media.

The abstract elements are as follows:

  1. Students should be taught problem solving skills. Creativity needs to be encouraged. The student needs to understand that "art" is not in the hand but in the head. Younger students especially need to hear that their ability to put something on paper is not the important thing. Their abilities and their fine motor skills will develop over time. Their art technology will continue to advance from finger painting to crayon drawing to pencil to ink to paint all the way through sculpting, photography, computer art, video etc. Their ideas may be in computer graphics, but their technology may be in pencil. Real art takes place in their imaginations.

  2. A positive self image should be maintained. A good art project is a great self confidence builder. It is the teacher's job to find positive elements.

Many people believe that teaching art to younger children is simply allowing them to copy a model picture. With this approach fine motor skills only are developed. Children may all cut out similar shapes and put them all together in identical ways. The finished product looks exactly like the sample project. This is, in my opinion, the wrong way to teach art. When all projects look exactly alike when the lesson is finished, this is an unsuccessful lesson. When children have the freedom to take the concepts and the stimulating project idea and express themselves in a way that it is part of their very soul, that is a good art lesson and a great self concept builder.

Older students need to look at master works of art and learn techniques from them. They should experience a sampling of a variety of media, but be encouraged to find one in which they can excel. Funds should be allotted to purchase higher quality art supplies in their chosen medium, so they can achieve a professional finished project. Some younger students have even been able to sell their work.

The limits we place on children in art are the limits that we ourselves set for them. The teacher should always encourage them to excels beyond what the teacher's model looks like. I was teaching a lesson on seascapes, and we were making a three dimensional sea captain out of a paper towel roll. We looked at seascapes by Winslow Homer and Washington Allston and talked about a one dimensional and three dimensional work of art. I had a sample sea captain I had made out of a paper towel roll. The children were given towel rolls, construction paper, scissors, glue, yarn, etc. I had one young student turn his sea captain into a telescope. In the telescope was a seascape. That is a wonderful lesson.

For older students wanting to draw, lessons in shading, shadow and texture should be emphasized. My husband does a great lesson on drawing the hand emphasizing observation skills. We show the fingers touching in the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo, Praying Hands by Durer, and hands by M. C. Escher. We encourage creativity. It is amazing what happens when children understand how the master artists achieved such success in rendering hands.

By combining the concrete elements I've suggested and nurturing each child's creative expression you, too, will have fun and times when your children will amaze you.

Copyright ©  2001 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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