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Why teach (Art)?
Studio based learning environments offer multiple methodologies toward developing both critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. On any given day a student may be asked to manipulate materials with their hands, operate machinery, measure, fabricate and incorporate knowledge from other disciplines ranging from science, history to mathematics. The combination of both cognitive and tactile learning, particularly as our classrooms become more technological, offers opportunities for unique holistic experiences where students are able to integrate information across disciplines to make their ideas materialize.
What motivates me as an arts educator has evolved over the years. Not long ago I became disillusioned with the concept of post secondary arts education. To compare the cost of university degree in the fine arts to the potential for professional opportunities for graduates makes for a career choice I cannot recommend casually. This realization led me to wonder what do I really offer students?
To find some demonstrable value beyond my own passionate dedication to arts education, I looked for books and articles that focused on connections between the process of making, society and cognitive development, most notably The Hand by Frank R Wilson, and Notes for a Theory of Making Making in a Time of Necessity by Giuseppe Zambonini. Their research, and that of many others reveals how the process of making is linked to the expansion of the human brain. Skeletal remains show that when humans began making things, tools, weapons and art with their hands, the brain grew dramatically and the rest is, as they say, is History. But given the rapid increase in screen based learning (and living) paired with a declining emphasis on tactile learning (Arts education, vocational training) what is the Future?
Manipulating materials with our hands, developing dexterity and attention to detail, understanding more about our connections to the material and natural world; these are things I offer students today. Moreover, in my classroom, with creative sculptural projects ranging from habitats for endangered animals to body extensions, I incorporate play into the process of creative problem solving as it’s proven to be invaluable to innovation. Engaged in the making- thinking process my students learn how to better manage their time, research and develop ideas, plan and execute final projects individually and collaboratively. This is what an arts education has to offer to students, international and re-entry students and life long learners; Concrete skills and cognitive benefits that reach beyond the art world and the classroom.
Our civilization, like those that came before, will be judged in large part by the creative objects, art and architecture that remains after we are gone. Through critical readings, directed research and individual and collaborative projects, I try to show my students how their actions, intention and creative output reflects who we are, the world we have now, and all their potential and possible futures.