Traditional Methods Enhance Creativity in Art

Critics of the traditional, teacher-led approaches employed at Michaela argue that teaching in this way stifles pupil creativity. Since joining Michaela in January 2015, I have come to see that a teacher-led approach to Art teaching does more to enhance creativity than oppress it.

 

Typical approaches to Art teaching are driven by the belief that children ought to be given the space to develop creativity on their own. We should let kids ‘have a go’ and express themselves through ad hoc experimentation. This is an argument propounded by the likes of Ken Robinson, but, in my opinion, is profoundly flawed. Having seen the results a teacher-led approach can have, I am now convinced that pupils struggle to express their creativity in a meaningful and purposeful way without a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of pencil work and drawing.

 

So instead of the usual group work, guess work, experimentation with a variety of different media or tracing paper exercises, we do things more systematically and carefully. Without wasting a single minute, pupils study techniques step-by-step and master each stage of the process before moving on to the next.

 

Lessons start with a 10 second book hand out (which is the norm across the school), followed by a period of teacher instruction and demonstration. Using a visualiser, I introduce the technique they will be working on that lesson, before giving them time to practise the technique until mastered. I never ask pupils to come to the front of the room to huddle around the table to observe a demonstration. I’ve found in the past that the behaviour can quickly become quite chaotic if this happens, so I suggest avoiding it at all costs! In fact, no pupils are ever allowed out of their seats during an art lesson except for designated ‘Art Assistants’- trustworthy pupils selected for their work ethic and commitment to the subject. They are the only pupils who pack away materials, equipment and work in lessons. It saves time and reduces chaos, whilst simultaneously incentivising pupils to work harder – (the Art Assistant positions are highly coveted, and pupils wear a badge on their blazers if they are selected).

 

For the first 4 weeks of year 7, pupils do not attempt to use any media other than the 2B pencil, chalk and charcoal. This is to give them time to build their tonal and mark-making techniques. We revisit the same media a number of times over and over in order to secure their ability to use them effectively.

 

I do not believe that Art ability is determined by talent. Because of the traditional approaches we use, all pupils have the same opportunity to become excellent artists. It is simply a matter of time, commitment and practice, just like any other subject!

 

Below are a number of pictures drawn by year 7 and 8 pupils from across the ability spectrum.

Art, when taught using traditional methods, is about practice and technique, not raw talent. Explicit, teacher-led, minimal fuss teaching is the optimal way to enhance creativity in Art.

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32 thoughts on “Traditional Methods Enhance Creativity in Art

    1. michaelaartsblog Post author

      Did you read the blog? The whole thing was about how teacher instruction enhances creativity. That was the title! Feel free to disagree, but don’t ignore what has been said. Thanks for commenting.

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      1. SMC

        Of course I read it all- it’s biased and based on a personal view, as opposed to research and enquiry on the subject. Trust me, I’m an “expert”.

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    1. michaelaartsblog Post author

      I suppose we are arguing that ‘becoming an artist’ doesn’t happen by chance, but through acquisition of the necessary foundations before branching off into experimentation. I also hope that the examples of art we have shared on the blog demonstrate that our pupils are not limited. We’ve attempted to explain that our approaches foster and enhance creativity rather than suppress it.

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      1. SMC

        Prove it? What pedagogical practice and research do you base this on? I’m happy to share mine. I’d be delighted to share yours.

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  1. Allison Fairey

    Hi Lizzie,
    An interesting post. I agree students need lots of opportunity for skill development before they can begin to apply that knowledge and expertise creatively. As that expertise grows, so does their confidence and under those circumstances creativity is able to also grow.

    Teacher expertise is important. If we model good practice as practitioners in the arts it means we have credibility and therefore a natural authority in the classroom. Students need to see us demonstrate our own skills, then they know that we have the knowledge and experience to help them develop their own.

    Unfortunately I don’t think you really make it clear in your post how your students then apply these skills in developing their own individual work. You don’t mention conceptualisation or ideation…..where (or examples of how) creativity is enhanced so that students use their skills to create works of art that don’t follow a particular rule or formula. Art is an expression of an individual view and understanding of the world. Your blog deals with the basic development of skills which form part of that journey only.

    Personally I find your comments about Sir Ken and ad hoc experimentation unhelpful. While I wont dwell on the former I will mention that experimentation within the arts is to be encouraged. It is the way artists throughout the ages have operated. It’s part of the reason why the arts have evolved and why many are considered revolutionary. You may not want experimentation to happen in your classroom at Michaela but in Australian classrooms students must demonstrate that they have experimented with materials, techniques and concepts throughout the art making process, made decisions about what works and what doesn’t…..so we begin encouraging them along that journey at a relatively early age through their folio work.

    I am interested in how you do things at Michaela and I notice at present that you are all on a mission to share that philosophy with other educators willing to listen. I’m glad that you are blogging as the arts leader as I want to hear what your team does.

    I look forward to hearing more from you, now that I am following your blog. I hope you will share more about ’10 second book handouts’ and would love to hear about how you include in your arts curriculum the rich cultural traditions of your students. I myself work in a school where there is an amazing diversity of cultural backgrounds and this presents unique and engaging opportunities in the arts especially, in my view.

    Kind Regards
    Alli

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  2. Jennie

    Not until I was in my 40s did I learn that one can actually be taught to draw. Like so many others, I had been led to believe that it took inborn talent and creativity. Bravo to this school for taking on the challenge of teaching all of their students how to draw with pencil and charcoal. It is a wonderful skill that enriches lives. The whole notion that students should be left to their own creative devices essentially leaves the majority of students drawing stick people in a flat terrain right into adulthood. The examples provided on this blog show this won’t be the case for graduates of Michaela.

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      1. Stan

        Check out Pablo’s Wikipedia entry first mate. “From the age of seven, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting” His Dad was a professor of art at the local art school.

        Just maybe back in the day his Dad taught him in a traditional way – techniques and practice.

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  3. Claire

    I agree that Student need to be taught techniques, but also they need to be able to select and choose materials and know how to clear them away. I teach students the casics and build on them as you do, but I also show them how to dvelop their ideas and use materials in new ways. Giving demonstrations and student clearing up is a huge part of my classroom ethos. no one fails, kids get stronger at their skills and the creative imagination that underpins their own ideas.

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  4. Jennie

    SMC, How I wish I had been taught how to draw, instead of being left thinking that artistic talent is an inborn trait – unteachable. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I learned that drawing can be taught; in fact just a few explicit lessons can take a totally embarrassed adult to one willing to show a friend a drawing. It is wonderful that Michaela is working to teach all of its students to be able to draw with pencil and charcoal. This is a life-enriching skill, at a bare minimum enabling the individual to illustrate a travel journal. If such teaching were to happen in most schools, the majority of adults wouldn’t still be at the stick-person-in-a-flat-terrain level of “creativity.”

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    1. SMC

      Jennie: Nick Gibb, Schools Minister…..well, he said the same to me. He believed his art education was left to “be creative”. I’m not saying that art can not be taught- but I strongly believe that we can all use art to express our thoughts…. and teaching the visual language does that. The weakness is this; teaching a right and a wrong way, via techniques, excludes those who can’t achieve the finished product. I’d love to see/hear how Michalea engaged young people with the annual Turner Prize. The Ken Robinson jibe requires a reference…. to make it valid- at the moment it’s just a vague generalisation.

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  5. SMC

    I did read your blog. I disagree that the teaching method that you pursue encourages creativity. I think a mix and match approach is key to supporting creativity and skills based successful teaching . I also hope that you also build in time for discussion about what art is all about. By the way- I’m not a random poster- I’m am arts education expert.

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  6. Neil Walton

    The work here looks excellent: congratulations. I wonder what you mean by ‘traditional methods’ though. Could you say more about how they differ from ‘typical approaches’?

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  7. Neil Walton

    The work here looks excellent:congratulations. I wonder what you mean by ‘traditional methods’ though. Could you say more about how they differ from ‘typical approaches’?

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  8. SMC

    Als- what’s the definition of an “excellent artist” – the most successful artist of modern times is Damien Hirst. Would he thrive at Michaela? Doubt it.

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    1. l4l1

      Re: Damian Hurst > from Wikipedia > His art teacher at Allerton Grange School “pleaded”[15] for Hirst to be allowed to enter the sixth form,[15] where he took two A-levels, achieving an “E” grade in art.[14] He was refused admission to Jacob Kramer School of Art when he first applied, but attended the college after a subsequent successful application to the Foundation Diploma course.[14]

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  9. Amanda Duke

    I dread to think what your methods are doing to at least half the class. At the end of the day a blend of different approaches are needed to teach art. Any one method will not reach all children. Of course you can teach all children to draw in the same method like automatons and then their drawings will all look the same. Picasso could do this at aged 12 too but he then spent the rest of his life trying to untrain himself. Why base the whole of your curriculum on 300 years of development in Italian early t0 high renaissance. Why not open the rest of the art world to the children you teach.

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  10. The Art Beetle

    Puzzled- I have never visited an Art and Design classroom (and I have visited many) where students are left to their own devices and where it is assumed that only talented students can progress. Where are these mysterious schools? Nor have I ever met an Art teacher who doesn’t think that skills acquisition is important. The Ken R jibe is very tired and well worn now. Is it really necessary and helpful in professional dialogue to continue this? Children need to be taught the formal elements of visual language yes, but they also need freedom to experiment, take risks, challenge and express their own ideas. Can this happen in a classroom where students don’t have autonomy? I’m not sure who your blog is intended to benefit? I sincerely hope that you are able to expand your ideologies and enable your students to thrive both creatively and technically as your intentions would suggest.

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  11. mrswardster

    Traditional methods and support/space for individual creative thinking . Skills acquisition supports this, but skills on their own leaves a young student with only a small idea of what art is.
    It’s helpful to consider what the long term goal of teachibg art us. Are they all going to be artists? Illustrators? Animators? Designers? Of course not… But some will. And the others will gain from being supported to approach enquiry, learning, research and creating from other perspectives too.
    In an age where the arts are being sidelined in education, it’s probably foolish to teach only a small specific set of technical skills… Art needs to prove its worth, and being able to draw realistically is not enough.

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  13. Andy James

    Well done! Have been teaching art in this way since 1988 and it works. Young people enjoy being taught skills and are desperate to be given the creative tools to express themselves. When you do this they feel liberated … as if they have been given ‘visual secrets’. They find this unbelievably rewarding and motivation follows.

    Good stuff!

    Thank you.

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  14. Pingback: Explicit Instruction in Art: The Visualiser | michaelaartsblog

  15. Brian

    I left secondary school in 1974 and I would say that Art was probably the subject I was least successful at. In 2011 I found “Drawing on the right side of the Brain” and set myself the target of being able to draw a passable picture. I also studied drawing via several courses which I would describe as technical.and which focused upon basic skills. I found myself able to describe or even put into practice a number of “skills”. In 2012 I found another approach, which involved very few technical skills or methods and was based around looking at at the scene/subject in a way that makes transferring the scene/object to paper. For the first time it became clear to ma (as an amateur) that creating a picture with a range of technical skills is not a good way to create a picture if one wants a representation of reality.
    I am no expert, as I hope I have described, but I do feel there is an issue here.
    As an amateur, I look at the pictures presented here and to me they do not look “right”. Someone has given these kids basic shading training and to this extent they look a bit 3D. They do not however look right. Shading and shadows do not tell the same story.
    These pictures have been created to be able to say to parents and others….”look, using traditional methods these kids have become artists”.
    I am able to create pencil picture sof people’s faces e.g grandchildren that look very realistic and life like. It took me a while to throw off the “Technical” skills I had developed to adopt a more creative approach. My feeling is that those with artistic talent find it easy to create lifelike (I don’t do modern Art) pictures without tuition, they have a natural flair. I learnet to do what I do with little or no “traditional” teaching, and that the traditional teaching I had tried to get me to do what artists do using some algorythmic procedures.
    Of course there needs to be some deliberate practise and some feedback from experts but the idea the we might have a choice between teaching some technical approaches that we can teach in a traditional fashion OR allow a free for all that allows learners to simply make a mess is for me a bit daft and simplistic.

    Either of these approaches used to the exclusion of the other is likely to produce less than lifelike drawings in my view.

    The other point I would make is that art is much much much much much more than simply producing a lifelike drawing.

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