Art classes in school have relevance much beyond merely producing paintings that decorate the walls and corridors of classrooms, or win competitions, or make the parents, art teachers, class teachers and the Principal of the school happy and proud. In schools, the “art class” is not a period allotted to provide relief to children from the so-called “serious subjects”, where their brains get tired from “complicated theories” and the hard work involved in understanding them. It isn’t an official free period for the children to enjoy. The fact is that any learning in any subject and class can take place only when the children enjoy learning, and the subject being taught.
Art classes are an important aspect of the mental growth and development of children. No one, not even the Art teacher, should be under the impression that the purpose of teaching art is to “make artists out of children”. The truth is, no one “makes” a Pele, a Bill Gates or a Picasso. Each one of them has a combination of many different sets of traits and attributes. Come to think of it, not every Physics teacher is expected to churn out engineers or scientists.
Only when we understand who an artist is, and what makes an artist, can we be meaningful school teachers. Today, an artist is one who does everything in his/her own way, and is unique in the way he/she interprets, visualizes and executes things. He/she sees new possibilities and new horizons. And that’s how new discoveries are made, new theories and concepts are developed and new systems emerge.
Whenever we talk of art, the word “craft” creeps in. Craft, of any field, deals with grammar, rules, techniques, recipes and principles. You may have ideas.
Only when ideas get expressed, do they become art.
Any technique in the arts of dancing, cooking, acting, singing or painting, in order to express your ideas, comes in the category of crafts.
Teachers as well as students must understand the fact that creative ideas cannot see the light of day without the appropriate support of the technique of expression. On the other hand, perfect mastery over techniques is hardly useful if it is not combined with equally good ideas. So while teaching any subject, be it from the field of fine arts, or academics, or games, a teacher must decide when, and how much of, technical knowledge is to be introduced – and when, and how much, emphasis to be laid on which aspect, at what stage, and directed at which student.
So we reach the conclusion that, to reach the pinnacle in any field, be it Economics, Chemistry or cricket, one needs to be as creative as possible. Besides learning the appropriate techniques of expression, art classes help children develop many vital and essential qualities that help shape them as thinking individuals, who value the originality of thought and process. It is during these art classes that students gain experience in thinking individually and enjoy the freedom of expressing themselves through different media. The freedom to choose inculcates in them the habit of problem solving and decision making – all valuable assets in any profession the child may choose later in life.
There is no difference between an art teacher and a Math teacher. Both of them deal with facts. They teach facts and assess the children on facts. The assessment focuses on the same mental process: see, retain and retrieve. At some stage, both have to decide where and when to start teaching the students the application of the facts or techniques they learned in class. A clever blend of both is paramount in order to make education meaningful and successful. Only memorizing facts and retrieving them accurately doesn’t take one beyond getting good marks in examinations. This is one aspect of development, but at the same time, the application of those skills and knowledge should take the centre-stage. Irrespective of the subject, it is the application of the knowledge garnered that makes individuals ‘creative’, and this ushers in new ideas.
It is difficult to say which should come first while teaching, the facts and techniques, or their application. It surely depends on the subject, topic, teacher and the pupils. In the music class, one can choose to teach a song without touching the technique and rules at all for some time, and come back to the rules only when need be. On the other hand, there are teachers who won’t touch upon a song till the preliminary lessons of voice training are satisfactorily done. Similarly, there can be football coaches or art teachers with either of these preferences. There can be Physics teachers who give an idea about the application of the theorem and then touch upon the formula.
Instilling ‘artistic qualities’ in students should not be ignored by any teacher, even if they think that it is not their job to do so. One may study Engineering, Accountancy, or learn to play football, and still be an artist. Only artists can reach the top, and others follow, copy and can only aspire to reach the top. Only mastering the facts, techniques and rules of the craft does not do the trick. To reach the top like Pele, Bill Gates or Maria Montessori, one has to be an Artist. Before expecting any kind of creativity from the students, it is important that the teachers adopt creative methods of teaching. Encouraging pupils to analyse and apply concepts learnt should be a part of the teacher’s teaching objectives.
Of course, it is during an art class when artistic thinking can be most easily observed, promoted, practiced and augmented. The art teacher can assess the abilities of a child to follow the essential technical aspects and can determine whether the student possesses the requisite “artistic qualities”. Let me mention some traits an observant and willing teacher can detect in his/her students —
It becomes clear to the art teacher on the very first day, whether a student is eager to attend the art class or not. The student must have patience, and a lot of it, to learn, practice and to produce anything worthwhile. He/she should be able to concentrate for a long duration’s of time. They need to have good observation and perception, supported by equally good retention and should be able to retrieve facts and ideas when needed for expression.
Powerful observation supported by good memory can culminate into a good piece of art only if it is backed by equally impressive expression. Uniqueness and innovation are inseparable elements of good art. Dexterity isn’t essential only for painting, modeling and sculpting. To be an artist in the football field like Beckham or in the basketball court like Magic Johnson, one needs to be extremely dexterous. Failure should not deter one from trying again and again. To make the desired colour or a proper composition, one needs as much perseverance as a scientist who failed time and again to create an electric bulb. When a five year old child wants to draw his mother sitting on the chair he has to solve a problem, and if he is encouraged to solve that problem himself instead of being directed how to draw, his problem-solving ability gets a phenomenal boost.
To do anything new, one has go through lots of experimentation. Children must be pushed and encouraged to analyse their mistakes, experiment and get the desired result, without any external help. When a child figures out how to apply the knowledge gathered by way of information in the classroom, it leads to a self-discovery of his/her abilities; this self assurance boosts their confidence and their self esteem goes up phenomenally.
The entire world revolves around the fulcrum of imagination and creativity. While judging a student of art, an art teacher should not judge only the finished product; that is only a small part of his/her development, the same way many novices can write more technically and accurately than acclaimed writers. An art teacher should assess the child’s abilities according to the list mentioned above. It is difficult to find any successful person of any field who does not possess most of these qualities, and these are easily perceived and developed in any art class. These are the assets one should take cognizance of in children in every class. Every school teacher should try to recognize, stimulate and provide scaffolds to develop and strengthen these traits.
These are the very ingredients which will go a long way in making a child an acclaimed inventor, designer, composer, historian, economist, or a leader of the likes of Gandhi, Ataturk Pasha or Abdul Kalam.
Subhasish Ghosh is an Art teacher in Ecole Globale International Girl’s School, Dehradun.