Quotes from the Field, Volume 3

This is the third post featuring inspirational quotes from artists and art practitioners (see: Quotes from the Field and Quotes from the Field v.2). Similar to the previous posts, I examine, analyze and judge each quote within the framework of education.

This edition of ‘Quotes from the Field’ features citations from Rodin, Kara Walker and Irving Kriesberg. While selecting this round of quotes, I noticed a very strong commonality around the theme of discovery and artistic motivation, which includes being aware and accepting of cognitive and emotional stimuli during the creative process.

Each of the cited artists touch upon the idea that their creative impetus stems from making insightful and passionate choices, through an experiential process. This concept has clear links to the way we learn, which is through relating new knowledge to our prior experiences and backgrounds.

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The Thinker by Rodin located at the Musée Rodin in Paris. Photo by Andrew Horne

“I invent nothing, I rediscover” – Rodin

Good artists don’t simply copy directly from nature, they explore nature through an experiential learning process and re-present the essence of that engagement through their art. Art helps us to notice deeply, by prompting us to spend ample time observing and focusing on the intricate details of whatever the subject matter may be. Creating and viewing art enables us to make connections to the past and contextualize the world around us.

Artists research many different facets regarding the symbolism and meaning(s) that they wish to convey. When making any work of art we are synthesizing our prior knowledge and experience, with new research and observations. A good mantra for the artist, educator and art student alike, is that ‘explorations lead to discoveries, which lead to insights.’

“To be a truly conscientious artist, you have to look at what’s not working and challenge it. You riff on things.” – Kara Walker

Art is all about pushing the boundaries of discovery and re-presenting ideas, images, objects and symbols in novel ways. The arts teach us that there is more than one way to go about creating works of art. Artists reflect and assess their process through multiple avenues. They are adept at improvising many variations of an idea until they find the one that feels right (‘rightness of fit’ see: Eisner, 2002). Thinking artistically requires ‘embracing ambiguity.‘ In other words, understanding that there are many ways of  interpreting something and working hard to develop a resolution that fits within the context of the issue.

In the educational sphere, during both formal and informal critiques, students are often cued to look back on what went well and what could be improved. An ‘in-progress critique’ is a good way to get valuable feedback from their teacher and peers in regards to the direction of their work. Suggestions should describe what constitutes the strong elements of the piece and offer some questions or advice that might spur the creator to be even more successful going forward. This is an important way to strengthen critical thinking skills and restate artistic knowledge in a progressive manner. It benefits both the artist and their peer reviewer because they engage in a constructive dialogue and learn collaboratively from one another.

At the end of a project, students can fill out an exit survey, where they answer questions about their process, describing what their thoughts were prior to, during and after the project. Students should also be asked to describe what they thought went well and surmise a way that they might ‘riff’ on things and challenge what was less successful if they could do the project/work again.

Irving Kriesberg, Teaching, 1981, oil on canvas, 80 3/8 x 78 3/4 inches. Collection of Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi. Photo by Mark Geil

“Real paintings come into existence while the artist is not consciously thinking about rules and principles, just as in the art of dance the true dancer is not thinking about the steps to be executed during a performance, but is moved by emotion. Yet surely the dancer could not perform superbly without having very consciously developed a disciplined and capable body by means of exercises.” – Irving Kriesberg

Kriesberg’s quote echoes the famous adage that ‘rules are meant to be broken.’ Although it’s essential for all artists to learn the fundamentals of aesthetics, such as the Elements of Art and Principles of Design, it is the personal elements, which the artist brings to the work that fulfills the artistic experience.

Art is the creative construction of metaphors in order to communicate human experiences within a social and emotional context. Personal symbolism comes from within the artist as a response to their ongoing relationship with the world around them. In order to be fully understood by viewers, the creative impulse must be supplemented by the artist’s technical skills and visual vocabulary.

While artists develop throughout their artistic education (see: Louis, 2013), they learn to use materials, rules and principles in a more fluid fashion. In early childhood art settings, material based explorations are typically constructed to allow the children to openly explore materials in order for them to build familiarity with its affordances, properties and associations (i.e. textures made by scratching into paint with a comb might allude to hair/fur).

As children grow, art educators provide them with more structured instructional scaffolding (this is where the Elements of Art and Principles of Design come in handy), so that they learn, practice and reference new skills and techniques, while working with materials. Overall, it is important to make students understand why learning new principles and rules is relevant. One way to do this is by connecting learning exercises to self-directed projects (see: Teaching for Artistic Behavior), where students will need to incorporate cognitive, as well as social and emotional thinking processes.

The seasoned artist’s knowledge of traditional aesthetic principles, coupled with studio habits of mind, such as ’embracing ambiguity’ (see: Educating Through Art) and ‘making judgements in the absence of rules’ (see: Eisner, 2002), enables them to work through complex aesthetic and relational issues. As a result of combining skills, passion and intuition, artists are inventive in the ways in which they portray unique and potent visions to the world.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Eisner, Elliot W. (2002). ‘What can education learn from the arts about the practice of education?’ The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. http://www.infed.org/biblio/eisner_arts_and_the_practice_of_education.htm

Louis, Linda L. “What Children Have in Mind: A Study of Early Representational Development in Paint.” Studies in Art Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 2005, pp. 339–355. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25475761.

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