"An idea is our visual reaction to something
seen - in real life, in our
memory, in our imagination, in our dreams."
~ Anna Held Audette from the book, The Blank Canvas
"How artists get ideas" is a theme that should be
examined at all grade levels. The importance of gaining the skills to
successfully convey the ideas goes hand-in-hand with this theme.
Activities should be structured around building skills and also encourage
original thinking and imagination. Students will progress at different
rates at each grade level. The process of doing and understanding should
always be emphasized. Building confidence is also an important goal of any
How do you as a teacher select the artists and
cultures you teach? Where do your ideas come from? Marvin Bartel started
this as a topic for discussion on Getty TeacherArtExchange. Below is a compilation
of ideas from Art Ed List members. Make a poster using your favorite
cultures and artists. Most art works communicate ideas, moods or symbolic
meanings. Students should be challenged to discover meaning in the art
work they are studying and to use ideas as starting points in their own
image-making. Continue to help students examine how artists get ideas and
how they use and transform these ideas when creating works of art. (Note
from Judy: Substitute your own list of artists for the chart. I have added
some that I have "talked" to personally via email). Read
some responses from teachers. How Do Art
Teachers Get Lesson Ideas?
Artists or Cultures
|Sounds - from Nature, Music,
|Words - Poetry,
Literature, Quotes, Phrase
||Charles Demuth, J.
Holzer, B. Kruger
|Images - Work of other
||Andy Warhol, Pablo
|Pictures - from books,
||Lucinda Durbin - Doll
artist, Karen Smith
principles - abstraction
||Frank Stella , Mondrian
of nature - observation
|Observation - Realism
||Leonardo da Vinci
|Imagination - dreams -
||H. Rousseau, R. Magritte,
|Expression - emotions
||Vincent Van Gogh,
|Beliefs and values -
||Native American, West
|Events - tragedy - war
- life experiences
||Pablo Picasso, Karen
Smith - doll artist
|Symbolism - Culture -
||Native American, West
African, J. Lawrence
||West African Art ,
Native American Pottery
|The object -
the materials - an image
"Take an object.
Do something to it.
Do something else to it.
Do something else to it.
Do something else to it."
Andrea Scholes designs as she goes
Lucida Durbin - Quilt maker (fabrics)
James Michael Lawrence - digital artist
Louise Spell - artist & dollmaker
Artists or Cultures
||Robert Rauschenberg, J. M.
|Nature - Landscape
- What is beautiful
Vincent Van Gogh
Conflict - Storms - Sun - Stars
||Winslow Homer, Vincent
|Nature - Man and
animals - animals
||Henri Rousseau, Edward
|Environment - Interiors
||Vermeer , Vincent Van
|Seascape - Marine life
|Time - passage of time - cycles
||Claude Monet, African Art
|Cityscape - city life
||Stuart Davis, Georgia
|Family - mother and
child - family love
||Mary Cassatt, Charlene
|Religion - Spirituality
- beliefs and values
||Renaissance Art, African Art
|Still life -
observation - realism
|Still life -
||Pablo Picasso, Stuart
|Slice of life - people
at work - or play
||Joseph Cornell, Louise
|Fantasy - imagination -
||Henry Rousseau, Rene
|Mythology - Folk
|Figure - portrait
||da Vinci, Charlene Woeckener-
|Historical subjects -
War - Peace
|Narrative - tells a
||Edward Hicks, Bruegel, Mary Ann Reed
|Abstraction - Non-objective
|Identity (a different
kind of portrait)
||Betye Saar, Vincent Van Gogh
|Power and authority
||African Art -
|Social Concerns - Issues
||Keith Haring, Sister Corita
to Develop Individual Self Lists of Ideas for Artwork
by Marvin Bartel.
Busters for Artists by Nita Leland
Plan: How Do Artists Get Their Ideas? Culture and Environment as
Sources of Ideas - by Diane Pressler. Lesson uses the work of Jacob
Web - have your students make their own chart how artist get ideas.
Print off pdf file. See lesson
plan using symbolism Water: A Source of Life and Culture - some
files now off line.
in American Art: National Gallery of Art
Themes in Art by John Walford. Browse some of the chapters (pull down
menu at top). Many of the themes listed are universal.
in Art from ArtsConnected - found out how the artists listed get their
themes in Education - Interdisciplinary
Creative Blueprint Blast. Brainstorm ideas - choosing the best idea.
for Art. Often the idea stems from the purpose for the art. List
of purposes. More on Purposes
Books to get you thinking and
Creativity - Paul Torrence and others
Teaching Meaning in Artmaking - Sydney R.
Walker - Davis Publications
Talking about Student Art - Terry Barrett - Davis Publications
Thinking through Aesthetics - Marilyn Stewart - Davis Publications
Assessment in Art Education - Donna Kay Beattie - Davis
The Intelligent Eye: Learning to Think by
Looking at Art - David N. Perkins 1994
ISBN O-89236-274-X from Getty Center for Education in the Arts
Creative Artist: A Fine Artist's Guide to Expanding Your Creativity
by Nita Leland.
Talking With Artists : Volume 1, 2 and 3 - by
Pat Cummings (many illustrators)
The Creative Habit - by Twyla Tharp (See
Inspirations, from award-winning
director Michael Apted , is a 100-minute exploration of the creative
process that takes off from the essential question, "how do artists
get ideas?" and soars into the fascinating worlds inhabited by seven
diverse artists--including David Bowie and Roy Lichtenstein--who discuss,
sometimes freely, sometimes shyly, just how and why they work the way they
do. 100 minutes. (available through Art Video World $14.95 - #8710 -
Man Creates -comments on the creativity of Saul Bass -
Organized into eight major sections, the Edifice, Fooling Around, the
Process, Judgment, a Parable, Digression, the Search, and the Mark.
Appropriate wherever creative problem-solving is the goal. 25
Art Video World (division of Crystal
Productions) - has videos for many individual artists and cultures. Each
one goes into what inspires the artist or culture. Order the videos for
your favorite artists and preview before showing to students. (for a free
Feel free to submit your favorite artist and
his/her source of inspiration.
Email address for Judy
Decker is on home page.
Responses from Teachers
on Generating Ideas
This discussion was started by Marvin Bartel:
"It is hard to think about our
thinking habits, but what if we would start an e-mail thread that lists
methods that we think certain artists use to come up with their ideas?
How many artists and
methods of generating ideas do you suppose our creative group of art
teachers could generate?
Could we have the Secrets of How Artists Get Ideas poster ready for next
year's classroom?" (TeacherArtExchange, Friday, May 07, 2004)
From Kathy Douglas
(Choice Based Teacher):
...the idea, the meaning, comes from the artist. If
we wish for our students to behave as artists we must offer them the
opportunity to behave as artists. (TeacherArtExchange Fri, 7 May 2004)
From Diane Newton (A Choice Based Teacher):
In our choice-based art room, we
discuss art ideas daily. Students ask each other how they got an idea for
their artwork, students share ideas, students understand that ideas may
something they've seen or experienced. An idea may come directly out of
using art materials. Some students are known as "idea people"
because they have a wealth of ideas and others will go to them for
suggestions. Often the idea person pairs up with artists whose skills
match their plan. Kind of like the real world of business!
A long time ago, we generated a bulletin board which reads "Where do
Art Ideas Come From?" Students from various grades listed where their
ideas come from, where they believed that ideas of adult artists may have
come from, etc. The list collapsed into some very basic groupings: nature,
beliefs, family, traditions, culture, art materials, history, knowledge,
other artists, personal interests,
etc. When a student can't come up with an art idea, I walk her/him to this
board and we look at the categories. It usually helps to get them started.
We also have a file of art postcards, to which students refer when they
From Patty Knott
How do artist's get ideas? Indeed this
is the course missing from art education.
Sometimes I think it is much more important to be a student of history
than it is to be a master of
techniques. I have always believed the technique is easy it's
the IDEA that prevents the growth to
being and becoming artist.
Artists create a representation of the world they perceive and in a
fashion that gives a better
understanding than written or spoken language can do. I have spent a
lot of time this week on the
images coming from Iraq. Anyone could spend hours "reading"
about these images but it is the image itself that is so powerful.
Artists ideas have always dealt with birth, love, death, beliefs, rituals,
heredity and what it means to
be human. The themes don't change. What changes is the society, the
technology, the issues, the
controversies. The artist observes and offers a less literal view.
If you teach historical artists, then I believe it imperative to present
the whole history of the time in
which the artist was creating. The ideas followed the "time."
It's only recently that the artist has the
luxury of personal obsessions and of course, the benefits of all the
history that proceeds. I think we
are truly on the verge of a Renaissance-like era where science and art
truly merge and inform each other. Are there secrets to ideas?
Gosh, everybody has ideas. The secret is to not inhibit the ideas -- the
secret is to not stifle the ideas.
I have 2 ways for generating ideas. Sometimes I only present a theme and
the solution can be any method. Sometimes I present a technique and the
solution can have any idea. No matter if it's theme or method my procedure
Present the problem.
Class brainstorm the theme.
Is the theme relevant? How does the student react to the theme? (and if
the theme generates no enthusiasm then chuck it and get a better theme)
Make word associations to the theme.
Research the theme.
Collect visuals related to the theme.
Allow each child's choice and teach technique from the choice.
Have frequent "peer" evaluations throughout the process --- kids
listen to each other and often see
things the "artist" doesn't that may take an idea to another
direction. Recognize that kids are
very used to "group" work. Allow for group collaborations.
(I try to "recreate" the historical
models all the "isms" in art history since Impressionism.
These artists communed and dialogued
--- I'm not sure that happens in the art world so much today. Certainly
there are no "isms" and maybe why the art being produced is so
illusive, obsessive, and offensive... at least my classroom can be an
Grow the ideas - let the technique follow. Teach-- the idea is paramount
and teach the best way
to communicate the idea.
I'm just now doing an "in the style of" lesson. The lesson is
about both idea and technique. I presented Jim Dine. My lesson is not
about hearts or bathrobes, but why did Dine choose these objects and how
did he treat them? I gave a web quest to search Dine and asked questions:
Why the common object? How is the object treated?
What is the most important principle in the compositions?
List the materials and techniques.
How can you make a common object a metaphor/symbol for you?
I required the materials- Mylar, vellum, any drawing media (graphite,
crayons, chalk, conte, ink) and
limited use of color. I gave each a small piece of Mylar to experiment
with and required a full size plan before they could get the final
materials. They reveled in the materials and simple ideas are
finding "life" in the materials. They are taking ideas to levels
I didn't expect ... Each idea
is valid and there is little "Dine like" about most of them but
an idea has grown.
We have to be careful about expectations---- I always try to leave my
expected outcome open to the variety of solutions I intentionally expect,
and then not expect what I intended. That may sound convoluted but
it's the only way I know to allow their ideas supercede my ideas.
Ideas come from what has always been ideas and ideas come from play and
experimentation allowing the place to fail and still giving joy to the
experimenting. I somehow feel that we will never make artists if we don't
Kids need help with ideas; they need to know how to collect and recognize
why they make choices in their collections-- They need to know know what
they collect is valid --- and we need to know how to turn those
collections into ideas. When we force technique, they want to know how to
use the technique for their thoughts and observations. They have lots to
say. We have to help them say it.
From Iris - A Choice
Based Teacher - "Wheel of Creating"
.....Now the part about the negotiating
through to the end of a project when the child wants to walk away... for
me, this is the trickiest part of TAB teaching. One thing I've learned
along the way and am still trying to implement better, is to tell students
ahead of time, or even as part of the menu, after you create three to five
origami pieces you must do something with them, (other wise they'll make
10 or more puppy heads the easiest thing and after seeing too many of
these from several children I either start to doubt myself and TAB or get
crazy). I advise children to put their origami pieces in an environment,
create a kinetic or stabile sculpture, jewelry or what ever, (I hate the
word should) but, the work should interesting to look at, put together as
carefully and well crafted as you can and answer artist questions. Again
Kathy Douglas has talked about artist questions with me at great length.
What is it that a cartoonist does, (switching the medium) how do they
communicate their story? What techniques do they use? A cartoonist shows a
story over time how do they do this? What kinds of marks & lines do
they use to show shading, expression, space?
I'm getting better at knowing when it's
okay for a child to walk a way from a work or not ,but I have a saying
which is, to try to turn a mess-up into a non-mess-up, see where the mess
up takes you. That's how penicillin was discovered. Since the movie
"Super Size It", I've come up with another saying, "the
world doesn't need anymore fast food art!" Artists for the most part
work with integrity, (what is integrity, we go through that for a bit and
we talk about the merits of fast food, too) so have integrity, think about
what you are doing, have a plan, be open to it changing I also have at
least one menu on the thinking process..."Where are you on the wheel
of creating? Thinking, get an idea, get excited, try it out, get
involved, yikes what is this, want to give up, take a breath, regroup, get
back involved"....It helps because when a student wants to give up I
can say, "Hey, your right here on the wheel of creating, this happens
all the time to creators, don't worry about it, take a breathe and
continue because the last step is usually loving it!"
From Linda in North
For me, some idea generators are music, poetry,
vignettes of nature, or a theme, such as "layering". (TeacherArtExchange - Friday, May 07 2004
Developing Ideas -
From Robert Genn - The Painters Key
Newsletter August 6, 2004
Advice to a college student for
developing her portfolio
Here are a few ideas that might give you a few ideas:
You need to do some "web-thinking." Using large sheets of
paper and starting in the middle, jot down some random ideas and potential
projects. Start with your current interests and add
fantasies, secret passions and ambitions. Let one idea lead to
another and connect them with lines like a spider's web so they begin to
"breed." Let your thoughts range from simple exploratory
sets of works to complex mind-bending installations. You need clear time
to take this task seriously so that the process becomes natural to you.
Evolved artists habitually and actively bounce ideas between hemispheres.
Natural to some, the art of yin-yanging can also be learned. Don't
share with anyone. Live for a while in the embrace of your
imagination, no matter how outrageous. Mind-test and envision but
don't give in to early rejection. Associate freely. Anything
Think about your web-thinking at night, while you dream, while putting out
the cat. If you are drawing a blank, check out the cat, or the wall
behind the cat. Also, think how your ideas might move people,
mountains, nations. When you have several sheets filled start
evaluating and modifying with a pen of a different colour. Pick out
a selection of ten or more and rewrite as if you were proposing
film-treatments. Make them short and punchy. If they run from
the practical to the impossible, so much the better. As part of your
application, present this material using the heading: "Ideas I am
PS: "Stop sometimes and look into
the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like
places--you may find marvelous ideas." (Leonardo da Vinci)
Esoterica: Give value to your best ideas forged alone. Charles
Brewer, the founder of MindSpring, said: "The good ideas are all
hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups."
What an artist does with her own web may be the most valuable exercise of
her creative life. Web-thinking teaches personal creativity and
individualist vision. "I suppose it is because
nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for
them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas."
(Agatha Christie) Art teachers know this.
© Copyright 2004 Robert Genn (used here with permission)
DO ART TEACHERS GET LESSON IDEAS?
Art teachers get ideas from a number of
sources. Some go for BIG IDEAS...some are inspired by an image or
technique they have seen. Here are some "brainstorming" on where
the ideas come from.
From Cindy Erickson - Elementary
This is from Cindy Erickson - posted to
I was brainstorming this morning about creating elementary lesson plans
started this list---it is just for fun---this is just a brainstorming list
How to generate a lesson plan from thin air:
- Pick a favorite children's
literature book and design a lesson around it
(Eric Carle etc.)
- Plan a lesson around a famous artist
(Van, Gogh, Monet...)
- Pick a culture and develop a lesson
plan by studying their specific style of
artwork (Australian aboriginal.....)
- Brainstorm a list of themes that
children enjoy (swimming, circus, pets)
- Combine 2 seemingly unconnected
objects (apple and a Frisbee)
- Teach a concept (abstraction etc.)
- Paint to music (Mozart,
Raffi, Blue-grass, Jazz)
- Give each child a found object and
have them design around it (juice can
lids are fun)
- Make a list of fun still-life
objects for elementary and plan one (toy still life,
fruit, flowers, sports equipment)
- Think of an idea that your students
have trouble with and figure out a lesson
plan to teach it (overlapping or drawing ellipses)
- Bring in a pile of interesting junk
and just let kids draw (shells,
necklaces, small baskets)
- Figure out a correlation idea with
math, social studies or other subject
- Find a fun elementary
"crafty" idea and stretch yourself to figure out how
to make it broader and more creative - turn craft into fine art
- Start with the cheapest material you
can think of and design a lesson around
it (toilet paper rolls)
- Think of something you have never
done and design a "trial" lesson
(puppetry or ??)
- Seasonal (fall leaves or spring
animals and babies or....)
Now think about what media to use:
- pencil, colored pencil, markers, oil
or chalk pastels, tempera, watercolor,
printmaking, collage, cut-paper, torn-paper, wood/wire/clay/soft
clay pottery or sculpture
crayon or crayon resist,
Now add in technique you want them to
- learning to draw, learning to cut,
learning to glue, neatness, perspective,
overlapping, composition, shading, shadows, patterning
Now how about: expressiveness, freedom of expression, self-awareness,
Now incorporate information or teaching
about the elements of art and the
principles of design:
- line, color, value, texture, shape,
balance, rhythm and movement, proportion, variety and emphasis,
Voila! Now you have so many
lesson plan ideas - the problem is you have to
decide which ones to do!
From Judy Decker:
Think about Character Education. What artists had character traits you
want the students to emulate? What famous people? Think about lessons
Think about world issues - some BIG IDAES . What is it that you really
want the students
to care about? Peace - hunger - poverty. Even younger kids can deal with
Keep on adding to the "Lesson Plan Brainstorming - How Teachers get
Keep in mind the students have good ideas of their own, too.