How to Produce Better Minds page 2

Page 2                                Marvin Bartel, Ed.D.
(updated July, 2009)

Could some of our teaching methods be weakening our students' minds?

Marshall McLuhan said, "In a global information environment, the old pattern of education in answer-finding is one of no avail: one is surrounded by answers, millions of them, moving and mutating at electric speed.  Survival and control will depend on the ability to probe and to question in the proper way and place." -- McLuhan wrote this 30 or 40 years ago. With the Internet, his statement has become obvious. The quotation is found in Marshall McLuhan: Cosmic Media By Janine Marchessault. page 224


If I encourage self-learning and imagination, I am giving flying lessons for the mind.

This is a flying clay chicken made by a kindergarten girl inspired by a chicken that flew out of its cage in the classroom while she was practicing blind contour drawings of the chicken. My granddaughters named this chicken "Freedom" because she could fly better than most chickens.

When do our teaching methods REDUCE Creativity?  BACK to Art Education HOME

In the lessons I have posted, I do not show any examples of artwork at the beginning of the art lessons. Examples are like visual suggestions. They reduce thinking because imitation requires less thinking than imagination, experimentation, observation, or memory. I often introduce famous artwork after the media work, asking questions such as, "What do you see?" "Why do you notice that? Why do you think the artist did it?"  "What questions did the artist try to answer with this work? These questions can be answered based on thinking they have learned to do during their own media work. The media work is designed to teach the process of artistic thinking and feeling. Adequate education for survival and success in today's world includes the methods of developing ideas. We need to give practice in the conceptualization, development, and refinement process; not in the reproduction or revision of work conceived by others. After doing something ourselves, it becomes easier to read the mind, the intentions, motivations, and passions of other artists by studying their work.

The reason to study the work of other artists is not to reproduce their work. It is to read their minds, their feelings, and their expressive intentions so that we too can have stronger minds and compassionate hearts. It is easier for students to do this if they study the work after they have experienced a similar process themselves. In time they abandon superficial assessments of artwork and learn to study the art of others by reading the mind and heart of the artist.

My art lessons start with ways to practice, to generate ideas, to experiment, and with questions to bring ideas and life's issues and experiences into focus. I never show examples to look at. Neither are students told to do whatever they want. They are presented with strategies by which artists generate and refine their own ideas based on their own passions. They are taught to form questions, respond to questions, to search, to imagine, to observe life, and to experiment. They are encouraged to experiment and to use mistakes and accidents to make discoveries. They are to learn thinking strategies by practicing them. They are learning ways to innovate, create, refine, practice, synthesize, and so on. We also learn that empathy is implicit in all good art. This is because artists make choices based on what we imagine the viewer with think and feel when experiencing our work.


In place of most teacher demonstrations, students can be given hands-on practice rituals (self-demonstration and warm-ups).

Warm-ups give students confidence and motivation for new processes or procedures that are needed and let them know that art must come from the artist -- not from a teacher. An art class is not merely a place to make things, it is a place to learn to think and feel through the process of materializing thoughts and feelings. This is learned by the process of learning to visualize and materialize thought and feeling. Learning this way provides the practice that can build minds that are creative, independent, critical, empathetic, and effective. It is a way to leave no minds behind. It is the way for students to self-construct knowledge---not to be behavior managed into doing things and memorizing things just because these are the things we always had to learn in art.

This art lesson practices observing and doing some preliminary practice. Here a student asked for help making the feet of a clay pig. I do not draw it for them. I do not model the clay for them. I do not suggest a way for them to do it.
I ask them questions about the details of the pig's foot?
They each make their own version of a clay pig using their own experience and direct observations.


Again and again, I see students begin to imitate this thinking process. They become independent. They are being empowered artists and individuals

NOTE: This image was copied with my digital camera from a slide taken during an art lesson about 25 years ago.

The best setting I have found for demonstrating the process of throwing on a potter's wheel is a classroom with every student sitting at a wheel.  The wheels are in large circle with clay on each student's wheel facing the teacher. All students complete each step while the teacher sees that every student accomplishes the task. A few skills and technical procedures are so complex (and/or hazardous) that they are best begun with a demonstration. If complexity or safety require a demonstration, I think it is best to follow the demonstrations immediately with hands-on practice. Sometimes I use a demonstration, but keep it short and, if possible, have the students doing it as they watch.

When I demonstrate, as in using a potter's wheel, I stop and ask them to tell me the shape it should take. They need to participate -- not only watch. Art is not a spectator sport. I am the coach. In the game of art, as in sports, the playing field is in constant flux.  I want students to prefect their practice, to see what they missed, to start looking for new possibilities for directions it can take, and for new things their artwork needs to express.

Some ideas in my essays and lessons were inspired when I saw how DBEA (Discipline Based Art Education) tended to increase the showing of examples prior to media work. They said you were doing research if you looked at other artists' artwork. It was often done in name of teaching art history, but it also appeared to short circuit some creativity neurons. I questioned the thinking habits being developed.

Do we want to encourage dependence on experts? Learning from examples is seductive resulting in premature gratification. It short circuits thinking and it sabotages other more creative ways to learn. Students' answers do not grow out of their own experimentation, but from somebody else's results. Students fail to learn to think for themselves about their own experiences. Yes, using examples gives faster results. Teachers and others see student products and may be deceived into feeling that students have learned art.


I find that students misinterpret the purpose of the example. They see it as an easy answer. Worse, they are learning to rely on the thinking of others. Worse than that, I would be to blame for their lifetime thinking and learning disability.

I am supportive of DBEA's effect on making art education a more serious and more comprehensive endeavor. I also believe that the art of the masters of every culture and both genders is a rich source of ideas and concepts for art lessons, but not for students who have not yet learned higher level inquiry. As Art teachers we need to study great artwork ourselves. We need to study it ourselves in order to identify the concepts and expressive strategies that need to be taught - not by having students imitate the look of the artwork, but by having students imitate the thought processes and approaches used by the artists.

Of course students need to be exposed to great art of many cultures and of both genders. I do this at times when it is not intended to be copied or imitated for a studio project.  I can show work after a project that has been created by the students. This process has built a frame of reference for the historical study. If I have students discuss great artwork after they have worked at similar issues in their own work, they are much more likely to find real meaning and significance in what the great artist has done. Instead of me telling them why the work was done, they can look at it and based on their own experience, give me reasons why they think the artist did what she did.

I tell my students that as an artist I look at as much art as possible so that I know what I do not have to do. I tell them that I try to learn how the artist was thinking and what was motivating the artist. I try to imagine the creative process the artist must have used to come up with such a great idea. Viewing art this way is a form of mind reading where I am not aiming at the look of the work. I am aiming at the thinking that motivates it. I tell them that I wonder what I would create from my life experiences and with my skills if I were to use a similar concern and creative process.

In today's world education for a life is very similar to the education of an artist. Fewer people are in a lifetime of work for large company where they work a defined number of hours per week doing a job description prescribed by somebody else. Production today is done by machines, by robots, or it is put out for bids on the Internet to be done by people in other countries where education still fails to produce creative thinking. Low wage workers in every society (including ours) tend to be those without adequate creative thinking capacity. Successful people live like successful artists. They do what they feel needs to be done and they get paid for it.

Today a growing percentage of college graduates are starting their own enterprises. An ever larger portion of our younger population are members of the creative class providing what cannot be produced according to a pattern. All this, whether it is entertainment, new ideas, new design, new services, being skeptical of a misguided expert or leader, or whatever; is all dependent on involved independent creative thinking minds. More people are moving from project to project based on the situation in which they find themselves much in the manner of a creative artist. The creative minds developed in the creative culture of a studio art class have a chance to develop the thinking skills, experimental skills, networking skills, social skills (including empathy), self-governing skills, and productive habits that are becoming essential in today's world. As art teachers who foster imaginative thinking and experimentation (not giving immediate suggestions) we are in the position to give flying lessons for the mind.

High school graduation is running at about 70 percent in the USA and high school is less than adequate for most productive citizens in today's world.

"Clyde Kubiak, 33, is rueful about the choice he made years ago.

'I was bamboozled,' said Kubiak, laid off from a computer-aided-design job in the business. 'I came out of high school, and they said, 'We have a job for you that pays $17 an hour to start.' At 18, I made $40,000. My friends who went to college were jealous. But . . . now what?' " (1)

Today, many better colleges and universities are asking for more than SAT and ACT scores. Some no longer use these tests to determine who can be admitted. In the future, unless candidates can synthesize, create, and show evidence of service and leadership ability, they are not admitted or in some cases, they are not allowed to major in their field of choice.  Testing companies are slowly responding.  They are beginning to work at tests that will assess thinking abilities other than memory and the answers to standard one-answer questions. Better teachers at all levels understand that students who learn by responding to expert suggestions without practicing thinking skills of the experimentation, speculation, discovery, and so forth develop brains with "learned helplessness".  As an art teacher, when I make artwork suggestions without attempting to turn student questions into brain-building opportunities, I may be teaching a small bit of art, but I am missing a learning-for-life opportunity.


(1) Peter Whoriskey. " ‘Car guys’ retrain but downshift to lower pay
As auto industry shrinks, displaced workers struggle to acquire new skills." Washington Post, July 4, 2009.

BACK to Art Education HOME for other essays, lessons, and ideas


All rights reserved. © Marvin Bartel

LINKS to other art education sites
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Art Education HOME




How to Plan Art Lessons by Marvin Bartel, gives theory on what comes first, last, and in the middle. It has suggestions on motivation, keeping on task, and what not to do.

Idea Generation lists methods that are essential to the work of any artist. These can be taught, but they are too often ignored in favor of strategies that are quick and easy. I was taught to show art examples prior to the media work.  This can bypass thinking and original idea generation strategies.  Showing examples teaches students not to generate their own ideas because they assume the teacher wants them to emulate expert examples.  They develop imitation skills, but their powers of imagination are diminished.

Teaching with Questions points out the difference between teaching to think and teaching to follow directions. It is the difference between education and training. It is the difference between slave training and leadership training.

How to Teach Drawing to Children This page was reprinted in the Canadian Homeschooling Horizons Magazine March, 2007. I was originally inspired to write it by an inquiry from an Australian mother whose son, age eight, was feeling discouraged and wanted help in learning to draw better. - to top of page

These are links to some assignment pages from my classes in teaching art methods.
Art Education Assignments  |  Readings  |   Planning the Parts of Creative Art Lessons
| Pass it On - practice teaching what we learned
   (teaching is great way to learn)  |   One-on-one Teaching Assignment  |   Successful Art Class Critique Sessions   |  Art Rubric   |  Study Sheet for test 1   |   Study Sheet for test 2    |   An example essay answer 

1. Compare methods to teach children how to learn to come up with their own ideas for art.
2. Compare ways to help children learn to design experiments in art.
3. Compare ways to teach observation drawing and observation clay modeling.
4. Compare methods of motivation for media work.
5. Comparing ways to increase the imaginative power of children.
6. Comparing ways develop children's inventive powers through art.
7. Comparing ways that art teachers develop and assess new art assignments.
8. Compare types of teacher responses to art student requests for help.
CONTACT ME if interested in more elaboration.

Good EDUCATIONAL VIDEOS are in short supply
Are you an art teacher interested documenting creative teaching techniques so that others can see and consider what you are doing? Should college and university classes in art education see how you are teaching creativity? Other teachers who are less informed or more frustrated may benefit by seeing how you teach. You no longer need a camcorder. I get some great video with my digital camera. It will put 30 minutes on a 4GB memory card.
CONTACT ME if interested.
All rights reserved. © Marvin Bartel.   Last update date shown at top of page.
You are invited make a link to this page. If you have related topics, you may want to have your page linked from this web site. Please do not send a request to exchange links unless you have already linked to at least one of my pages. You may link to any of my pages that seems to relate directly to the topic of your page. Once your link to my page works, send me a note showing me the URL to the page that has a link to my page. If your link works, I will review your site for appropriateness and consider making a link from this page to your page. I am most interested in art, in ideas, and in education. In general I link to very few pages that are marketing a product, books, service, or merchandise of any kind.


Contact the author

Workshops for art teachers are on Learning Creativity
Learning Drawing, and Learning Ceramics