Michael Mize Art Blog
Each semester I teach anywhere from three to five sections of the introductory art class which my school has dubbed, "Art Experiences". Now something to note about teaching kids art is that most art teachers seem to view the intro courses with a sort of reserved contempt. They will admit that the beginning classes are a curricular necessity, but they want nothing to do with them. Intro classes are very much the grunt work of the profession.
I, however, have always enjoyed teaching the introductory art classes. I very much like being one of the first faces new art students see in the department. For me, the opportunity to potentially "turn on" a student who might not have otherwise been interested in art, inspires me with each new class. And I have such a passion for my subject, I take pride in the fact that if a student is interested in pursuing one of the advance courses, they must first go through me.
One of the first questions I pose to my new students each semester is to try and define what exactly is art. It's always fun to hear the variations, and more often than not, in a room of twenty students we end up with twenty definitions. This is something to not just gloss over though, it is, in fact, one of the coolest aspects of the subject. How many other disciplines can boast the fact that they are effectively indefinable. How many other disciplines would want to brag on that?
After isolating the common themes, we put together a working definition and see if we can all agree. Usually we come up with something along the lines of , "handmade objects created to express an idea or feeling and/or elicit an emotional response from the viewer". This is a "definition" we can then revisit in the future when debates arise as students try to decide for themselves if a certain piece can be considered art or not.
It is then that I let the students know what I think is perhaps the best thing about art in general. There are, essentially, no wrong answers. The only wrong answer to an problem, is to not answer at all. Outside of that, students are challenged to try and come up with as many answers, or solutions, to each creative problem that I present them. Some answers will be better than others, but there are no wrong responses. Furthermore, for all practical purposes, there are no rules. Even if I've told them specifically not to do something, I encourage them to try and find a way around this restriction. There are loop holes everywhere for the creative problem solver. Exploit them!
In the end, we might not ever be able to come up with a definition for art that would please everyone. However, there is one fact, undeniable to me, that I hope we could all agree on. Art is an opportunity. Art is a vehicle for expression that is accessible to absolutely anyone. Pure art is not elitist. Real art is not exclusionary. True art is something to be embraced and celebrated.
Image credit: Rene Magritte, La condition humaine