Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
There are two distinct areas of study to focus upon when teaching kids art production: the technical, and the analytical. The far easier of the two is the technical aspects of whatever media is being explored in a given project. Demonstrating and familiarizing student s with the various processes and procedures associated with a specific medium is always fun and relatively straightforward. Typically the students are excited to get to work and dive into their projects eager to make a calculated mess with the newly discovered materials. It is only then that a majority of them realize they lack the second and more important ingredient of art making: the ever illusive idea. This particular component of the creative process has long plagued both veteran artists and beginning students seemingly for as long as we as a species have been making marks.
There is a fascinatingly complex relationship for students to discover between the physical act of making art, and the psychological reasoning behind it. Art, at its core, is a form of communication; a vehicle of expression. And whether it is sophisticated or shallow, there needs to be some degree of motivation behind an artwork if it is to stand any chance of resonating with an audience. In other words, the artist needs to know why they are creating a particular image and allow that reasoning to influence the direction of the work. Otherwise the work is in danger of becoming another trite image in an ever expanding ocean of kitsch. Even work created with exceptional technical skill, if lacking a clearly defined purpose, becomes a transparent window exposing the artist's lack of intention.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the motivation be authentically expressed in the work. Not only must the artist know why they are making an image, they must pursue that inspiration with a focused sincerity. A finished image will translate to the viewer whether the artist embraced or neglected the impetus behind the piece. It is the non-verbal body language of a work and an audience need not be particularly art-savvy to pick up on it. The work will exhale whatever the artist breathed into it.
And that's not to say that the stimulus behind a work has to be exceedingly complex or intellectually engaging. In fact, some of my favorite artists are intentional juvenile, playful, witty, and absurd. And that is where the relationship between art and idea becomes so intriguing; there are no restrictions as to what dictates a successfully honest piece of artwork other than the motivation of the artist. As long as there is a clearly defined purpose in the mind of the artist, and that purpose is followed in earnest, anything is fair game. (Including the decision to not have a purpose and simply explore the possibilities of random visual coincidences. However, in order to successfully accomplish that you'd have to be cautiously attentive to not do something intentionally, and thus you'd be committed to following your purposeless objective!)
The careful development and nurturing of an idea is an absolutely critical factor in the art making process. And it never ceases to surprise me how many beginning students miss the importance of this concept. I try and illuminate the subject by comparing it to writing a paper. I point out to them that they would not expect to spend fifteen minutes stringing together a series of unrelated random words, devoid of syntax and grammar, and expect anyone to be able to understand it. Instead, they need to first decide what it is that they want to say, before they say it. Then they need to carefully develop a plan for how they want to express this idea so that it will be clearly understood by those who read it. Making art is no different.
In the microcosm that is a classroom, it can be a delicate task to try and facilitate the development of unique ideas. The proximity of the students to each other can often lead to multiple variations on a single theme. Ideas are cross pollinated into hybrid concepts and then borrowed and traded like stocks. As a result, one of my constant objectives is to encourage students to allow an idea to develop, grow, and blossom far beyond their initial conception. This can lead to a barrage of "what if" queries that I simply deflect with questions of my own as I try and carefully avoid superimposing my own ideas onto those of the student. In the end, making art is essentially about making decisions. Romare Bearden likened it to playing jazz saying, "you do one thing and then you improvise." One decision leads to another and exponentially they grow into a chain of thoughts that reach out to the world in an attempt to make contact and communicate. And it all starts with just one idea.