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Re: [teacherartexchange] Learning by copying?


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Aug 22 2008 - 12:11:51 PDT

>Andrea wrote:
>I'm about to begin my first year teaching high school art, though I'm a seasoned teacher in other fine arts courses. My colleagues insist that no copying ever be allowed, for any reason. While I understand the importance of the students learning to develop confidence in their own creativity, I also see the value of learning via imitation. I've certainly improved my own skills by examining drawings and photographs and trying to reproduce what I see. I saved all of the responses to the recent question about artistic process. Several of you mentioned working from photographs. How is that different? Or is it? I'd like to be able to offer a different point of view to my teammates but I need a better foundation. And I'm open to the possibility that my instinct is wrong. Do you allow your students to copy as part of the learning process? If not, why?

Good questions.

When I was young, I had no teacher who knew the processes of how to properly practice to produce creative learning and how to motivate me learn to see; to understand and express what I saw; what I remembered and what I imagined. I had no teacher that knew how to teach me to feel and express what I felt and saw, and so on; I was abandoned to my own devices. Knowing nothing else about how to learn to draw, paint, or sculpt, I copied. We have a strong instinct to imitate and copy. We need no teacher to encourage us to imitate. My first grade teacher drew a nice picture on the board using colored chalk and we all gladly copied it with crayons on our papers. Last November I saw similar art lessons still being taught to first graders in Shanghai, China. Imitation and rote are still too prevalent in our own schools as well.

Fortunately, I eventually had some good art teachers. While I was a public school art teacher, I attended graduate school in the summers (at first to improve my pay rate). We studied the research on creative thinking. I now believe copying is product centered. It is superficial, not teaching us many of the basics of how to see the truth of the world itself. Copying teaches us how to replicate. Replication is a way to memorize another person's idea of an image in order to learn to make the image like other person (or the camera) makes the image and we are not challenged to think, to look again, to experiment and develop an image solution of our own. Copying is learning the answer from the answer. Art is the process of creating from questions, from observations, from dreams, from troubles, from joys, and from within our hearts. Replication (copying) is the opposite of expressive art. Copying molds a much different brain than the brain formed while practicing creative ways to be
  expressive of our feelings and experiences.

I am sorry, but I agree with your colleagues on this one. When I visit an art class where students are copying, I tend to assume that the teacher has not figured out how to motivate and teach art.


Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Adjunct in Art Education
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171

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"We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed." -- Maya Angelou

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