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How Artists Get Ideas - a great answer


From: Judith Decker (jdecker4art_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon May 10 2004 - 17:29:27 PDT

Marvin and all,

Patty Knott gave an excellent reply to this. One TAB
Choice list member said she has a discussion at the
begining of the year with her students on how
artists get ideas. They brainstorm - then make a
bulletin board of all of the responses. Here are some
of the response her kids came up with:
"The list collapsed into some very basic
groupings: nature, beliefs, family, traditions,
culture, art materials, history, knowledge, other
artists, personal interests". In her TAB Choice
classroom children help each other with ideas.

From Patty Knott:

How do artist's get ideas? Indeed this is the course
missing from art ed.

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.

> From Marvin Bartel's post:
"It is hard to think about our thinking habits, but
what if we would start an e-mail thread that lists the
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?"

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 is:
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.
Make selections.
Allow each child's choice and teach technique from the
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

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 make play

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.

Patty Knott
I will be adding this to the file at:
I have added living artists I have "talked" to. You
may add you own master artists. I know there is no way
to include all of the ones you use. I will continue to
add idea sources and themes to it.

Judy Decker

Judy Decker
Incredible Art Department
Incredible Art Resources

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