>I have another topic that might promote some interesting discussion. I teach grade 1-5. My colleague in this building was a graphic artist and later became an art educator. She makes a sample project of each lesson finished as do I. But being a graphic artist or perhaps it?s just the way she is, her samples are always (for lack of a better word,) immaculate. They are neat precise and all in all perfect and beautiful. I admire her discipline and am a bit envious at times. My samples on the other hand are fairly simple and I don?t get too elaborate. My student teacher and I were discussing this difference. I have noticed that should I leave a sample up after presenting the lesson I?d often get 25 carbon copies of my own. So I don?t often finish what I display so that the kids can come to ideas on their own. And I often put the sample away with the younger ones so they have to use their imaginations. . . .
I did student teaching with two art teachers. Mr. Nelson showed lots of examples, and Mrs. Wolfe taught her students how to generate their own ideas. Both got impressive results and they were both well liked by their high school students. At the time, as a student teacher, I did not even realize how they were so different. I just copied both of their methods so they would give me good recommendations. However, the longer I have been teaching, the more I think the students got the most useful creative and critical thinking skills and life-long-learning ability from Mrs. Wolfe's lessons. She taught them the methods and and gave them practice in generating their own ideas instead of suggesting easy solutions from examples.
I know that showing examples is a very common practice and it works because our brains are wired with an instinct to imitate experts. This is especially true when things are not explained well and we don't know how to do something (see mirror neurons). However, it is not essential to show an example or to do a demonstration to teach a good art lesson. Our brains are also wired and have an instinct to be imaginative. In looking at what the great artists themselves do (and did), they probably look at examples to be sure to do something else (they would not be great artists if they only imitated and copied).
As an artist, I look at other artists artwork to try to figure out how the artist is seeing, feeling, and thinking. I like to speculate on why the artist might have done it. I have no interest in doing another artwork that looks like theirs, but I might be interested in figuring what I would make dealing with a similar thought process. When I was an art student I felt very frustrated when I looked at examples because it felt like all the creative ideas had been taken. However, the longer I work, the easier it is to originate ideas and the more I realize that the surface of creative ideas has barely been scratched.
In art class, if I want to get a new idea across without showing an example or doing a demo, I have found that the introductory time can be used to have them do hands-on practice of an important skill needed to do the assignment. This gives them confidence and gives them some time to think and focus. They are able to start something. If I have them make a list of subject matter ideas as they practice, I find that they have little need or desire for my ideas. If they keep a sketch book of their own ideas and observations, they have a source book. I get the satisfaction that my students are becoming skilled in art and independent in thought.