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Re: [teacherartexchange] Teaching to Observe


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Sep 11 2008 - 16:20:51 PDT

>Does anyone have a good example to teach kids to draw what they ACTUALLY
>see, not just what they think they know it looks like? . . .

All people wish they could draw better. Young students who are not given the secrets of how to learn to observe end up with a crisis of confidence and lose interest in art. Starting in K and grade 1 helps. Even though the national standards do not specifically list this skill (a mistake in my opinion), learning how to learn to observe from the real things and from the live plants and creatures should be one of the required learning abilities. First graders learn to read books, but they often are not taught the skills to read their surroundings. Of course they should also be encouraged to use their imaginations and experiences in their artwork.

There have been some excellent responses so far on this list involving tasting and drawing. I also agree with much of what Betty Edwards suggests (except for the copying parts that can easily be done from real things in the classroom). Studies have shown the value of multi-sensory motivation. Artwork tends to be better and more expressive when more than vision is involved when observing and experiencing. Additionally, given choice of subjects, I suspect that children will be more responsive to some subjects than others. I ask children to use blinders for their practice sessions so that they remember not keep looking at the paper. After practice, I often allow drawing without blinders, but remind them to observe (not look at paper) while the pencil is in motion. I also ask them do air practice prior to actual drawing.

To avoid left brain memory drawings (cliche), I agree that we should select subjects that the student has not previously drawn and for which there is not a left brain schema. To avoid frustration, it also must be easy enough. Often a difficult subject can be made easy by asking students to select a small, but interesting part (student choice using a viewfinder) from the whole for preliminary practice.

Everybody wishes they could draw better, but accurate observation drawing may or may not be art. Some photography is not art. Some drawing is largely descriptive and explanatory, and has very little aesthetic, expressive, interpretive, surrealist, or symbolic qualities. Therefore, in drawing I try to encourage individual differences based on interests, passions, troubles, questions, ideas, and even accidents and mistakes. The best artists who have great observation skills are quite recognizable because they allow their own signature style to come through. Mixing observation techniques sometimes works. Observation gesture drawing in combination with observation contour drawing is an example of having to make choices that is more apt to lead to artistic expression. Art is also produced out of memory (prior experiences) and from our imaginations.


The skills needed to draw anything (partly taken from a talk by Betty Edwards):

I have used rabbits, chickens, pigs, cats, and dogs using blinders.

Drawing people and portaits.

Drawing as warm-ups.
(warm-up list)

How to adjust the difficulty level.

Shading ideas.

Viewfinders, on location, mistakes, gesture drawing.


Cubism as process.

Remembering and holding on to what is learned.

A preschooler draws from observation.


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