Removing Fear, Increasing Expression: A Process-driven Approach to Art
By Nick Meriwether, Rainard Art Teacher | Featured Art by a Rainard student
Art making is a powerful classroom tool. It can have significant emotional and developmental impact, and can enhance the curriculum. Gifted students are often faced with blocks to creativity from, for instance, perfectionistic tendencies, and asynchronous development. The process-driven approach makes sense for all students, and especially the particularly-active minds of gifted thinkers.
Process Versus Product: What’s the Difference
To frame this discussion, we can acknowledge that there are least two ways to approach art education: Product-focused art making and process-driven art making. A product-focused art activity places importance on the finished product above all else. Students are instructed to follow directions, step by step, to match a provided example (a paper jack-o-lantern, or as in the example on the right, penguins). This approach offers little room for personal expression or exploration.
In contrast, a process-based approach provides the students with creative materials but does not provide a definite end goal. Instead, the students are given an idea to explore, and guide their own creation. For example in a unit about light, students may be given a still life with a single light source and then asked to make a charcoal drawing of the light and shadow as they see it.
The process of observing, processing and drawing is much more important than the final drawing. Another example: students may be given a creative prompt such as: “If you were a superhero, what would your powers be? What would your costume look like?” or “If you had a magic mountain, what would be inside?” This approach yields a huge variety of work from a class, with each artwork reflecting the artist’s thoughts, ideas, and perceptions.
A process-driven approach provides practical tools and techniques to overcome blocks, to decrease fear, to increase self-expression, and to strengthen learning for all students and especially gifted thinkers. This approach champions student-lead activity and ultimately leads to more advanced skill development. It also can yield unique and amazing works of art.
A Teaching Philosophy Focused on Process
It is my goal to introduce the students to the formal elements of art making in a way that is tangible and easily understood. We work through fundamental concepts, materials, and techniques throughout the year. We also move through several thematic units with tie-ins to the curriculum subjects in the students’ other classes.
I strongly encourage and support personal artistic vision and expression. It is my belief that every person has a unique perspective. Art is the expression of that perspective. I truly believe that everyone has it in them to be an artist.
In my classroom art is not valued in terms of “right” or “wrong,” but rather in terms of personal expression. I believe that the process of art making is extremely powerful, both emotionally and developmentally. I also believe that the best art instruction involves providing the tools, ideas, and guidance that will allow each child to refine and express their personal point of view – how THEY see the world. It is the expression of deeply-considered personal experience that creates the best art.
Why Process-focused Art Experiences Are Important
Often, barriers to creativity are created when children are given tasks that they don’t feel they can accomplish (i.e. recreating a famous work of art). This can create a fear of not meeting the expectation, which often leads the child to give up before trying.
Process-driven art experiences establish the child as the authority of their own expression. The production goals to be met are set by the child, and the work becomes much more personal. Sharing and discussing the work made in this way can lead to wonderful moments in the classroom.
Ultimately, the process-driven approach to art making empowers students.