My philosophy of teaching art encompasses my priorities for a quality art education and how these mirror as well as emanate from my personal experiences as an artist and executive member of the University of North Texas (UNT) National Art Education Association Student Chapter. Quality art education for me would facilitate change through risk taking in art, teaching with Big Ideas that connect to the lives of my students, exposing students to artists, practices, and art works that have enabled change in society, as well as using art to reach outside of the school walls to impact communities. In what follows I will articulate how my own experiences as artist, art teacher in training, and active member of UNT’s NAEA Student Chapter have influenced my philosophy, which is best encapsulated in the following quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Mahatma Gandi.
Art Education as Facilitative of Risk Taking
I have recently transformed as an artist from traditional media and processes into more contemporary, found object, mixed media pieces. In this change, I cannot discount the importance of a supportive environment. My own risk taking and growth as an artist and art educator were fostered by the relationships I have built with fellow pre-service teachers and members of the UNT NAEA Student Chapter. Through the support they offer I have tried new themes, techniques, or media and have been pushed to re-consider my objectives for instructional units.
From these experiences, I have prioritized the creation of a supportive learning environment within my own teaching philosophy that might encourage risk taking. It is imperative to encourage each student into believing that he or she is already an artist. I have heard many accounts of individuals giving up their art practice because they did not feel they were “artist material” or an ineffective educator treated them as though they were not artists. In order to reduce the chance of students labeling themselves as “artists” or “non artists” I will make a conscious effort to not compare the so-called “talent” level of various students within the art classroom. It would be contradictory on my part as an educator to encourage my students to take risks within their artwork and then not assess individual participation, experimentation, and effort. Therefore, I will create rubrics for each project that value risk taking.
Considering Big Ideas
It is my belief that the first step to change on any level is awareness and education. Working with Big Ideas in my planning and art making has helped me explore my own values and heightened my sensitivity to the world around me. Big Ideas not only aid in pushing my students to call for change within their society, but also contributes to my work leaving the desire for change within the viewer. Slide number 2 from my submitted works confronts the viewer with how we are removing so many trees in order to build up industry that soon the only trees future generations will have are the ones constructed from left over tree parts. By incorporating life-centered issues in my own work, I have been able to stress the importance of recycling in a non-confrontational manner. In recognizing how my art making can inspire change, I have committed to creating an authentic art education for my students that is informed by planning with Big Ideas.
I cannot effectively encourage my students to make art meaningful to their lives if I do not encourage them to incorporate their lives outside of the classroom within their art making. Educating my students through issues-based units of study will permit an interrogation of how we all play roles within our community and how we can positively effect change within society. An elementary instructional unit I created with an overarching focus on conservation and recycling illustrates this belief. I felt with “going green” having such a large role within society today this would afford my students the ability to start a growing relationship between art and their personal lives. Throughout the unit students learn methods to reuse materials from their everyday lives such as old newspapers or magazines to create, not only meaningful works of art, but also new materials, such as handmade paper. In addition, one specific lesson invites students to brainstorm on words they feel describe them as an individual. They are then invited to incorporate some of the descriptive words within a collaborative classroom sculpture made of recycled materials. Finding their identity reflected within the classroom community will ripple into my students enhanced ability to identify who they are within their community as a whole and with that knowledge comes the ability to change.
Connecting through Content
As important as my studio practice is in pushing me further as a pedagogue, my commitment to professional development is of equal importance. I feel that as an art educator it is my responsibility to be as up-to-date and knowledgeable as I can. In order to do so it is vital to stay current within the field of art education by attending conferences at the local, state, and national levels where presenters, artists, and educators offer a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be brought into to my classroom. I can speak from experience when saying that there is so much to gain by seeking professional development experiences. Just recently I attended the NAEA Annual Convention in New Orleans and was reminded how important it is to have a strong support structure of like-minded peers and mentors. Through my involvement – first as a member, then Historian, and currently as Vice President of my university’s NAEA Student Chapter – I have been able to work with and get to know a growing number of fellow pre-service art educators, art educators from area school districts, as well as art educators in higher education. The growing relationships I am currently cultivating with these individuals will undoubtedly prove to be invaluable in the future when planning and orchestrating what content I will introduce to my students and in my continued efforts to collaboratively advocate for visual arts as a vehicle for change in the community.
An example of this collaborative learning and advocacy is the Let Art Talk workshops that are currently underway in four area school districts. This program, jointly undertaken between the Student Chapter and UNT’s College of Visual Arts & Design, will provide elementary students and their families with the opportunity to attend art workshops that focus on conservation and sustainability through hands on activities informed by Ugandan culture. There will be joint projects between students in Texas and those in Uganda facilitated by a Ugandan guest printmaker, Fred Mutebi. This event offers everyone involved experiences with content that may inspire connection and change both locally and globally. As an art educator, I value this type of collaboration because it brings the concept of culture and conservation alive for youth. Connecting my art education program to these real world, life experiences of my students provides them with more of a sense of ownership. Grounding my curriculum in students’ lives and communities enable my students to be more enthusiastic about the possibilities of art and thereby, gain more from their art education.
Art as Agent of Change
As the proceeding sections highlight, a large part of who I am as an educator comes from who I am as an individual. I feel being an active member within the community in which you are surrounded is an important part of life. I set aside over one hundred and fifty hours a year to volunteer with the Kairos Prison Ministry of North Texas, in which I use my knowledge of art to reach out to residents in local prisons. Slide number 1 is an example of how I personally incorporate my activity within the community by addressing the many accounts of regret I have heard firsthand from residents within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System.
As an executive member of the UNT NAEA Student Chapter, I coordinate various projects that also benefit the communities surrounding UNT. One of these projects, the Calhoun Middle School Mural Project, called for our members and middle school students to plan and carry out the painting of a triptych mural in which the students offered words translated into the various languages they felt described themselves within their school. The main goal was to foster ownership within the students of their school by having them involved in the various stages of the project. Moreover, the Art and Soul Project that I have coordinated over several semesters seeks local schools that are willing to host donation boxes for new unopened school supplies which are later assembled into art kits and donated to the Denton County Children’s Advocacy Center. I feel by having students give to students in a neighboring city it brings the focus on community as a whole and as a result encourages the students to think about others and ways they can give back through the visual arts.
These activities inspire me as an educator to strive to find ways of connecting a student’s everyday life in the outside world to their classroom experiences. Wherever I become an art educator I will endeavor to find ways for my students to have their art making impact a wider audience and help transform their community in multiple ways as an imperative part of my art education program. In this goal, my work with the Student Chapter has provided an incredible foundation of possibility.
One central tenant that reoccurs within my development of quality art curriculum, personal involvement with art, goals for working within communities, and as an advocate for visual arts education is my belief that art education has the potential to act as an agent of change across contexts and topics. I hope to inspire and enable my students to take the risks inherent in art making that hold the potential to transform how others know and act within their communities and world. In implementing this philosophy, I too will continually learn from how art can motivate change within my students, many of who will grow to become leaders calling for the change we need in the future.