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talent and k-12 art (a bit long)

updated tue 30 apr 96


Marvin Bartel on fri 12 apr 96

Vince Pitelka writes the following and I'll try to add
a few cents worth from my study of and interest in the art education of
children. Mine follows at the end. Marvin Bartel
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>I appreciate Kevin's post concerning that fickle concept known as talent. What
>is it that we call talent in grade-school art? Usually it is the ability to
>draw something exactly as it is in reality. What a sad misunderstanding of the
>concept of creativity. It takes no creativity to copy reality, and yet by
>rewarding only those who CAN copy reality, as so many well-meaning people do,
>by default we tell those who can't copy reality that they have no talent. In
>my experience artistic creativity has to do with the interpretation of reality
>and the willingness to take risks in individual expression. Given those
>conditions, GOOD art most often comes of fluency in media and markmaking.
>A Suzuki violin teacher once asked me to review a set of art-instruction videos
>she had come across from some private teacher (I think he was in Grand Rapids,
>Michigan). This teacher had young children drawing the same thing over and
>over and over and over again until the product was visually accurate. Suzuki
>seems to work very well, and the Suzuki teacher saw similarities in this art
>instruction concept. I was absolutely horrified, and explained to her that
>while this approach may work in music, in visual art it would completely
>smother creativity and individuality.
>The history of art reveals a great many lesser-known artists who were extremely
>"talented" at copying reality, and yet never contributed a damn thing new to
>the grand scope of human accomplishment.
>So, what does this have to do with ceramics anyway? Sometimes I get carried
> - Vince
>Vince Pitelka -

You are right of course, but there is a bit more to it than creativity.
Your comment about fluency in mark making is good. Where does that come
from? Somehow, the kid who succeeds has learned the joy of a combination
of creativity, motivation to practice, and developed skills.
Many 3rd grade (the age may vary a bit) children begin to see their
own "creative" drawings as childish. In the literature it is referred to
as the "crisis of confidence." They give up in frustration because no
teacher has had the ability or forsight help them develop any practice
skills or observational skills before they reach the age at which they
begin to notice how childish their work is looking. Meanwhile, they see a
small percentage of the 3rd grade class has learned to draw realistically
because they happened to have encouragement, some good instruction (there
is lots of wrong instruction), or maybe talent (I don't believe in talent
alone). At any rate the non-drawing kids think it is talent, when actually
it is practice-practice-practice, but not like the Suzuki example you cite.
I teach a class called "Art for Children." It is primarily made up
of college juniors who intend to become elementary classroom teachers (not
art specialists). They represent a cross-section of American educational
product. A few feel they can draw, but most think they can't. Every one
wishes they could draw better. The class has two lectures and one studio
session per week. Every lecture session begins with a ritural during which
they do usually drawing from 2 to 5 minutes. At the beginning of the term
they are not allowed to see their pencil points or paper as they draw from
About mid-term I bring my cat in and they each get a small ball of
clay in a sandwich bag. They work at an armchair desk in a lecture room
and model the clay on a 5 inch piece of mat board. By this time they know
their cats may not be cliche or stereotype, but have to be based on their
own obersvation and experience of the cat. They do a 10 minute clay sketch
from life.
By the end of the semester they realize they can improve perceptual
skill if they want to. They learn how making art is wholly attending to a
task. I give them ways to learn to see and to express, but mainly they
need to know that it is not talent, but a matter of learning through
practice. I hope they mimic this when they become teachers. I do think
Suzuki himself has it right. Hard-easy practice teaches us to hear notes,
to shot hoops, or to see shapes and forms. Suzuki also has a parent right
there showing interest and enthusiasm in each small achievement.
As potters we know all about practice. We also know that pots
without life may as well be machine made, which is why you are also right
about creativity. I believe a child needs encouragment and instruction in
both skill practice and creativity. While there is no "right" way to draw
something and no "right" way to make a pot, there are certainly incompetent
ways as well as competent ways. The good pots I know are made by persons
who have practiced for many years. The GREAT ones are also have life and
are creative. Also see, ". . . . Where the life is." by Dick Lehman in
April CM.

* * * * * * Marvin Bartel * * * * * *
Art Dept., Goshen College
Goshen IN 46526
phone 219-535-7592
fax 219-535-7660
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
See Goshen College Alumnus
Dick Lehman on Ceramics Monthly Cover
* * * * * * * * * April, 1996 * * * * * * * * * *

Numo Jaeger on sat 13 apr 96

Hi Marvin,
Boy, Vince and you are my heroes today! I have been teaching art at various
place for 15 years. Fifteen years teaching adult ceramics, 10 years
kindergarden through 8th grade and now this is my first year teaching high
school art.

I loved having the kids for so many years because I felt I could really get
them from point A to point B. ( or at least I thought I could...perhaps that
is a little self absorbed of me to think that I could do that) What pained me
greatly was that CHANGE that occurred to some of the students as you said when
they hit 3rd grade. I have told people that there is a shift in the fourth
grade. They become to concerned about having things "look right".

I could reach some of the students but not all of them after that. It made me
very sad.

Thanks for your post!

Numo Jaeger
Sir Francis Drake High
and Studio One Art Center

Jeremy/Bonnie Hellman on sat 13 apr 96

We always told our children who became overly concerned about having things
"look right" that when you are the artist, you can make things look any way
you want. The sky doesn't have to be blue. Grass doesn't have to be green,
etc. We told them this at ages 3-4-5 and all the way through. One has only
to look at famous artists of the last 100 years! Bonnie