Promoting Creativity – A Welcomed Invitation

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on Making Creativity Visible at the Columbus Museum of Art. It’s part of a grant project spearheaded by the museum’s Center for Creativity which I will report on at a later time. As a warm-up to the discussion, the educators and docents in the room were asked to think of ways we model, promote, and assess creativity in our work. While I’d like to think through these prompts again with my university students in mind, in the moment I thought of my own children and our home studio experiences.

In the section on promoting creativity, I wrote: “I let things get messy.” And just below that, I wrote, “I clean things up.” I firmly believe that being creative requires space and time to put lots of materials out on the table but it also requires clear space to think and see one’s options and imagine new possibilities. This all reminded me of something that happened at home this past weekend.

As regular readers know, I’ve been working with the concept of “invitations” for creative activity around the house. This weekend, the invitations I’ve been sending came back to me, wrapped up with a big red ribbon.

This was the scene of the action.

Cora's easel positioned in a new location, with supplies she hasn't used in awhile, and a fresh sheet of drawing paper.

Cora’s easel, which for the past month had been moving around the living room mostly just collecting dust, caught her attention the moment she rounded the corner into the kitchen. In addition to moving it into a new space, I had rolled out a fresh sheet of paper and set out some triangular crayons she’d been neglecting in favor of markers.

“Thanks for settting this up for me mom!” she cheered, and my eyes immediately welled up.

Cora picked up some crayons and started drawing, big bold strokes of color. She was drawing with her whole body, in motion, and singing songs from the Sesame Street alphabet album which we listened to that morning. She was exuding positive energy and intensely making fields of color.


For the past while Cora’s been making up a stories when she draws. Talking through her process, but still not drawing much recognizable imagery. So I asked her to tell me about what she was doing.

“This is a spiral drawing,” she declared and then she paused . . . . . “Do you know why I am doing this, Mom?”

“No. Why?”

“Because… I have to.”

I’m not really sure what Cora meant by this statement but I am sure it relates to issues of discipline, persistence, and drive to make things mentioned by the panelists at the museum. I’m sure I’m going to keep thinking about it. And I hope reading my documentation of this creative happening in my kitchen prompts some of you to set up a clean slate for your students and children to embark on a new creative adventure. If not today, then perhaps in the new year.

Need inspiration: Check out Tinkerlab and Playful Learning.


Teaching for Artistic Behavior (@Home)

Note: This was an old post that I really never got around to finishing and just hit publish on today. I need to get back to the @Home part.

I’m just wrapping up a course on curriculum in teaching art. I’ll be honest, it’s not my favorite course to teach. Students expect it to be very method, and it is to an extent, but it is mostly theory. What makes a great art lesson? With the whole history of art, design, and visual culture before you and just 40 weekly sessions with your elementary students, what should you teach them? They want answers; we give them questions.

And then there is another reality that is increasingly creeping into the course, standards and testing. Many people would be surprised to hear about testing in art class. Some would probably even laugh at the notion. When you take a subject that is so expansive with so much room for personal interpretation and try to pare it down to common denominators, you kill what makes it special. You wind up teaching to the test, a test that emphasizes the memorization of dates and definitions at the expense of the head, heart, and hand.

Like Gude (2004), Eisner (2001), and others have suggested, art educators don’t get into the game because they long to teach kids the elements and principles of art (color, line, shape, form, value, texture, movement, unity, harmony, variety, balance, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and pattern). We do it because we fell in love with being in the studio experimenting with materials and visiting museums to stand face-to-face with masterpieces. We do it to share that passion with our students.

We want our classrooms to buzz with creative energy like the ateliers of Reggio Emilia and Room 13. We want our students to be self-determined makers. All too often, however,we find ourselves facilitating projects with safe, pre-determined outcomes. No surprises. No big messes to clean up.

All this makes sense given the culture of testing and overcrowded classrooms teachers face today. But there still are folks out there trying to provide students with authentic experiences in the artroom. Teaching For Artistic Behavior (TAB) is one approach my students gravitate towards but are not convinced they can execute.

Eisner, E. (2001). Should we create new aims for art education? Art Education, 54(5), 6-10
Gude, O. (2004). Postmodern principles: In search of a 21st century art education. Art Education, 57(1), 6-14.