Dawn Emerson: The Art of Teaching Art
Learning Art Through Teaching
I believe one can give direction and guidance to help bring out the essentials of a person's inner creativity. I also believe everyone can create art. Perhaps everyone does not have the skills to paint a realistic portrait but everyone has their own interpretation of art from within. Starting in the classrooms, teachers have the ability to develop a students' confidence and acceptance to their individual being through art. Art can be an expressive tool to communicate to one's self or to others how we relate to an image or how we express our inner soul or interpret social issues. Art is a way to respond and react to our world, an emotional outlet.
I love teaching art or I should correct myself by saying facilitating art. The most special moments are those when someone who never even thought they could draw, creates a piece of art that they are proud enough to exhibit. In the classroom, I found it was so important to frame and exhibit students' artwork throughout the school. Also, outside the school, artwork needs to become a part of the community such as; students creating a body of work to exhibit in the local gallery or in a community venue, including retired local artists to be a part of the curriculum by being invited in to share their skills and tell their stories. Art is communication. Art is sharing a part of one's self and so it should be celebrated.
There are many ways to facilitate art. In the school, I would set up my curriculum and create small lessons leading to a larger project which would have a specific focus, for example; to learn about patterns, repetition, and complementary colours. There would be certain expectations but after the mini lessons, students would then have the confidence to create their own interpretation of the lesson in their individual style.
This creative approach to teaching where I give the tools and then students use these skills to create their own interpretation does not always suit everyone's learning approach. I have discovered this in certain workshops where some adult participants expect a step by step approach. At first I was a bit horrified, what, do a demonstration of a Hawaiin landscape which everyone copies me step by step??? At first it was very intimidatine because I was not even sure I could create this beautiful painting they were all expecting from me. Second, everyone has their own interpretation of how this landscape should look, what colours, type of brush strokes, I was not this Artist God who knew how it should be done!!! I went home and practiced painting a 'beautiful' landscape, what I thought they were expecting. Then I realized it was not as horrific as I thought. These were a group of people who were brought up with a different form of teaching, where one learned from being shown and instructed not from experimenting and experiencing. So, I went back and decided I was there to make them feel comfortable with their art so they could enjoy it more by building their confidence. I do demos if that is what people want but I give a variety of methods and we all work together. I keep my eyes focused on all the participants so if someone for example creates wonderful clouds, much better than mine, then we share this person's. I help with skills such as mixing colours, give suggestions to help enhance their work, and we all have a great time.
Teaching art in the school district has taught me so much about my own work. I was never fortunate enough to have art in high school so I never knew about the Principles and Elements of Design, understanding how colours react with each other, mixing colours, and understanding warm and cool colours. Now I apply these techniques to try to enhance my own work and I am always learning and moving to another level in my own work.
But probably most of all, I have learned so much teaching art to people with disabilities. I had a student who was blind, he saw art through touch. He would create the most extraordinary sculptures out of clay, his work was unbelievable. His texture was so elaborate and intricate, he taught me to see with all my senses.
From such detail and design to the simplicity of art. Art participants with developmental disabilities can create artwork that is so simple and yet so strong and beautiful. They have given me the insight into the true essence of art, creating from the heart.
I have also had the pleasure of working with adults with mental disabilities some of who use their art to explain their story. Their artwork through colour, images, and text shares their struggle with everyday living that many of us take for granted.
From my challenging and my wonderful experiences in teaching, I have learned so much about art and life itself. I love working in my studio to create art but I also feel privileged to share this passion of mine with others to experience this love of creativity. What a wonderful gift this is to share!