Teaching Art

It has long been said that you cannot teach art, that you can only teach technique. While that is possibly true, there are a great many techniques that have been developed down through the ages that have become a staple of creating art works. Art teachers can draw upon these staples to create lessons that, hopefully, will create a satisfying art experience for the student. While they may not produce great art, they should at least walk away from an art lesson feeling that they know a little bit more about art and how art is created. That way, when buying an art print on canvas, they will know what to look for.

Practice makes perfect…

The first staple is practice. While this may seem obvious, it is amazing how many people expect to simply pick up a pencil and use a formula to produce great, original art. Practice has the effect of training the eye to see in a discerning sort of way. A hand drawn or painted picture is not the same as photography. When taking a photograph, the camera picks up all the details of a scene. It does not discriminate between the importance of one object over another.

For example, a photographer wanted to record a pathway that seemed to her like a tunnel of green. It was early spring, and the leaves on the trees were still small. The sun was shining brightly, and the day had that clear, just washed feeling that is only available on a sunny spring day shortly after a good rain. She snapped several pictures of the scene.

To her chagrin, when she looked at the developed pictures, the tunnel that she had seen displayed only as a diffuse collection of spring trees that were sprouting tiny new leaves. Instead of being lush, the scene was almost stark. The tall, slender trucks of the unclothed trees had a random arrangement in the photograph instead of looking like a path or a tunnel. Picking up a pencil, she tried to reproduce the scene that was still within her mind’s eye, but soon gave up in frustration. No matter how she tried, although she could reproduce the location and arc of the trees, she could not bring to life that moment of clarity when the sun shone through the newly unfurled leaves.

Perspective and colour…

Which that brings us to two more staples: perspective and color. Perspective is a relatively modern concept in art. Renaissance artists, such as Donatello and da Vinci worked extensively with developing techniques in perspective and fore-shortening to make pictures seem more realistic. Young children have a hard time understanding how placement on a page or how organising items on a page will make something look near at hand or far away. If you give a group of fifth grade art students a still life to draw, some of them will place the items correctly. Others, however, will separate out the individual items, drawing them separately.

Colour, and techniques for applying it, can make all the difference in the world in the general appearance of a picture. It is extremely difficult, for example, to portray a sunny day using pencil and paper only. But add a wash of light green or blue, with bold strokes of darker browns and grays for tree trunks and you are much closer to portraying the spring day that frustrated the photographer.

There are many kinds of color that can be used in creating art work. Some kinds are very affordable, while other kinds are expensive. One of the difficulties for many new artists is the cost of materials. However, in the hands of a skilled artist, simple supplies such as might be purchased for an elementary school student can produce amazing results. These include wax crayons, water color cakes, finger paints, tempera paint and colored pencils. None of these items are prohibitively expensive.

Type of medium…

A step up from these materials are pastels, chalks and charcoal. The advantages of this class of art material is that, unlike crayons and colored pencils, they lend themselves to blending. Art teachers should be aware, however, that young artists can make a fearsome mess with blend-able materials. A savvy teacher will give instruction for the correct use of these materials, as well as keeping soap and water or a large tub of disposable wipes on hand for the child who cannot seem to use charcoal, pastels or chalk without getting them all over himself or herself.

A few photographs of an art classroom going through the process of discovery would make a priceless canvas art prints to share with parents or to display with student art.