The art at Cordwalles Preparatory School

The Value of Art

Every new morning is a fresh adventure in my teaching career as I embark upon a journey of creativity with the boys at Cordwalles Preparatory School for Boys in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.

While my boys range from Grade 1 through to Grade 7, the skill set that I teach is generally the same, varying only in intensity and scope. One of my key aims is to work on the confidence of each young artist. In order to do this, I need to establish really good relationships with the children so that they feel safe enough to share their crazy ideas with me and with the class, without the fear of ridicule or embarrassment.

It comes down to a mutual respect for each other, for different ideas and creations, and learning to respect the diversity of the creative within the class or school community. I am very protective of this safe place as, without it, my children’s creativity will be compromised.

I celebrate diversity in my art room, teaching that duplicating or copying each other’s ideas doesn’t build unique, confident artists. There are so many different perspectives and stories that the children bring on their journeys, which we weave together into a tapestry of rich hues.

When a child feels heard and is acknowledged, the creative juices are bound to flow and the magic starts to happen. Children are far more spontaneous than adults and are able to engage with a theme or task much more quickly; when given a sheet of blank paper, with the instruction to draw, a child is far less threatened by the task.

Rising to the challenge of getting started on a creative project is what fires up the process. The questions asked by the artist at this stage are invaluable and very necessary to the learning process, such as: ‘Where do I begin?’, ‘What colour will work with the other colours I have chosen?’ or ‘What technique should I use for the background?’

The value of art in education

Focus is on the process

When the focus is on techniques, a lot of fun and learning takes place, in contrast to the pressure of having to produce a replica of the teacher’s work. Skilling the children with a process empowers them to think independently and to make their own decisions – to own the process of art making. It is for these reasons that my lessons are process-driven and not outcomes based.

As a subject art has the capacity to embrace the individuality of a child. Because it is so subjective, there is no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ drawing. It is vital for the art teacher to appreciate each child’s interpretation, however, at the same time, not to accept either poor attitude or inadequate effort.

Art is also a wonderful vehicle for teaching detailed observation. When a subject is examined from all angles a deeper understanding is gained as to how that particular subject ‘works’. Our whole being is employed. Focussed attention helps children shut out invading thoughts and enables them to concentrate on the chosen subject.

Later, open attention kicks in, where we explore feelings and associations between the object and ourselves. In order to draw, these various types of concentration are needed, as are decision-making skills in multiple areas. This is complex and powerful; when composing an artwork, so many decisions need to be taken.

Celebrate the imagination

The imagination is a marvellous tool. Art uses it continuously. No two children see the same thing in the same way. It is always subject to the individual’s imagination. While drawing, a child’s hand-eye co-ordination develops, and on a larger scale their gross motor skills are also being formed.

When a group of children create together, there is something wonderful that happens. There is a deep sense of community which bonds the children together as they work on a common project. The task at hand demands a common ‘language’ and it is this that unifies a group and builds bridges over cultural and age divides.

Art promotes the opportunity to take risks, especially within a safe environment, where children are bound to feel that their silly idea is worth being explored and this leads to resourcefulness and inventiveness. In our current stressful environment, children so badly need a space where they can be distracted from academic demands or social pressure, and just have fun.

The benefits of teaching art are endless. It is my desire to ensure that this important subject is not side-lined to a Friday afternoon if all other work is complete for the week, which is what happens in some schools. Art needs to have its rightful timetabled place alongside mathematics and science, as it contributes enormously to the holistic development of every child.