July 13 2013

Greetings Listservians!

I am an artist and art educator in New Jersey where I have spent nearly two decades working with high school students to develop creative and innovative thinking skills. My approach to the studio arts has been one of breaking down preconceived notions of "art" and "artist". Many of my students will enter class on the first day and announce themselves with "My name is... and I can't draw". As a culture we have created some mystical idea that many teenagers adopt thinking: drawing and painting well (read: objectively) are inborn, and artistic folks are magical in some way. Further, all other non-objective or conceptual expressions are questionable, and deserve scrutiny.

I posit that artistic folks are magical, but not because we are naturally talented, but because we work hard at understanding and promoting creative and innovative thinking.

Two years ago, a colleague and I started a little program in our high school as an experiment. If you follow education issues in the US you know that teachers and school programming in general is under the microscope for any number of issues that range from serious (teachers 'correcting' student standardized tests) to ludicrous (let's add more standardized tests to test kids and then evaluate teachers on those tests). My bias shows through a little, but having taught in a few vastly different districts I understand that one solution is not a fit for all problems. I digress.

The experiment: A music and art teacher will set up a small 'lab' with a handful of digital imaging, video, audio creation and production programs. We will also have available a good smattering of "analogue" materials as well; cables, mixers, amps, studio art supplies and so forth. For the first few years we will hand pick a dozen kids based on willingness to produce their own work in an otherwise invisible school program (no credit hours, no grades, etc). We will organize a yearly theme and open the year with seminar style presentations and discussions to launch the focus.

As instructors, my colleague and I will not only participate in the making aspects of this with the students, but we will use this as a means to investigate the connections innovative and creative thinking have across disciplines...did I forget to mention that we weren't just choosing students who were "artists" or "musicians"?

Our pedagogy was grounded in believing that artistic thought, creative, critical, and innovative thinking are skills that transcend the studio and are of the utmost importance if we want our students to be self-directed, flexible, adaptable, and successful. Our work can easily be seen through the lens of the STEM to STEAM movement ( look up stemtosteam ) . Our kids will be ready...but how do we convince our colleagues, schools, and institutions that our thinkers, our artists are an investment for the whole of the community? Please share your thoughts if you have experience with this!

If you are interested in some of out work and ideas, you can visit us at paperandtape (dot) org

Some other things I do are kateokeson (dot) com and makeitbetter4youth (dot) org

Many thanks for reading!

Kate O.
[email protected]
New Jersey, USA

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