As a working artist and art teacher for almost 34 years, I resisted digital art as long as I could. I wanted to make stuff in iMovie, but honestly, was afraid of what it was going to take to learn it. So I would ask my art students to make a video and I would just “direct.” That was ok but their passion didn’t match mine because it was my project and not theirs. Eventually I had to give it a go. Now, I have to say that I have experienced more passion for teaching than ever before.
Trying to deal with all of this technology has required a lot of time and effort to learn. As an artist, I used to only paint in watercolor and I really enjoyed illustrating with it. I always loved the look of oil paint, but at age 30, I didn’t want to have to learn something from the start. I had invested a lot into watercolor. Finally I started the process of learning about oil painting, loved it, and for the years that followed, only worked in oil paint.
So around age 50, I had been resistant to learning the “new” of digital art, but I started the process, and it has been life changing, really. I might have suffered burn out from teaching had it not been for all of this new. But the biggest change has been seeing the applications and possibilities for my students.
Their readiness for what’s next in their lives, once they leave me, is much more important now because of how dominant technology is becoming in our lives. Digital and visual literacy is so much more important now, or maybe we are just now figuring this out.
I have taught High School Art for most of my life. I have added digital art just in the last few years. What is different is that I see real career paths ahead for my students who are exploring graphic design with technology, which is very different now than pursuing a career path through traditional art.
I believe my students see more relevance to their day-to-day lives with graphic design and ArtMedia, for the most part. I believe visual literacy is easier to discuss and communicate through ArtMedia than more traditional art for the majority of my students. I resisted digital art as long as I could, but when I dove in, I really began to see the importance of students becoming more visually and digitally literate.
My students in the traditional art class love the class and love to create. They take pictures of their work with their phones and share them. My ArtMedia students also create, but their work goes out to a much larger audience through our school social media and their own.
I think, in high school anyway, traditional art is more about the artist, whereas the ArtMedia students’ work is more about others. It’s great to have both.
I have been “creative” for as long as I can remember. My grandmother always said that she could put me in front of a table with some modeling clay and I was “good for the day” as I would make tiny dinosaurs and creatures to my hearts content. So for me, art and being creative has been a normal part of my life and not some mysterious state of being that I believe some think.
As you can see above, “Creativity is a phenomenon…” according to this Wikipedia entry, but I think to exile creativity to some dark room to which only a few have the key is not helpful, especially when Creativity has become a highly sought after commodity.
In a Linkedin Learning article editor Paul Petrone lists Creativity as the top Soft Skill companies are looking for in 2019. He goes on to explain, “While robots are great at optimizing old ideas, organizations most need creative employees who can conceive the solutions of tomorrow.”
Throughout the years of teaching Art and now Art & Media Communications, I have consistently had students tell me they were “not creative” mostly as an excuse not to have to try to be. Absolutely, I have had lots of students who were wired in such a way that creative ideas and possibilities flowed more easily out of their brains, but like any skill, I believe anyone can start the process of learning and get better with time and effort. So where do you start?
My experience of Creating, whether it’s an oil painting, a graphic design, or a video, is Choosing to use this thing or that thing, or maybe those things over there. Very simply- should I use this brush stroke or that one, this color or that, this texture or that, each driven by the thought, “what would look best.” This is what is going on in my mind while I am building a graphic design. Piece by piece I try something, see how it looks, consider other options, and make a choice.
Even if I am painting a realistic image from a picture of a grizzly bear that I took at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana (awesome place), I am still choosing this brush stroke or that, what to do with the background, how much of a soft edge do I give the bear, and so on. The end result is hopefully a nice painting that people enjoy looking at, but it was created by thousands of fairly simple little choices.
So this sophomore ArtMedia student is working on a graphic design to promote the upcoming District Tennis Tournament to post on social media, and all she is doing is making lots of choices, building, and creating. “What would be a cool font, how about a red filter with some green grunge splattered around, which pictures will I use, and how will I merge them?” And driving the choices is the thought, “what is going to look best?”
When I am working with new students to graphic design, I often get this question, “Mr. Haney, what would be a cool font to use here?” Now if I answer that, I have just robbed them of an opportunity to “Grow their Creativity Muscle.” If I choose for them, they didn’t try, risk, learn, or explore possibilities. They need to make the effort, which leads us to a valuable component of being “more creative,” shopping.
I believe being creative is about choosing from a list of possibilities so you can solve the puzzle. So it helps if you have some possibilities from which to consider. If my students are just starting out, never had an art class, haven’t had to consciously make Visual Decisions around solving a puzzle, then the best thing for them to do is to shop for some possibilities. For my students, Pinterest is the perfect place to send them to shop around for options. They do not get to steal. They need to study and look.
While they are shopping for options and then making choices, the things they choose DON’T HAVE TO ACTUALLY BE the RIGHT or BEST CHOICE. This is very important to the process. Students are in School and in School there are mostly right and wrong choices. Not so much with art. Yes, there are guidelines called the Elements and Principles of Art that I will offer my thoughts about later, but when you are working on building your creative muscle, struggling to find THE choice involves way too much eliminating of options before you have really gotten started.
Just like the process of Brainstorming, you want to put it all on the whiteboard. You don’t want to limit or throw out ideas, even the ones that seemingly have no chance of working, because what if some, out of the box thinking, could actually make it work? Even if their choices aren’t the best choices, they are still building neural structure in the areas of the brain associated with Creativity, because they are exercising that muscle with the effort.
When they look, I make the point that they are to look for images that stand out to them, that are cool looking, and NOT look with the attitude of “well that’s cool but I probably can’t make that.” That is where I come in. I cannot make choices for them, but I can help them figure out how to build it. They have to get experience and it is not practical to think that they should be able to “just be creative.” They look for cool things, build designs, get their creations out there on posters or social media, get lots of positive reinforcement from their friends, and then get right on to the next visual puzzle that needs solving. Once they are motivated to shop for possibilities, get more images in their heads, makes lots and lots of visual choices, and gather more experience, they are well on their way to growing their creative muscles.
Now I can toss an assignment out there, tell them we need a graphic for the next district UIL meet, and that student who has gained some experience can “be creative” because she has a lot of visual possibilities floating around in her head to choose from. They make a cool graphic and their friends say, “that is so awesome. I wish I was creative!”
So does learning how to make a cool graphic make a person more creative so that they can meet that top demand that companies are looking for in 2019? YES! That is my experience. I believe a person can grow their capacity to create in LOTS of ways such as art, graphic design, music, cooking, quilting, decorating, teaching, and on and on. I believe that once that creative area of the brain gets lots of growth through exercise, you have built neural structure in the areas of the brain associated with creativity, and you have stored away a plethora of possibilities in what ever discipline you have followed, you become a puzzle solver. Creatives love the adventure of figuring things out and finding solutions that others can’t conceive of, or may have overlooked.
I do not believe that creativity is a phenomenon only gifted to a select few. I do believe it comes easier to some than others, but it has been my experience that it can be developed in anyone who is willing to put in the time. This notion has been transformative to me as an Art Teacher. When it hit me that ALL of those students in my classes, struggling away on their projects, are actually growing neural structure in areas of the brain associated with Creativity, Problem Solving, Subjectivity, Intuition, Visual
Literacy, and Visual Communication, it became much less important that there are only a few who are winning art contests. If those students are really working at it, they are building a skill that will serve them well in what ever they decide they want to do with the rest of their lives. Creativity!