SchoolArts Room

Studio Thinking: Express

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Nov 10, 2014

Back when I taught middle school, I once had a student who went far and beyond my expectations by how he expressed meaning through his artwork. My students were making simple two-dimensional house shapes that had doors that could open and close. The idea was that when the doors were closed, they showed the outside of a structure; when they were open, they showed the inside. Each student determined the subject and meaning.



Other structures I remember include a rainforest scene and a football field, but this boy’s exterior structure was a dark and foreboding prison. He had even constructed a three-dimensional paper lock for it that could be opened and closed. His structure opened to reveal an empty prison cell, with the implication that the prisoner had escaped. This boy had a physical disability and rarely spoke up in class but the meaning I took from his artwork was that he wanted to or was able to escape any “prison” he was in. I have never forgotten this boy and his bravery in expressing his deep feelings in this artwork.
This boy came to mind while I was reading the chapter on “Express” in Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. The focus here is on finding meaning in the expression of feelings, concepts, and ideas through art. This one chapter presents the best reasons why art teachers should and can go far beyond teaching primarily the elements and principles of art. It also aligns nicely with the new Visual Arts Standard of Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and art with personal meaning and external context.
Studio Thinking 2 suggests that the development of skill and the expression of personal meaning should go hand in hand as “what hits you first when you look at a work of art is not its technique, but its evocative properties.” What can art teachers do to keep meaning at the center of the art-making process? They can develop assignments that simultaneously address meaning and feeling as well as skill. They can help students identify what they personally want to express. They can teach their students how to use the elements of art and principles of design and skills of media and technique to explore that meaning. They can give critiques that focus just as much on meaning as on skill. Any of these approaches can help you better understand and more meaningfully engage your students in art making.
The Berlin Wall is covered with visual expressions of peoples’ reactions to the fall of the Wall. Nancy is shown here with pieces of the Wall in Dallas during TAEA at the Anatole Hotel.