I believe that having meaning in artmaking is the core of creation. Some may think art is for specific people, however, in fact, we are all surrounded by art and it is for all of us. I hope each one of us realizes the numerous possibilities of art and how art can grow person as a whole.
Art becomes much more meaningful with the meaning of the creator, and I believe having a purpose will draw students’ will of engaging in art and also helps them become self-directed learners.
How can art educators integrate meaning-making in the class?
As I research meaning-making in art, I realized there are two aspects of meaning-making in art class. One is for art educators to create meaningful art lessons for students to learn more than just technical skills, and another aspect is for students themselves to find their own meaning within the art they create. A big idea can be used for all ages however I realized that learning styles differ in students’ age. Teaching older students requires more structures to draw their interests and create space for their own, as well as space to interact with peers to learn from each other. Teaching younger children requires more of the teacher’s observation of children’s natural interests and creating space for freedom. First, I would like to explore the importance of meaning-making in art and I will explore ways to integrate meaning-making for older students and lastly, meaning-making for young children.
Importance of Meaning-Making in Art
Many art educators notice that students learn most when they are fully engaged in activities and they even become self-directed learners. Gude (2008) explains that meaning-making in art is “the ability to engage and entertain ideas and images; it is the ability to make use of images and ideas to re-imagine one’s own life experiences. It is the ability to investigate and represent one’s own experiences” (p.101). Knowing the purpose of doing engages students in their desired activities and allows them to become self-directed learners. Jaquith (2011) stated that “research has shown that learners who have educational autonomy and are in control of the meaning-making process tend to solve problems through intrinsic motivation”. Art class should not be the place to just teach technical skills to draw or create objects, it should be the place to grow as a whole person by learning about oneself and the world around oneself through the process of making art. Many artists and art educators find it useful to think of art as a behavior rather than a product (Dissanayake & Simpson as cited in Massey, 2017). Massey (2017) explains that the art curriculum changes when we think of art as encompassing the human tendency to beautify, construct meaning, and express oneself aesthetically, art becomes not just a product to take home; it embraces nearly every experience in the classroom or process of making art. The art-making process is one of “inquiry and engagement, research and experimentation, trial and error, risk-taking, reflection and reevaluation, and growth and discovery” (Polster as cited in Massey, 2017, p.13). Meaning-making in art helps us to think in different, new, innovative, original ways and this creative thinking can be helpful not solely for artistic expression, but also in our daily life.
Meaning-Making in Older Students
To draw students into the process of meaning-making in art, Big Idea is often used to develop art curricula. Walker (as cited in Sakatani & Pistolesi, 2009) explains that “Big ideas – broad, important human issues – are characterized by complexity, ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity … big ideas do not completely explicate an idea but represent a host of concepts that form the idea” (p.48). The big idea is the core of students’ interests and curiosity. The big idea can be explored through specific themes and sub-themes it can be revealed by the artist’s chosen expressive viewpoint or perspective that reflects his or her culture and era (Sandell 2006). One of the approaches to using big ideas is to find a clear goal before creating lessons. Massey (2017) calls this strategy a backward design, Massey explains that “by beginning with the intention rather than the activity, the curriculum goes to the heart of the big idea that the classroom community is exploring. It assists teachers in avoiding activity-focused teaching” (p.10). Sandell (2006) suggests art lessons as balanced works of art, formed by three elements, form, theme, and context. The form reflects structures, and how the lesson is. The theme reflects a big idea, what the lesson is about. Context reflects the purpose, when, where, by/for whom, and why the lesson was created (Sandell 2006). Both backward design and lessons as balanced works of art can also be applied for students’ meaning-making in their own art. If art educators could create space for students to explore their own creations, students can consider the purpose of creation, for whom, and what the creation is about, and choose the medium or virtual platform they wish to use. Massey (2017) states that “Inquiry-based teaching and learning asks students to contemplate big questions. Many of these questions might never be answered; but through the process of inquiry, our classroom communities become research laboratories – exciting places of wonder and discovery” (p.10) Creative thinking opens door to a variety of perspectives, and it is needed in students daily life to enrich their life.
Meaning-Making in Younger Children
Discussing big ideas can be effective for older students who are aware of social concepts/issues and capable of investigating matters around the world, smaller children may need little extra assistance. Art educators should be assisting in creating appropriate environments around small children but need careful not to be the intervention in children’s work. Gardner (as cited in Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000) suggests that “children’s natural art abilities unfold if adults provide equipment and encouragement” (p.88). There should not be direct intervention from adults. Gardner believes that if young children are offered materials between the ages of two and five, they will engage in art activities; any adult intervention hampers the unfolding of their innate creative abilities (Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000). Lowenfeld (as cited in Zimmerman & Zimmerman, 2000), “who continues to have a great influence on art education theory and practice, felt that adult authority had negative effects on children’s art learning in kindergarten through third grade, that every child had an innate capacity to make art, and that that capacity was inhibited by society” (p.88). It is important for teachers to be aware of the possibilities of what might hinder the students’ artistic behavior.
While educators should not be the intervention in children’s creation, educators can assist children by creating the best environment for them to explore, learn and create freely. Strong-Wilson & Ellis (2007) explains how the REGGIO EMILIA approach counts the environment as a teacher, children learn through the environment. Massey (2017) suggest that how can we best cultivate children’s artistic behavior is for art educator to “become a researcher studying those children”(p.9). Spend time with children, pay attention to their daily ques such as the story of their drama play, the topic of conversation, and how they react to specific matters or subjects within their daily life. Massey (2017) explains “When you find the core of an interest, a big idea, you can use the curriculum to challenge children’s intellectual development and support their curiosity”(p.9). Educators should keep an eye open for children’s interests and curiosity. Pursuing children’s emerging interests is one way to develop inspiring art experiences that help children make meaning (Zimmerman & Zimmerman 2000). Zimmerman & Zimmerman states Children’s interests and needs determine the content and structure of a child-centered curriculum. The teacher is the facilitator of children’s needs for expression. In art curricula, the emphasis is on helping each child express his or her personal needs and develop capacities and abilities in art. When making meaning takes its place at the center of art education, early childhood classrooms and studios become places of wonder, curiosity, and joy. (Massey, 2017, p.13) It is a joy for educators to see children’s creativity flows and imagine what awaits them in their bright future.
Critical Intervention Plan – Conduct Art Lover’s Conferences.
My critical intervention plan will be to have conferences on Zoom with art educators and art lovers from all over the world to learn about meaning-making in art class and gather ideas to make the best art learning space for students.
Gude, O. (2015). Aesthetics making meaning. Studies in Art Education, 50(1), 98-103.
Jaquith, D. B. (2011). When is creativity? Intrinsic motivation and autonomy in children’s artmaking. Art Education, 64(1), 14–19.
Massey, K. (2017). Art at the Heart: Creating a Meaningful Art Curriculum for Young Children. YC Young Children, 72(5), 8-13. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://www-jstor-org.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/stable/90015849
Sakatani, K., & Pistolesi, E. (2009). Personal Spaces: Students Creating Meaning through Big Ideas. Art Education, 62(1), 48-53. doi:10.2307/27696319
Sandell, R. (2006). Form Theme Context: Balancing Considerations for Meaningful Art Learning. Art Education, 59(1), 33-37. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/stable/27696122
Strong-Wilson, T., & Ellis, J. (2007). Children and Place: Reggio Emilia’s Environment as Third Teacher. Theory Into Practice, 46(1), 40-47. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40071632
Zimmerman, E., & Zimmerman, L. (2000). Art Education and Early Childhood Education: The Young Child As Creator and Meaning Maker within a Community Context. Young Children, 55(6), 87-92. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/stable/42728610