The art classroom is a place for students to learn to think like artists and use that thinking to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. Art is transformative, and engagement in the creative process is a seed where healthy and constructive perspectives can be cultivated. In the spirt of considering art making as a seed for growth, the first place I look when designing a lesson is for a need. The need may lie with the students, school community, or the larger society. Beginning a lesson with a need makes art making personal and more importantly, two vital dispositions are gained from this approach. The first is that it builds a connection between art making and real world problems. This disrupts a common preconception that art exists in its own sphere and has no consequence to the surrounding world. As students engage in a creative process that works through real and tangible problems, they begin to see art as an integral part of their surrounding world. The second disposition is that they have agency to influence and shape their external worlds and art can be their voice. Exhibiting is a powerful part of the art process because it provides a platform for the ideas and perspectives that were shaped through the art making process. Using a need as a departure point sets students up to connect their work to the real world and develop an influential voice that can be shared.
Meaning making is at the heart of all learning that takes place in the art classroom and visual literacy and formal abilities are imperative skills for both comprehending and creating meaning with art. I think of these skill sets as a language, and much like expanding vocabulary, as these skills are refined, students become more articulate with visual expression. An enhanced ability to understand and create meaning with art also supports the dispositions mentioned above. More connections can be made between art and the real world and students voices become stronger as these skills grow. Because so much learning in the visual arts depends on strong visual literacy and formal skill sets, I am an advocate of regularly exercising these skills in the art classroom.