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Method artmaking.

Editor's Note: Beginning Teaching is a two-article series on qualitative teaching. The second article will appear in the October issue.

It's not unusual to see an exhibition highlighting the work of a few talented students, surrounded by the weaker work of the rest of the class. The goal of education, however, is not to reach a few, but to educate the majority. To do this, we need a system to tap into the natural abilities of all of our students and cultivate the skill and understanding they need to produce qualitative work. This is where The Method (a term borrowed from Lee Strasberg in the training of actors) enters in. By teaching a sequence of activities in a discipline-based format, students gain the skills they need to become proficient in the arts.

A Need for Structure

Teachers sometimes ask how my students executed an assignment so that they can try it with their class. I'm usually reluctant to answer because many come back and comment, "I tried the assignment you described with my students, and they couldn't bring it to the level your students achieved." The reason behind this is no mystery. You can't isolate a given assignment and expect to get the same results without building up to the assignment sequentially. Would we expect a student to write a paragraph without first learning the sounds of letters to formulate a word?

When the Art Department Chairperson at Jersey City State College asked me to teach a course called Art in the Secondary Schools, I was immediately clear on what needed to be done. I would not stress discipline, student profiles, socio-economics, administrative dealings, etc. There are already courses in place that deal with these issues. What art teachers need is structure ... a system of thinking ... they need a method.

With a method in place, other problems become minimized. Student attentiveness and behavior improve. When students sense structure, they realize they're accountable for their actions; they see their skills grow. In the same vein, administrators who sense a structure in the work become more supportive of the program, since it takes itself much more seriously. The school community, by seeing students' work and their changing attitudes toward art, develops a respect for art as a valid field of study. Finally, the students develop a proficiency for studio arts they didn't know it was possible for them to achieve.

The ambitions of my student-teachers varied, and The Method is applicable to the wide variety of educational situations they would eventually undertake. Since it is a mental process and not a media-oriented approach (limiting media is one of its ground rules), The Method is as useful (perhaps even more so) in a low-budget situation as in a highly equipped program.

A New Way of Thinking

All the studio courses in the world are little help to the art major trying to learn The Method. One must learn how to think, how to analyze and diagnose. This comes as a revelation to most in-training teachers. I tell my student-teachers from the start that, although they will use The Method as soon as they begin teaching, they will not fully understand its benefits until they have used it for a few months. It doesn't deal merely with facts (that would be relatively easy), it cultivates a new way of thinking.

The first part of the course addressed the history of art education in the U.S. and its social and economic impact on the art teacher. This exposure helps students identify their place in time, how it has been arrived at and the forces that affect the work they will undertake. We then discussed cause and effect, and the various manifestations art education has undertaken over the years. We looked at brain hemisphere studies, and discussed the evolution of the drawing and color theory problem, two fundamentally important issues in the study of art education methods. And to get to the heart of The Method, we outlined a full-year drawing and composition course, breaking it into modes of teaching and learning, and classifying it into four stages of activity: observational, academic, integrational and experimental.

I had the student-teachers pick an area of study they felt they were proficient in, and asked them to do a course outline based on the four stages, and present it to the group. After each oral presentation, I asked a battery of questions to have them defend the logic behind their assignments. In follow-up assignments, they focused on specific units of study, breaking them down into a logical sequence of activities.

One student-teacher had his class doing a negative space study from a complicated still life. The questions began: How do they know what negative space is? Have they done any previous work to isolate negative space? Have they cut out negative shapes from construction paper so the concept becomes tangible? What about the shapes you are asking them to draw? Did you prepare them by giving them a method by which to see the shapes? Have they explored how to look at an object in these ways? More questions followed.

The student-teachers' attention was constantly called to the holes in their assignments. In all cases, they had not realized the number of subskills required for their students to complete successfully what seemed like a simple assignment. Through a constant battery of questions, these future teachers began to think more analytically.

Next, the ten student-teachers structured an assignment for an imaginary Art 1 class. I gave them a mock course profile explaining the nature of the imaginary class they would be teaching. The profile also included a list of the sub-skills they had supposedly already worked on with the students. They were instructed to use these sub-skills as tools in creating the new assignments. I gave them a loose ten-step outline for the subject matter to be covered in each assignment. This would keep them on a systematic track without providing specifics on projects or studio methods. That, after all, was the challenge!

The Four Phases

We worked on constructing the sequential ten assignments in four phases:


In a group discussion, each member brainstormed ideas on their unit of study. Each member had to build and expand upon what had been proposed by the previous member. I continued to question their methods, motives and logical progressions: "Why do you want to do that next? What is that teaching the student? How can you ask them to do Y when they haven't done X?"


Each student-teacher did a sample studio assignment to present to the group. When the class finished the assignment, the group realized that the preconceived images gathered from the acting teachers' explanations were often very different from the reality of the completed assignments. "I didn't think that's what she meant!" was a common response. This, too, was a valuable lesson--students may not have the same picture in their minds as we have as teachers.


The students had to revise and finalize their plans, re-do the studio work, and bring the whole process together, re-presented as a sequential step in the model.


Each student-teacher presented a mock class on his or her unit of study to secondary school students. This class was complete with supplies, samples and visual aids. Each presentation was videotaped. The student-teachers were required to move through the first ten or fifteen minutes of the class, up until the time when their imaginary students would start working. Despite their anxieties about on-camera work, the student-teachers did very well. We viewed the tape a week later and critiqued each presentation.

A Tangible Success

The student-teachers learned a methodical approach to teaching art, and were left with a new way of thinking--something they could grab on to and use in teaching art everyday. Roy Chambers said, "The course taught me how to think. I had no idea that there was so much to the teaching of art. Once you know that this type of work exists, I think it would be impossible to go back to approaches which satisfied you earlier!" Dalia Galan commented, "When I started the class I felt like dropping it--it seemed so confusing, but now it makes so much sense! I feel much more discriminating about real quality in art education." Donna D'Amico had been teaching for a number of years before taking the course. "I had always considered myself a structured teacher. However, I have never been as focused on integrating work and making sound connections between assignments. I've completely revamped my curriculum since taking the course!" Maryann McCarthy McArdle, an art therapist, made a very interesting observation after taking the course: "I've never thought much about the need for structure. In addition to everything else, this is a real way to address the problem of our society devaluing art!"

Joseph Amorino is an Adjuct Professor of Art at Jersey City State College and the Chairman of the Art Department at Hudson Catholic High School in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:part 1
Author:Amorino, Joseph
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:The flower as mandala.
Next Article:Learning the rules.

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