CMA Blog

Critical Thinking & Art

What would you say if someone asked you, “What really matters to you?” It seems like that might be a straightforward question, but take a moment to think about it. Now think about what you might have said when you were in the 7th grade …

This is the second year I’ve had the opportunity to co-teach with the social studies teachers at the Columbus Collegiate Academy. This small charter school serves around 100 middle school students from Columbus’s urban center. Due to a generous grant from Chase Bank, we have been able to partner with this school and create a program entitled “Critical Works” that utilizes art to foster critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.

We start by asking the students what critical thinking looks like. What do you do when you are being critical? When you are thinking? One student responded, “I hear the root word ‘critic,’ so you’re being a critic and forming an opinion.” To my question about thinking one student said, “You are expanding your view of the world.” Throughout my time with the teachers and students at CCA, I have considered myself a co-learner. As I ask the students to think, form an opinion, question, take risks, I am doing this along side them as a teacher. We bring a selection of prints to the school that deal with social issues such as inequality, poverty, oppression and race relations. I was impressed with the connections the students were able to make to historical events, literature, and our modern culture.

If you haven’t heard Steve Johnson’s TED talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From” it is worth a look. He explains how ideas come from conversation … not in isolation. I can see this in the classroom when the students are debating and analyzing the art works. When looking at Thomas Hart Benton’s print entitled “Jessie and Jake,” the discussion went from Little Red Riding Hood, to child abduction to No Child Left Behind.

The students are asked to make a statement about a social issue that really matters to them. It surprised me that these students had very little trouble coming up with issues that they cared about. One student wrote about the ways African-Americans are portrayed negatively in the media. Other students chose issues such as gang violence, bullying, and immigration. The teachers held class debates and we spent time brainstorming, discussing the issues and gathering research.

For the final project the students created hand-printed flags that make a statement about their social issue. We asked students to consider words and symbols that would communicate their message, and also where they would install their flag to have the greatest impact.

When we asked Catera where she wanted to install her flag about HIV AIDS, her reply was, “Well, at first I told my mom I was going to put it on her car … but she said I wasn’t going to put it on her car, so I’ll put it on my dad’s car.”

Well, art is often controversial so I take that as a measure of success.

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Emily Reiser, Educator for Family Programs

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Posted in Musings from the Center for Creativity

5 Responses to Critical Thinking & Art

  1. Pamela Sexton says:

    Thank you for the inspiring blog…authentic learning at its best! I am looking forward to checking out Steve Johnson’s TED talk and the print “Jessie and Jake”. Thanks for the good work – and CONGRATULATIONS to CMA on the 1st anniversary of the Center for Creativity. Way to keep learning and growing!

  2. fred burton says:

    Nicely said and done. I really like the idea here that art isn’t just something we passively receive, but something that is dynamic and alive. Asking the students to not only create, but to also to think about where to “install” their work and make their ideas visible to others…well that seems like a healthy way to get kids to not just learn about democracy, but to participate as active citizens!

    I especially thought including the video (i.e. the student’s dream of how he imagined his art could change things) as well as sharing Catera’s vignette about her desire and efforts to make her thinking visible were powerful. I’m inspired by their stories…and this blog.

  3. Andrew Boy says:

    I absolutely love seeing our students engaged in activities that encourage them to think. “Think time” is critical to the development of all minds and your program takes it to the next level. Thank you for all you do!

  4. Kaela Holloway says:

    The experience with the Columbus Museum of Art changed my thinking because now I know that you can show art in many different ways, not just drawing. People can express their feelings good/bad through art instead of violence.
    -8th grader at CCA

  5. Daria says:

    Making artwork about my social issue was hard to do because I didn’t know what a good social issue sign would be, an I didn’t know if making a flag would ever help with my social issue. But after taking that class I realized that my issue will make a change if I believe.
    - 7th grader at CCA

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