Tag: critical thinking

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

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Harmony & Dialogue


Encouraging Meaningful Dialogue

Last week, I attended a five-day institute for museum educators held in Chicago.  We gathered together from across the country to talk about teaching in art museums, with the Art Institute of Chicago as our playground.  While I’m still processing this incredibly intense experience, there was one part of the week that profoundly impacted me, both professionally and personally.  Every morning we began our day in the galleries, talking about one work of art for approximately an hour and a half.

We didn’t just talk, though.  We looked.  We questioned.  We wondered.  We listened.  We thought a lot.  And we laughed a lot, too!  But what I found interesting, and what many of my fellow attendees noted, was that we all seemed to “know the rules.”  As museum educators, we knew the type of conversation we were striving for in the galleries–and so some of us held back information, or specific interpretations, or even criticisms in an effort to have a more meaningful experience for the group, or as one person noted, so that “we could all play together.”

For me, this signaled a heightened sense of self-awareness and respect for others in the group.  We were all coming together to create an experience around a work of art, whether it was an abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, or a small panel from an altarpiece by Fra Angelico.

The types of conversations we were having in the galleries were different than your standard water-cooler conversations.  What we did every morning was have a dialogue.  Dialogue is different from discussion, and different from conversation.  Conversation is the sort of casual exchange we all do everyday — what should I make for dinner, how is your day is going, etc.  Discussions, William Isaacs writes, “are conversations where people hold onto and defend their differences.”  Additionally, David Bohm points out that discussion starts with speaking, while dialogue starts with listening.

Dialogue is the sort of conversation we strive to create in the galleries at CMA on our tours.   In a dialogue, new ideas and thoughts are encouraged, respected, and then brought together to create something new.  You must have an open mind, but also be ready to question others, and to truly listen.  Sometimes you walk on a limb with an idea, and you have to trust that the group won’t put you down for it.  And let me say:  it’s really, really hard to do.  It’s scary to put yourself out there.  But the payoff is also huge.  Every morning, I not only understood more about an object, but about others in my group, and about myself and my place in this world.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire says it best: “Finally, true dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking—thinking which discerns an indivisible solidarity between the world and the people and admits of no dichotomy between them—thinking which perceives reality as process, as transformation, rather than as a static entity—thinking which does not separate itself from action, but constantly immerses itself in temporality without fear of the risks involved.”

While the debt ceiling crisis was happening, I sort of wondered what would happen if we could get our policymakers into a gallery in front of a work of art and engage in a dialogue.  It might have ended in this, but consider this an open invitation, policymakers.  Come visit us — you might be surprised by what happens.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Rachel Trinkley, Educator for Docent Programs