Inclusion in the Art Room

With the monies I received from the Target Arts, Culture & Design in Schools Grant I purchased 5 iPads for my Art classroom to teach digital art.   One of the lessons that I taught was how to make stop motion videos. The students loved this project. Since there are only 5 iPads and approximately 30 students in each classroom, they obviously have to work collaboratively on the project. I was concerned as to how different ability levels and personalities would work together and be creative. One of my favorite videos was produced by a group that consisted of two non-verbal students. It was amazing to watch how the other students in the group worked with them and help them communicate what and how they wanted to add to the project. They were extremely patient and sincerely concerned about how the learning support students wanted to express their creativity. This was a true success in digital art in the art room, but more importantly, in life skills for all.

What does it mean to be an artist?

art·ist [ahr-tist] noun

1. a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.

2. a person who practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor.

3. a person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.: a commercial artist.

4. a person who works in one of the performing arts, as an actor, musician, or singer; a public performer: a mime artist; an artist of the dance.

5. a person whose work exhibits exceptional skill.


I have always had a difficult time admitting to anyone, especially myself, that I may be artist?  Even though I have always enjoyed art and art making, I have never felt that my skill or craft has been perfected to be considered an artist.

As children we learn though creative play.  We use building blocks, draw with crayons and make toys from pots, pans, and boxes.  But, as we grow older we do not allow ourselves to explore play and playful opportunities worrying about what is right or wrong.   We lose touch with our creativity and therefore stifle our imagination.

I have purposefully set aside time every week to “be” creative.  I’ve given myself the opportunity to explore new avenues of art and art making.  Artistic thought processes interrupt my sleep as I grow back into my creative skin.  I am finally allowing myself to accept that I may be an artist.


                                                    my drawing 2

                                                     my drawing 1

Do you tell stories to your students?

I use storytelling all of the time when I teach a new lesson based upon the work of an artist.  I have found that it is easier for me to remember facts to share with my students as well as easier for them to remember what they learn.   A lot of the time the storytelling may just be a few facts that interest me about the artists’ life such as…

Louise Nevelson’s father owned a lumber mill and she grew up playing with scraps of wood,

Georgia O’Keeffe started out as an art teacher in Texas before she met the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz that brought her work to New York.  She later became his wife.

Also, when Dale Chihuly was recently in Pittsburgh to supervise an installation of his work at Phipps Conservatory, an art teacher friend of mine was his waitress.   The wait-staff of his table were told they were not permitted to converse with the artist.

Sometimes I give students more details, depending upon their interest level or the time constraints of the lesson.  Since Andy Warhol is from our area,  my students are very interested in all I know or can find out about him.  They are intrigued when I tell them that he went to a nearby elementary school and won a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon’s Saturday morning art classes for children.

What are some of the stories you share with your students?   Do you find that it helps with retention of art and art work?


Working with students on a collaborative art project takes a lot of planning and organization on the part of the teacher. While struggling to maintain some decorum of order in the process you need to plan a schedule, supplies, and equipment. Sometimes you have to wonder if it is really worth all of the effort that you put into preparation in order to create a collaborative piece. Here are 5 reasons why I do collaborative art projects every year.

Louise Nevelson Inspired Relief Sculpture

Louise Nevelson Inspired Relief Sculpture

Each block represents a principle of design.

Each block represents a principle of design.

1. Patience: “Patience is a virtue.” Do you remember your mother or grandmother telling you this? It is so true! When working on a collaborative art work students must learn how to be patient. They need to recognize that the work of art is not going to be completed in one day, let alone one class period. Sometimes it can take weeks for a large piece to come together. Also, if you rush the process the end result may not be a success.
2. Learning: Students learn from each other through the process of working collaboratively. They have to make choices, use their intuition, and rely on each other’s strengths. One of the projects that I did with my students required the use of a drill. Many of the female students were intimidated by power tools but the boys were enthralled. This was definitely a time for them to shine. Surprisingly, the boys helped the girls overcome their fear by learning if you use tools correctly there is no reason to be afraid.
3. Respect: Students learn to respect each other for their skill level as well as their work ethic. If someone is not pulling their weight the overall project will suffer. When the work is too difficult they need to respect the skill set of each individual and adapt the process to make it less challenging. There is no room in collaboration for disrespect. All parties must work together to make the whole a success.
4. Team Building: Almost all students understand the nature of team playing. I have found through the years that if I equate the task of a large project to that of a team sport that my students embrace the project with more interest. They know the ground rules and realize that it takes all players to win for the team. There is no showmanship. They also realize that by working as a team the result is greater than if they worked alone.
5. Community: Although you may envision your collaborative project being a work that will enable the students to come together, it automatically becomes a community project governed by its basis. Students share with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles the work that is being created. Word spreads and interest peaks, before you know it the community at large is curious to see what is happening at your school. Don’t become intimidated by the community. This usually works out to the benefit of the educator for parents, grandparents, and the community to get involved.

Sculpture by 400+ 6th grade students.

Sculpture by 400+ 6th grade students.

Overall the benefits of collaborative work definitely outweigh the disadvantages. The work is both challenging and rewarding for both students and teachers. Students gain knowledge, personal reward, and create art work that is large in scale as well as having a huge impact upon the school and its neighborhood.

Recycled plastics used to make an installation.

Recycled plastics used to make an installation.

A Coral Reef

Octopus in the Garden

Octopus in the Garden

Are you creative?


I recently had a discussion with an attorney friend of mine about creativity. It started out with him saying, “I’m not creative.” My reply, “I beg to differ. “ I wonder how many adults do not feel that they are creative.

Why is it whenever you talk to adults they can tell you emphatically whether they are or are not creative. Those that feel they are creative are usually artistic and those that feel they are not creative can be difficult to convince otherwise. Children, who do not think in those terms, have great imaginations, enjoy play, and are always questioning. Their personalities make them curious learners and intuitively creative. Adults tend to look at play and imagination as something we “did” when we were kids thereby making their creativity determination based upon their current artistic ability.

Some of the attributes that make us human are the fact that we are imaginative, insightful, and intelligent. These traits in themselves are all part of being creative. It is only when we don’t allow ourselves to recognize or use our traits that we begin to consider ourselves as not being creative. Creativity is the ability to use your imagination to come up with innovative ways to problem solve. My friend is one of the best attorneys in his field. His ability to problem-solve and his gift at litigation are what have made him so successful. He cannot recognize his creativity because he does not feel that he is “artistic”. Too bad he doesn’t recognize the traits that have made him so successful in his field are the same ones that make him creative.