Students don’t have to paint like Da Vinci to make worthwhile art, and teachers who have never picked up a paintbrush can still use collaborative art projects to enrich their teaching and the world at large.
That’s the upbeat message of this humane book by Boston-based artist Mark Cooperand educational consultant Lisa Sjostrom.They want us to let go of “the old, very unhelpful idea” that only special people are capable of making art. To illustrate this premise, the book is illustrated with more than 90 photosof wonderful sculptures, murals, and billboards Cooper helped students and teachers across the country create.
The authors emphasize that art shouldn’t be something that kids do only in art class or as an extracurricular activity. Art-making, they say, can be “a powerful entry point into every subject at every grade level.”
They offer the example of East Hartford High, a tough urban school in Connecticut where a teacher with no art background worked with colleagues and students to create a sculpture that dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. The piece wound up exhibited at the Connecticut Statehouse, but she was more gratified that kids from a neighborhood fractured by violence and poverty learned to get along. As the authors explain, “When you make collaborative art ... you’re working together with your neighbor … to produce something fascinating and original you couldn’t possibly make on your own.”
Some consider art a waste of time and money. It’s often one of the first things cut from the school budget. But art isn’t fluff. Art is about findings things out, a means of investigation and discovery, just like science or math. “[T]he thrill and aha! of thinking creatively, so central to any artistic endeavor, is also essential to education,”the authors proclaim. People need to hear this more than ever now that federal oversight is the law of the land and schools are preoccupied with standardized testing.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Making Art Together