Choice-Based Art classrooms are working studios where students learn through authentic art making. Control shifts from teacher to learner as students explore ideas and interests in art media of their choice. This concept supports multiple modes of learning to meet the diverse needs of our students. Learn more at teachingforartisticbehavior.org
by Tom Burkle
During a required training on Writer’s Workshop, a light bulb burst in my brain. Teachers lead their students to write in the different purposes of writing; narrative, expository, persuasive, and so on.
“Wait,” I thought, “this is the same as in art! Students can create narrative art, art that explains, persuasive art …” I began to consider all of the various purposes of art and how to explore these with my students.
Together with my students, we looked into how artists usually begin with the purpose of the art in mind. Whether rationally, emotionally or intuitively, artists know why they are making the art. They then make all of their decisions based on that purpose. The idea of “Purpose-Inspired Art” was derived from this moment of understanding.
The list of purposes below is constantly in flux. Minimalists will like to shorten the list down to just three basic purposes of art: narrative, expressive and functional. Maximalists will create even more. This list of seven different purposes is designed to work with students in an educational setting.
1. Narrative One of the oldest purposes of art is to tell a story. Kindergartners create art that tell fiction and non-fiction stories all year long. Seniors in high school continue to tell stories of their own lives, their heroes and the world’s triumphs and tribulations. A child might tell a story with their favorite toy as the protagonist.
2. Expressive When artists are in the midst of feeling a strong emotion, they sometimes put that emotion into their artwork and create expressively. Other times an artist might work to illicit a specific emotion in the viewer. A child may create an artwork that expresses their feelings about their favorite toy or a vivid memory of people in their lives.
3. Functional This is artwork that has a job. It could be a chair or a bowl, but could also be an informative poster. Children enjoy making art that functions as part of a costume, mask, hat, or a toy ready to take home and play with right away.
4. Persuasive Art that convinces people to act is persuasive. Students are able to make art that attempts to persuade principals for more recess, art class or tablets. Children make art to persuade their families to purchase a certain toy or take them on a new experience.
5. Celebratory Artists many times want their art to celebrate. This can include holidays and special occasions, but it is not limited to that. They might decide to have their art celebrate a movie, sport, or action figure. Children many times wish to celebrate their favorite toy by drawing it on the largest piece of paper they can find.
6. Create Curiosity Sometimes the artist’s intent is to set the viewer askew; to make the viewer curious, uncomfortable, doubtful or interested in the impossible. Creating artworks that have the purpose of creating curiosity tends to be fun for the artist and very interesting to the viewer. A student might construct an artwork that is designed to get others curious about their favorite toy.
7. Exploratory Artists sometimes start an artwork without a purpose other than to explore. They might be exploring drawing horses. They might be exploring watercolor techniques. They might be doing an experiment to see what happens when oil pastels are drawn on wet tempera paint. Exploratory work may go no further than creative play, or transform into one of the other purposes of art.
The art teacher in a Purpose-Inspired Art classroom asks questions that lead students through the artistic process. Does the purpose of your art lead you to make a drawing, painting or sculpture? What art materials will work best for your purpose? What size will work out well? What cultural or historical styles might you use as a reference to create your art? What textures might support the purpose of your work? What is the best location and media for display that supports your purpose? How may I, the art teacher, support you in your pursuit of the purpose of your art?
Leading students to define their purpose first creates a natural artistic progression or authentic artistic process for their work as artists. Lead students in the practice of choosing the purpose of their art, at first with assistance and later on their own. Once the student’s purpose is defined, the teacher may function as a consultant, guide or coach.
Tom Burkle is an elementary art teacher in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is in his 24th year of teaching art in public schools, and has a master’s degree in education. Tom presented “Defining and Using the Choice Continuum” at the Colorado and Wyoming state conferences, the TAB conference in Denver, and at the 2016 NAEA conference in Chicago.