The intrinsic value of an art education. / by Kirk Dunkley

To date, I have had the great fortune and distinct pleasure of working with students of all ages. I have helped teachers develop lesson plans that use creative engagement as a catalyst for curriculum delivery, and have witnessed first-hand the moment a child's mind ignites as they suddenly grasp a completely new concept. As children progress through school, and their minds expand to comprehend more complex concepts, they develop strands or pathways between different conceptual ideas. Children begin to understand parallel relationships between these conceptual ideas, and are able to think in incredibly innovative ways. By delivering curriculum materials to students in ways that require parallel relationships be identified, they are inherently learning to think in very abstract and divergent ways. If students are challenged to solve problems by looking for these parallel relationships, great problem solving ability becomes tacit. It is divergent problem solving that is at the core of design thinking, and context specific problem solving; that is coming up with tailored solutions to problems rather than developing blanket solutions based on generalizations. 

 Speaking to an engaged group about design thinking. 

Speaking to an engaged group about design thinking. 

Educational institutions provide students with a variety of strategies to engage and respond to problems. While convergent problem solving methodologies work, I believe that divergent creative strategies are more conducive to responding to a larger variety of problems. The artistic method is divergent and context specific; it is an intuitive reaction to everyday material. The study and practice of fine arts develops the conceptual framework for this type of open-ended problem solving capacity, and is fundamental in the development of creative thinking.

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As a fine-arts educator within post-secondary fine arts programs, I engage students with creative challenges while conveying knowledge about appropriate historical context, technical processes, material science, and conceptual development. Through a dialogic and hands-on approach, I strive to present the subject matter in a captivating and accessible way, while remaining sensitive to the various skill levels and learning styles within the group.

 The tactile dimension opens a vast number of problem solving strategies not accessible by other means.

The tactile dimension opens a vast number of problem solving strategies not accessible by other means.

I feel very strongly that it is the duty of the educator to impart knowledge specific to the creative and technical problem-solving skills required not only for producing an artwork and learning in academia, but in preparation for a life-time of learning and engaging the world artfully and critically. Students should leave every class with improved creative and technical skills, greater confidence in their capabilities, and a developing passion for the arts that is at least as great as mine.

In fundamental studio classes, the most instrumental activity should be the making of art. Art making should be the result of explorations surrounding fundamentals and principles of design, critical thinking, materials and processes, concurrently with the study of important sculptural movements in classic and modern history. Introductory sculpture classes should survey the various conceptual and aesthetic styles, while introducing students to a variety of basic sculpting techniques. As students progress into advanced classes, a greater emphasis should be placed on conceptual development and theoretical discourse. While continued development of technical proficiency would be expected at this point, students should be able to clearly and concisely articulate their artistic intent. Creative parameters should exist as a guiding tool, and students should begin to explore sculptural concepts independently in order to further develop their own conceptual direction and technical skills. The notion of "classic" form-based sculpture should be challenged, and students should be encouraged to engage and articulate an idea through installation, digital media, and other mediums that can conceptually be justified as "sculptural". 

 Critical engagement via dialogue. 

Critical engagement via dialogue. 

Throughout any fine arts program, students should engage in regular studio critiques to establish an open dialogue between their artworks and the works of others. Initially critiques should serve as a tool for students to evaluate the effectiveness of an artwork, and specify what goals they are trying to accomplish both technically and conceptually. As students develop the skills necessary to articulate their conceptual motivations, they should be challenged in a mediated and constructive environment to defend their ideas. Collaborative critiques provide students with the feedback and the practice necessary to express and articulate their artistic intentions, and allow the students to build confidence speaking about their concepts among peers.

As an educator, I am motivated by the opportunities that I have to make a positive impact on the lives and minds of students; I find this to be extremely fulfilling. Observing the development of each student inspires me to teach, and sustains my passion for educating. In particular, the most rewarding aspect of teaching is the opportunity that I have to witness the growth of the minds of students. I am energized and inspired to teach when students discover new ideas for the first time, and become instantly engaged in the moment. As an ambassador of the arts, an artist, and an educator, it is the “Eureka” moments like these that truly validate my professional and personal involvement in the arts.