Monthly Archives: April 2016

Using the Art Class to Teach Creativity

Being a visual artist, using art techniques in class are naturally the most important creative tools that I have. However, I am learning that—despite the warnings about limiting one’s tools and choices that are present in some reading selections about fostering creativity—I feel that I must expand my set of tools to help students become more creative as well to help extend the nature of the creativity that comes out in my classroom. For example, there are similarities between some of the nine principles of design and music theory. I am specifically speaking about the design principles of pattern, rhythm, repetition, variation, movement, emphasis, and unity. Using music and listening to show how these different principles are achieved musically helps me illustrate how to use them creatively in the art, digital art and design, and website design classes that I teach. Additionally, incorporating history, mathematics, science, and language arts creativity has helped my students expand their creative thinking skills. One possible way to utilize a wider range of tools from other subject areas is to teach science concepts, which can lead to creative, science-fiction types of illustration projects that are based on real science facts. Pushing those kinds of activities that eliminate the artificial boundaries between content areas can help my students find new ways in which to be creative in art that may also carry over into their other subject work.

Inspiration—like motivation—is often best when it is internally generated by the students. What teachers can do effectively is to remove the barriers to both inspiration and motivation. If I inspire, the students often try to copy my work. That isn’t a creative endeavor for them. Imitation is a good starting point, but it is not a high level of creative learning. However, when they are inspired by internal thoughts and ideas, their work is necessarily more spontaneous and creative.

What is important to note when I say that teachers need to remove the barriers that they create is to recognize that sometimes the students’ internal inspirations are limited or even stifled by strict adherence to our assignments. Studies suggest that having limits is necessary for creative work, and there is some truth to that. Part of being creative learning how to think in new ways despite limiting challenges. But, when students have inspirational ideas, sometimes the barriers of the assignment need to be pushed back a bit—or even eliminated entirely for particular circumstances—to allow for that creative inspiration to flow within the frameworks of the assignment. As a teacher, it is difficult to give up our power; however, that is what we must do at times to give students more creative opportunities.

In my classroom, there are two basic kinds of activities that my students perform. First, there are those activities that teach a skill. By necessity, they are more like the imitation kinds of learning activities mentioned in Dr. Bartel’s (2014) article. He writes, “Imitation is not a way to learn critical thinking. Imitation and copy work is not a way to foster an innovative spirit in our students.” However, while it may not be innovative to copy a skill or technique, it is a necessary step toward becoming creative through using that technique. Once a student has acquired a skill though, it is imperative to repeat a similar activity that allows the student to use the skill in a more challenging, creative way. As Picasso once said, “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” This quote goes well with Picasso’s own career in art, which was very structural in the beginning, but much more creative once he mastered techniques and was able to use them to break out of the copying mode. It was this knowledge of the rules of art that allowed for innovations like Cubism to be developed later in his career. This example is a good guideline for creative education. First master the formative methods for creating through imitation of skills. Then break the rules using creativity based on internal inspiration and motivations to expand the uses of the tools and techniques of art to new levels. While creative practice may thrive within limits, the possibilities for creativity should be limitless.


Bartel, M. (2014, June 2). Teaching creativity. Retrieved from


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