October 17, 2011


Visual Arts Open Eyes to New Possibilities

Every year I have students tell me they can’t draw.  I have had many adults (teachers, parents, and friends) tell me the same thing.  Yet, I know that all of us (barring certain disabilities) learn how to write our letters in both print and cursive and string those marks together into words. No small feat. I can’t imagine any adult saying to a student, “oh, don’t worry, I can’t read or do math,” yet they will say, “I can’t draw.”  I discuss this with my students every year as they begin my classes in 6th grade.

I tell them that drawing is not some “talent” that some of us have and some don’t.  I want them to know that they are all capable of learning how to draw and that I don’t draw better than them, I have just been practicing much longer. It is the desire to learn and the motivation to practice that produces proficiency and then excellence in most areas: from learning to play a sport or an instrument as a kid, to the experienced lawyer delivering a final argument in the courtroom or the surgeon saving a life.  I feel that part of my responsibility is to help develop innate drawing skills, not just as an exercise in self-expression, but as a response to a fundamental human need.

Through the work of art historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists, we have documentation and evaluation of the first known drawing by Paleolithic era human beings from 30,000-40,000 years ago on cave walls.  Many educated people have come to view drawing as a uniquely intrinsic form of human communication that evolved before any form of written language. With the advent of photography and the triumph of technology, it often seems that the place of drawing as a necessary human activity is no longer valued or perceived as necessary for us to thrive.

In my perspective, drawing from observation is a discipline that should be introduced as early as possible.  When we begin to draw, we learn to look; when we look, we start to see; and when we truly see, only then can we begin to understand.  This is a fundamental life skill.  Learning how to draw what you see teaches one to focus and think in a straightforward and clear way.  We learn to make connections and see beyond mere surface, to really visualize and problem solve and recognize solutions, and use a common sense approach to decision making.  This helps develop persistence and a sense of what is essential which goes far beyond the visual arts. It pertains to achieving success in all areas of life.

The greater gift in learning to draw comes as we realize that drawing is a two way process, as said by Chilsum Winters, “We look, see and take in information. We try to understand. When that information comes back out it takes a bit of us with it. This gets mixed up with the final product. So, the process of creation also gives people the chance to understand themselves.”



Cheri Minks, Visual Arts

Yes, All of Us Can
Learn to Draw

“The process of drawing is, before all else, the process of putting the visual intelligence into action, the very mechanics of visual thought. Unlike painting and sculpture it is the process by which the artist makes clear to himself, and not to the spectator, what he is doing. It is a soliloquy before it becomes communication.” -- Michael Ayrton (20 February 1921 – 17 November 1975)

Perspectives on Drawing Development in Children:

“The arts—both as a stand alone subject and integrated into the curriculum—must be an integral part of a 21st century education if our students are to succeed in a global economy. Arts learning experiences play a vital role in the development and application of the imagination. They teach persistence and can serve as a primary source of student motivation. These capacities and habits of mind are among the essential ingredients needed for creativity and innovation. Everyone, not just the elite, must cultivate what Daniel Pink in his 2006 book, A Whole New Mind, calls an “artistic sensibility.”

-- Creativity, Innovation and Arts Learning Preparing All Students for Success in a Global Economy

Sandra S. Ruppert, Director, Arts Education Partnership http://aep-arts.org/


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