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Defining Art Production
Who is an Artist?

The Benefits of Art Production in the Classroom: Mind, Heart, and Hand

Developing Significant Art Production Activities in Relation to Works of Art

Suggested Approaches Centered on Works of Art
The Role of the Art Teacher
Why Do People Make Art?
A Personal Perspective
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Defining Art Production

Art production, in the simplest of terms, refers to the making of art objects, yet it includes artistic efforts that range from children's finger paintings to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Art production is one of the four foundational disciplines of Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE), along with art history, art criticism, and aesthetics. Art production involves a range of imaginative and critical thinking processes through which artists create images or objects. Artists (both student and adult) manipulate materials based on personal ideas and feelings to make art objects. Artworks have the capacity to demonstrate individual ideas, emotions, and values as well as cultural and social contexts.

The process of making art nurtures inventiveness; it is not merely the duplication of masterworks or the manipulation of art tools. Art production is a deliberate activity that incorporates a variety of skills (both mental and physical), dispositions, technologies, and materials. According to Frederick Spratt, in Art Production in Discipline-Based Art Education, art production makes a primary contribution to the understanding of art because the direct experience of creating art uniquely leads to certain insights into many aspects of meaning conveyed in works of art.

Who is an Artist?

Artists are people who create imaginative and inventive visual images and forms. Throughout time artists have contributed to our understanding of the world in which they lived. Much as cave art reflects the primitive tools and primal needs of an ancient time, computer-generated art mirrors our contemporary world. Unlike artists of earlier times, however, today's artists have at their disposal a wide variety of tools and materials to express their emotions and interpret their surroundings.

Artists are those people who visually guide us through contemplation of our environment. Artists can be found almost anywhere: in schools or professional studios, drawing on sidewalks or sculpting in large warehouses, painting out-of-doors or printmaking at heavy presses, weaving at a loom or sewing together quilts. In short, today's artists are discovered working in many places and using a wide assortment of materials and tools as they create images and objects that express ideas or emotion and which serve as documents of culture, time, and place. Artists today seem only to be limited by their own physical and mental resources.

The Benefits of Art Production in the Classroom: Mind, Heart, and Hand

Pablo Picasso said that every child is an artist. Maurice Brown and Diana Korzenik, authors of Art Making and Education, suggest that everyone's understanding of art is improved by real efforts to make art. Accepting that Picasso's statement is truthful, defining real efforts to make art becomes essential to quality art experiences.

According to Stephen M. Dobbs, author of the DBAE Handbook: An Overview of Discipline-Based Art Education, art fosters creativity, the individual competence and achievement in learning to say and express thoughts, feelings, and values in visual form. Creativity is not simply the manipulation of art materials, but a purposeful activity involving skills, technologies, and materials with which the student has become competent - skills of mind, heart, and hand. Maurice Brown suggests that creative people tend not to ask or expect of life easily digested explanations or a detailed set of directions, maps, and scorecards. The art room, art specialist, and art lessons should offer the most effective environment in our schools to foster creativity.

Ideally, art production activities in the classroom should be as cognitively rigorous as aesthetic contemplation, critical interpretation, or historical documentation. Indeed, creating art should be embedded within each lesson in such a way as to encourage deeper contemplation and better understanding of artistic intent and meaning. Avoiding duplication of masterworks in favor of exploring alternate expressions of similar ideas fosters creative expression and builds self-esteem.

Developing Significant Art Production Activities in Relation to Works of Art

Through significant art production activities, students:

  • Develop personal meanings through the historical, critical, and aesthetic content of works of art.
  • Recognize that artists consciously choose media and techniques to express particular ideas.
  • Develop an understanding and appreciation of an artist s challenges, ideas, and skill through the use of the elements of art and the principles of design.
  • Develop an understanding of art and appreciation of an artist's challenges, ideas, and skill through experimentation with art media and techniques.
Recognize that art media and techniques in the works artists produce reflect the technology and belief systems of the time period and culture in which they are created. This approach to art production also ensures that works of art will not be trivialized or copied.

Suggested Approaches Centered on Works of Art
  • Utilize images of artworks in significant ways. Involve students in activities which are centered around the main ideas and most significant aspects of the work(s) being studied instead of a purely product-oriented activity.
  • Encourage students to discover and explore the meaning of the art object. Identify and investigate why the materials and tools used were chosen by the artist.
  • Identify and investigate how the materials and tools used by the artist contribute to the understanding of an artwork's meaning;
  • Design appropriate art-making activities around the artwork that allows students an opportunity to make authentic art decisions and improve their individual art-making skills.
  • Promote individual expression that culminates in a variety of solutions rather than cookie-cutter finished products. Art-making activities that allow individual students to think like artists will result in a wide variety of solutions and products. In no case should student work look like a copy of the artwork of focus.

The Role of the Art Teacher

Well-trained art teachers with abilities to address diverse educational audiences are crucial to the development and maintenance of quality art programs in America's schools. No other time in the history of education have the arts and art teachers faced such broad challenges defined by legislation such as Goals 2000: Educate America Act or by the requirements set forth by the National Standards for the Visual Arts. These same challenges, however, supply substantiation for the arts and suggest the need for specialists in the arts to act as facilitators of appropriate art instruction (that is, maintaining the integrity of art by centralizing art meaning as the focus of educational exploration).

Demands of the fast changing vocation of art education require certain commitments by those who teach. Incumbent upon those already teaching art, or who wish to teach art, is the necessity of keeping current in educational trends and issues. Professional growth relies strongly upon dedication to continued self-education. Joining organizations such as the National Art Education Association (NAEA) or state art associations yields many avenues for up-to-date information in the field. Through NAEA and state art organizations, members are provided with resources such as art journals, dissemination of studies in art education, newsletters, and advisories. Additionally, state and national art education conferences allow time for art educators to meet with each other for exchange of ideas.

Another opportunity for in-service education is the art museum. Membership in an art museum not only supports the arts in the community, but garners invitations to education workshops that many museums offer within their galleries. Membership in art organizations and institutions should be considered a professional commitment, not a luxury.

Quality art experiences do not happen by accident; they are created by knowledgeable art educators. Seeking opportunities for personal and professional growth underscores the value of the arts to general education. Incorporating art in meaningful ways beyond simply making art projects disconnected from other areas of learning necessitates that art teachers stay on the forefront of educational practice. Such is the role of the art teacher then: to act as an informed facilitator who maintains art as central to learning.

Pam Geiger Stephens and Nancy Walkup, with thanks to Craig Roland and Kathryn Cascio.


Brown, M. and Korzenik, D. (1993). Art Making and Education. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

The J. Paul Getty Trust. (1992). The DBAE Handbook: An Overview of Discipline-Based Art Education. Santa Monica, California: Dobbs, S.M.

Spratt, F. (1987). Art production in Discipline-Based Art Education. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 21(2), 197-204.

Why Do People Make Art?
(By Craig Roland and Susan Amster)

There are many reasons that people around the world make art. Many people make art to:
  • Seek personal enjoyment and satisfaction.
  • Express personal thoughts and feelings.
  • Communicate with others.
  • Create a more favorable environment.
  • Make others see things more clearly
  • Provide us with new visual experiences.
  • Record a time, place, person, or object.
  • Commemorate important people or events.
  • Reinforce cultural ties and traditions.
  • Seek to affect social change
  • Tell stories.
  • Adorn themselves
  • Worship.
  • Create an illusion.
  • Predict the future or remember the past.
  • Earn livelihood.
  • Do something no one else can (or has yet done).
  • Amuse themselves (or make us laugh).
  • Make the ordinary extraordinary, the familiar strange.
  • Increase our global understanding.

A Personal Perspective

Since I'm interested in production activities centered around the main idea of the work being studied, I’m not looking for a specific product. I want each individual to have to solve their own problems and think critically. I want to end up with all unique solutions. For students work to reflect their understanding of the big idea, they have to explore the work thoroughly. Therefore, production tends to come toward the end of a lesson or unit.

I do, however, believe it is important to complete exercises (I think of them as skill builders or studies) along the way to learn about techniques and processes that relate to understanding the work. Any connections to skills, or other works of art, or to other subjects should center on ideas that seem to have been important to the artist. I use the word authentic in differentiating between the along-the-way activities and culminating production activities which require the students to engage in authentic art-making - making decisions that artists have to face everyday.

Kathryn Cascio