Different Strokes for Different Folks: three approaches to art education


Hathaway (2013) presents an art education approach emphasizing “the value of shifting creative control from teacher to learner” (p. 12).  This approach encourages the students’ “development of higher order thinking” (Hathaway, 2013, p. 12), differentiated instruction, and emergent curriculum.  Allowing students to self-direct their projects provides opportunities for “authentic, meaningful learning” (Hathaway, 2013, p. 9) and creates opportunities for them to “act as problem finders, not just problem solvers” (Hathaway, 2013, p. 15).

Blandy and Bolin (2012) describe a rationale and approaches for “investigating material culture” (p. 40) in the field of art education.  This article provides art teachers with strategies to engage with, think about, and describe the material objects that “become tangible reminders of the many told and silent stories that make up our lives” (Blandy & Bolin, 2013, p. 41) .  Arguing that using a material culture approach in art education “promotes a critical, rigorous, and imaginative exploration of self, culture, and society” (Blandy & Bolin, 2012, p. 45), these authors advocate its application in the art classroom.

Leake (2012) offers an approach to “art as a social practice” (p. 25) which “facilitates human interactions and invites educators and students to open doors for exploring our world through our own eyes as well as the eyes of others” (p. 32).  The steps necessary for implementing this approach are to explore social issues in the students’ community, foster collaboration between students and other members of the community, develop a plan of artistic action to respond to the issue, and implement art as social practice (Leake, 2012, p. 32).

These authors agree that art education and art making should be meaningful, authentic, and relevant to the lives of the students and responsive to the world and cultures in which the students live.  Each author goes about introducing these qualities in different ways, and each points to a different source of material for curriculum.  Hathaway (2013) encourages art teachers to look to the students inspire their own curriculum and to look for teaching opportunities while building upon students’ authentically self-directed projects.  Blandy and Bolin (2013) offer the material objects that pepper our lives as an alternative starting point for cultural exploration and advise art educators to consider the wealth of information and inspiration that can be mined from these objects which are unassumingly relevant to the students’ lives.  Leake (2012) draws attention to the opportunities for curriculum development found within social issues and suggests art educators draw upon meaningful collaborations within communities.

Key Points

The factors unique to the approach presented by Hathaway (2013) include self-direction, differentiated instruction, and emergent curriculum.  Self-direction requires that students make as many of the creative choice as possible when completing a work of art.  To make this possible, art educators must provide differentiated instruction, a way of teaching that allows students to receive instruction relevant to their personal projects and learning goals.  This produces emergent curriculum, one “which springs from the interests, questions, needs and strengths of the students” (Hathaway, 2013, p. 14).

Blandy and Bolin (2012) present unique factors to their material culture approach to art education including “mapping” (p. 44), “personal ethnographies” (p. 44), and “art worlds” (p. 45).  Mapping is described as “one of the ways people reflect on and symbolically communicate about the environments that surround them” (p. 44) and is used to help student recreate environments and cultures using multiple sensory details (Blandy & Bolin, 2012).  Personal ethnographies are a type of mapping and knowledge construction in which students reflect on the beliefs and values of their family and community and the way their material culture reflects those values (Blandy & Bolin, 2012, p. 44).  This article describes art worlds as “the people, organizations, institutions, businesses, and assorted other entities that as a network facilitate and support the creation, distribution, and appreciation of a work of art” (Blandy & Bolin, 2012, p. 45).

When engaging in art as social practice, Leake (2012) presents the unique factors of exhibiting artwork, extending the art studio, and collaborating with members of the community.  Exhibition of work is important for this approach to work because it fosters the necessary relationship between students and their community.  The idea of extending the art studio beyond the walls and traditional practices of studio art are also essential for engaging in art as a social practice.  Finally, there is an emphasis on providing students with opportunities to collaborate with members of the community so they may enrich their understanding and better inform their art making (Leach, 2012).

Personal Reflection

Upon examining the approaches of art as social practice (Leake, 2012), an investigation of material culture (Blandy & Bolin, 2012), and authentic and meaningful learning instead of “traditional, mimicry-based” art lessons (Hathaway, 2013, p. 9), I find that my own teaching practices align most closely with the approaches presented in the Hathaway (2013) article.  I am currently teaching in a museum, and the students who attend my classes are primarily interested in developing their own styles and enriching their understanding of the art world.  Because of this, I find it necessary to practice differentiation and employ an emergence curriculum rather than map out a semester’s worth of projects.  While I have always felt confident that this was the best approach for this particular class, it has been validating to read Hathaway’s (2013) article and name my approach.  I sometimes experienced guilt for “winging it” even though I knew that what I was doing in the classroom was working much better than what I could get out of my students with worksheets, agendas, and keeping everyone on the same page to produce similar art work.

I have been most challenged by the Leake (2012) article because I personally find it difficult to employ art as social practice.  Some of this is due to my interests, but it is also because I am a young teacher still gauging my burnout threshold.  I find it difficult to engage with social issues in my community or world without experiencing the emotional strain of wanting to save the world, and I am a much better teacher than activist.  Though I want to practice and instill a deep caring for the world in the hearts of my students, structuring my curriculum around social issues sounds like a recipe for an emotional breakdown.  While I admit that I tend to separate myself, through intellectualization, from my strong emotional responses to cultural events (be they tragedy or celebration), I believe this is necessary at this point in my life for maintaining my own stability.  Some solutions to this problem may include utilizing guest artists whose work addresses issues in the community, asking students to discover and create work about social issues of significance to them, or limiting these kinds of lessons to one or two per year.


Blandy, D. & Bolin, P. (2012). Looking at, engaging more: Approaches for investigating material culture. Art Education, 65(4), 40-46.

Hathaway, N. E. (2013). Smoke and mirrors: Art teacher as magician. Art Education, 66(3), 9-15.

Leake, M. (2012). Art as social practice: Exploring the contemporary. Art Education, 65(2), 40-46.


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