Home » Cindy Foley on Teaching Art, or Teaching to Think like an Artist? at TEDxColumbus (Transcript)

Cindy Foley on Teaching Art, or Teaching to Think like an Artist? at TEDxColumbus (Transcript)

Cindy Foley

Cindy Foley, Executive Assistant Director and Director of Learning and Experience at Columbus Museum of Art, talks on Teaching Art, or Teaching to Think like an Artist? at TEDxColumbus. Below is the full transcript.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist by Cindy Foley at TEDxColumbus


Okay. We’re going to get started with some kindergarten image-word match. I would like each of you to determine what is the word that matches the image in number 7. Okay? So starting to come up with some ideas. Good. Get them in your head because I want to share with you what my daughter Adeline chose.

Adeline chose art and as her parent I thought that was awesome. But this is an incorrect answer according to the testing guide. The correct answer is mud and I’m sure that’s what you all chose. Right, right.

How can something so nebulous be so concrete? Actually I think this quiz is a fitting analogy for the problem in art education today. Art education has been impacted by the standards and testing culture like all other disciples and in a lot of ways we’ve been focusing on teaching things that are concrete. Things like elements of art, art history and foundational skills.

In essence, we’re teaching things that we can test and assess. But I believe art education needs to focus on developing learners that think like artists. Learners that are creative, curious, seek questions, develop ideas and play, which means we need to be much more intentional about how we communicate art’s critical value and how we teach for creativity.

So, creativity. Let’s do a little case making around this. Most of this you know. So creativity is being touted by business leaders like the folks at IBM, by like educational reformists, by folks in — economists like even Dan Pink as the number one thing we need for students’ success, economic growth and general happiness. We also know the creativity scores in this country are on the decline. The Torrance Creativity Test, which has been administered for decades, has now shown since the 1990’s a decline especially in ages 6 to 12 in the United States.

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We also know due to Sir Kenneth Robinson’s now famous TED talk the schools are fundamentally and foundationally challenged to cultivate creativity. But I’m going to share with you some research that the Wallace Foundation did with Harvard’s Project Zero in which they found the number one thing quality art education can do is develop the capacity to think creatively and the capacity to make connections.

So then why is there such a disconnect between creativity and art education? I think there is actually a couple of reasons why. But we’re going to focus on communication and messaging. Now those of us in the field we have been working to really move art education out of a defensive place. We’ve been trying to make a case for our own existence and we’re trying to move it more towards an offensive message especially around creativity. But we’re not there yet.

And so we’re going to place that for another talk at another time. Instead I want to focus on a message that I think is much more problematic and pervasive — and I hate to put you on the spot — they actually feel you are to blame. I mean not you per se but you as a group of people who actually really support art education.

So let me give you some context. As a parent, I often hear adults saying things to children as well as to other adults and to the educators, things like this: “Oh my goodness! Look how well you’ve drawn that horse. It’s so realistic. You’re so creative!” You’ve heard messages like that before?

Here is another one I think I hear almost daily: “Oh Cindy! I really support art education. It is very important. I mean I’m not creative. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I can’t even draw a stick figure.” Right? These messages are incredibly problematic and the more – you may not think they are a big deal — but the more society pushes them out and society continues to foster these cliché notions of what is creativity the harder it is for those in the field like me to begin moving towards teaching for creativity.

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Okay. Teaching for creativity. What do I mean by that? I believe teaching for creativity is embodying the habits the artists employ. Habits, in particular there are three that I think are essential to creativity. They are: 1) comfort with ambiguity; 2) idea generation; and 3) transdisciplinary research. We’re going to talk about those in a moment. But first we’re going to do a little audience participation.

I would like each of you to use something on your person, paper, pencil, your program, phone, glasses – it doesn’t matter. And I’d like you – you’re just going to get a couple of minutes, to actually create something that represents the idea of metaphor. Go ahead.

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