Process is the key. When you study a masterwork of any artform, there is a natural sense of awe and wonder about what you’re witnessing. Even if you don’t care for the style, the time period or the artist themselves, you still can appreciate that what they accomplished was an extraordinary piece of work that resonates with people across the world. To have these kinds of reactions are so rare that it behooves us to study what these master craftsmen achieved and more importantly how they achieved it, so that we can take these lessons and apply them to our own journeys.
The Journeyed Sketch
When you study any master artist (DiVinci, Mozart, Beethoven, Degas) you’ll find that almost all of them documented the process of their work. There were so many ideas floating around in their minds that they needed a space to jot them down. That’s the first key element that we can take away: providing our students with a way/space to document their own learning journeys. Whether this be through a physical journal or an online blog or portfolio, it’s imperative that our students have the space they need to sort the pieces of the puzzle and create something new.
Another key element to the artistic craft is in the ability to collaborate and learn from others. All of the masters purposefully chose to study with others and learn from as many sources as they possibly could. That’s because they knew that in order to create something the world had never seen, they needed to know what the world HAD seen. And they understood that elements from a variety of sources could be used together to create their personal expressions of meaning. Do we give our students this opportunity? Too often, we force them into individual work time or pre-selected groupings. Instead, allow your students to discover whom and what they would like to collaborate on and watch the connections take root.
Lastly, the masters knew that critique is an important part of the journey. Degas went through over 20 different versions of some of his work until he finally came to the one that best met his own vision. We should be helping our students to understand that they should never accept the first version. Instead, grab as many thoughtful critiques as you possibly can of your work and then sift through them to find what is valuable in each. By teaching students the process of critique and editing, we are giving them the chance to take ownership of each critique they receive to better make it reflect their intent. Master artists have received some of the most battering critiques of all time and have taken only the jewels of those assessments to make their work better.
Doing the Work
In the end, all of this is about the process. The process of thinking, creating and assessing work. The process of polishing work until it shines with something new and inspiring. The process of weaving through the world to create a tapestry of the world. So many artists will tell you that it’s not about the work. It’s about DOING the work. Even if what you produce isn’t any good, the act of doing the work is what will make you and it better. As educators, it’s our job to assist students in this process-based journey so that their products may be masterful creations of their own unique place in this world.