Inside: Teaching art to kids authentically comes from connecting artworks to projects in a meaningful way that doesn’t rely on copycat crafts.
We’ve all seen it. Many of us have taught it. Art projects that are really just copycat crafts.
When parents walk into the art classroom on open house night, many are greeted with mosaics of student artworks that all look basically the same. Students, excited to show their parents their work, scan the rows of nearly identical projects, searching until they find their name—one of the only things that sets their work apart from the others.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value in copying the works and techniques of great artists. But there’s so much more to art. There’s so much more to creating. Teaching art to kids authentically is more than having them make their own version of Starry Night or the Mona Lisa.
True art connection happens when students interact with an artwork through discussions and activities that empower them to see the importance of art in their lives and the world. True art connection happens when we connect artworks to projects authentically, honing in on the idea that inspired the artist or a powerful technique that they used.
Teaching Art to Kids Authentically
This idea might sound good, but it can be difficult to pull off in practice—especially if you’ve never seen it done before. The trick is to focus on the connection. We want students to care about what they’re making, that way the experience stays with them long after their artwork has dried and curled around the edges. We do this by focusing on a specific aspect of the artwork:
- The big idea, theme, or mood of the artwork
- The function of the artwork
- The content, subject matter, or story behind the artwork
- The media or technique used by the artist
- The elements or principles of art present in the work
Let’s take a lesson from the Curated Connections Library to show you how we can connect artworks and projects in a way that will inspire students instead of stifling their creativity.
As a woman in Pakistan, the artist was excluded from certain places. When she immigrated to the U.S., she sometimes felt like an outsider. These experiences inspired her to create sculptures that are meant to be welcoming and inviting. “That’s where this idea of ‘All the Flowers’ came from,” Agha said. “It’s the continuation of me exploring this concept of creating spiritual, yet safe spaces that do not say ‘no’ to anybody.”
The intricate geometric patterns in Agha’s work is a great technique to share with students as they learn new skills.
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Elementary students can fold and cut paper, mastering motor skills while they utilize radial design and geometric patterns. Each work will be unique. As students create their simple mandalas, they can hold them up to the light and discover the way bright light and dark shadows change the emotion of their work.
Middle school students can create their own intricate mandala or printmaking design, taking inspiration from Agha’s work to create art that represents spaces where they feel welcomed or excluded.
High school students can create a radial design or geometric tessellation on cardstock or construction paper. They can cut out shapes and patterns to make positive and negative spaces, then hang their creation in a window or in front of a light to cast their design throughout the room for an immersive experience. This invites students to consider how spaces are transformed by art.
A lesson inspired by this artwork is also perfect for cross-curricular and integrated assignments. You can collaborate with the math department or geometry teacher to make a large design to be displayed on school grounds.
Get a full lesson for Anila Quayyum Agha’s All the Flowers Are for Me (Red), including lesson plan, discussion questions, activities, and more in the Curated Connections Library.
When we assign an art project, we have two choices. We can tell students where every line and color go, or we can allow them to explore their lives through the lens of art. Both have educational value, but only one way will help them find their own meaning.