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The Art of Art Education

January, 2018
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The great success of the LittleStar BWYA Environmental Postcard Design Competition in 2017 has once again showcased the incredible artistic talents of nearly 1,000 students from 24 international schools across China who participated with beautiful and creative postcard designs based on the theme “A Green Future.”

The competition was jointly hosted by LittleStar Magazine and Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA), aiming to arouse environment protection awareness through art among students of all international schools in China.

Art has always been an important part of the educational programs of every international school. By talking to some students and winners of the competition as well as some judges – art teachers of participating international schools – we got to find out more about the wonderful art programs at some popular international schools in Beijing.

For Caitlin Du, Grade 11 student at BWYA, art gives her a way to be creative and express herself.

“Unlike other subjects, such as math, when you solve a problem, there is no single right or wrong answer in art – the answers are infinite,” she says. Her personal focus is visual art and mainly illustrative, 2D pieces. She also likes to work with water colors or digital media.

“In our society, everything is always boxed away and art helps us to lift the lid off the box. From a personal point of view, I find it relaxing, inspiring and a way of getting rid of negativity as well as a way to tell my story,” concludes Du.

According to BWYA Art Teachers Lin Green and Dr. Fabrizio Pacitti, art education at BWYA is being addressed as a whole, and in conformity with all academic requirements. The school has a specialized program in the lower grades of Primary School, a Middle School (IB MYP) program, and High School (IB DP) Visual Arts course.

bwyaThe arts are integrated into many subjects on the campus: there is an art club (Gallery One), field trips to gallery shows, competitions, and opportunities to incorporate state of the art technology and ‘new media’ in the program at BWYA. 

“It ultimately depends on the individual student and their goals, but art education provides critical opportunities to develop in ways that expand knowledge, cultural awareness, kinesthetic abilities, and life-skills… In essence, an art education benefits humanity by enriching and enabling future generations to thrive in real and meaningful ways,” says Lin.

Lin approaches her structured lessons with a large degree of flexibility and understanding, “As an artist myself, I know that the road to making ‘good’ art is not always clear nor is it easy. The story of producing art that is meaningful is one steeped in mystery and intrigue and I aim to clear the air for that narrative and, thus, place great importance on demystifying what art is and what it can be. In addition, no one is allowed to say that they ‘can’t draw’ in my class.”

Pacitti, on the other hand, wants to point out that students don’t need to be gifted artists straight away, “They will learn the skills they need throughout their art education journey. Independent work is also important as this is their opportunity to express themselves as artists in whichever way they choose and I will always factor this into my classroom time.”

He further argues that an art degree opens up a wide range of career possibilities beyond those of an artist as it does show the creativity of the individual and the ability to express oneself.

This year, the International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB) students did very well in the postcard competition and won many prizes for their excellent designs.

The art program at MSB is mainly focused on the visual arts - drawing, painting and sculpting using clay. The students create individual works using different techniques to express their creativity such is the case in painting using acrylic, water colors, water color pencils and much more.

msb-art-class“Our students are young therefore we have to carefully consider the programs we develop to ensure that our students get most of the visual art program. We have a developmentally appropriate approach that we take into consideration when thinking about what to teach due to the uniqueness of the Montessori curriculum,” says Jaime Castro Molero, Head of Art Department at MSB.

One of the reasons why art education is a really important subject at MSB is that it helps student develop certain qualities. For example, Molero has seen so many students who used to have a lack of confidence gain their confidence through art after working hard.

In his opinion, art education is the process of learning different types of artistic expression through different media, and art education strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, “The experience of making decisions in art helps the students out of the art room at the same time. We have projects where these two skills are required quite a bit.”

In his teaching, Molero sometimes likes to link art history to the process, where he discusses with the students firstly the life and the artwork of the artist or the art movement that they are going to see, and from there they pass to the action. Other times for the younger grades, he likes to link the projects with literature so they read a short story as an introduction and then they pass to the explanation of the project.

He finally encourages students to trust in themselves and their own decisions in learning art.

As an IB school, art education at Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB) is indispensable, and the key purpose of art education is to give full play to children’s imagination, says CISB Visual Art Teacher Kaiwen Fei.

A veteran artist and art teacher at CISB for many years, Fei argues that the human brain reacts much faster to visual content than to words and texts. It is therefore an important part of education that the students are taught how to discern pictures, graphs or drawings.

cisb-art-lessonIn his teaching, Fei puts much emphasis on four major aspects: knowing and understanding, developing skills, thinking creatively, and responding. Students are taught a variety of knowledge, ranging from “the elements of art” such as line, shape and color, “the principles of art” such as pattern, contrast and scale, to study of renowned artists and their works and the history of art. In addition, the students do lots of hands-on practices, including painting, handcraft, etc., and are organized to go to museums where they are able to see fine works.

Fei also requires that his students record some of their interesting experience during vacations via visual art forms such as photographs. “They are very happy to get assigned such a homework, and eager to adopt the methods they have learnt in doing it,” he says with content.

In general, Fei hopes that through art students will be able to at least enjoy the beauty of art and have an idea of what they try to express. Based on such ability, of course, the students can then attempt to create their own works using their own creativity.

And learning art may also help students with other subjects as well. For example, students may at a math class bump into geometric graphs they learn at an art class, and they may embody what they learn about humanity or history through a form of art they create.

Fei also encourages students to apply what they learn in art classes in their daily life, too. For example, when they choose clothes for themselves, or decorate their bedroom, they may showcase better taste in terms of colors, patterns or how different items are put together.

At Beijing Aidi School, art education is considered an important way in which students can develop in an all-round manner and personality.

aidi-art-photo2“The time has long gone when children were supposed to just focus on their academic results and as a result become close-minded. And parents and teachers feel that art education is one of the best approaches for the all-round development of children, though they may not expect that all children will become professional artists in the future” says Annie Hao, Principal of Aidi Middle School.

At Aidi Middle School, there are abundant opportunities for the students to wander in the world of art. In art appreciation classes, they study and understand masterpieces, which helps widen their perspectives. In imitation classes, they have hands-on experiences that enhance their coordination both physically and mentally. And in creation classes, they learn how to think divergently and out of the box, which leads to an increase in their creative capability.

Hao suggests that children participate in art activities and go to high-quality art exhibitions as much as they can, and try to find fields of interest from which they can start their art learning.

Such advice is well followed by Chen Wei and Chang Tongfei, two Grade 8 students of Aidi Middle School. Chen finds herself fond of sketching, “Because it is very real, and I can go to many places to draw from life. Plus, sketches are just black and white, which for me looks simple and cool.”

Her schoolmate Chang, on the other hand, has more passion for design and pastel colors. “I like pastel because it is very bright-colored, and design because I love fashion design and matching clothes,” she explains. Chang believes that learning how to design makes for a better quality of life, and art raises one’s taste and overall character.

According to Madeline Churchill, Head of Art at Wellington College International Tianjin, the art curriculum at the college is rich, wide and varied, and available to all pupils from three to eighteen years old.

“When you have art lessons as a young child you are given the chance to play with shapes and colors and respond imaginatively to personal ideas – it gives you a creative confidence which builds gradually throughout childhood. But for pupils who are new to art we teach them the basic skills of drawing, painting and printmaking, then introduce them to key artists from both Western and Eastern backgrounds. This helps to build familiarity with the subject and gives pupils the confidence to carry on.”

wellington-tianjin-art-lessonIn Churchill’s opinion, when studying art people learn how to respond personally to an idea and find a creative solution, “It takes independence, self-confidence, patience and perseverance, and these qualities are transferable across all kinds of situations both in school and in the wider world beyond. As teachers, we seek to develop these in our young people whilst also nurturing their creative aspirations.”

She thinks the best advice for young artists is to keep engaged with the world around them – cultivate personal interests and keep making things which stimulate them visually. “It’s all about practice so enjoy it, keep at it and never give up!”

Teresa, a Year 11 IGCSE Art student at the college says, “I feel happy when doing art as I can lose track of time, switch off my worries and focus on what’s in front of me. Art contains the whole world and can be about everything and anything - it takes me into new worlds, teaches me about myself and leads me to new interests.”

She believes that drawing has definitely trained her to become more observant in daily life and this helps her not just with learning about Art but all aspects of life.

xin-fuxue-art-girlAs a new school that just opened in Beijing last September, Beijing Xin Fuxue International Academy did very well in the postcard competition. The art education programs at Xin Fuxue are designed to develop visual and audio literacy by having students respond, experiment, create and make connections with the arts. “Our art programs aim to stimulate the imagination, enhance observation skills and self-expression while encouraging creative problem-solving in relationships between history, science, and math,” says Gary Dimitratos, Principal of Elementary and Middle School of Xin Fuxue.

Xin Fuxue art lessons combine hand-on activities designed to build on each other from year to year. Collaboration and application of the art elements are included throughout the curriculum to where students at all levels have grasp the appreciation of fine art thus creating their own works of art.

The students explore a selection of art from China and around the world experiencing different artworks from different periods. Students reflect on their own thoughts from observing different art and then using vocabulary and techniques learned produce their own work.

Lessons use a variety of media including watercolor, paper cutting, drawing, clay, wire, and crafts. And many of the programs are project based and focus on the result of creating an end product.

Dimitratos believes that art programs are vital in a student’s education, “Many times, students who enjoy art classes can improve their motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork. Also, when students are involved in art classes, we can see gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, creative thinking, and verbal skills.”

Art programs can help develop neural systems that produce a broad spectrum of benefits ranging from fine motor skills to creativity and improved emotional balance. Dimitratos encourages children to take advantage of every opportunity they receive from the school’s art programs, “Whether you are in a drawing class or singing in a choir class, pay attention to the fundamental knowledge being taught. Do not wait to practice in class. Reflect and practice your craft at home and build intrinsic value for the arts. After all, art is part of everyone’s culture.”


By Qin Chuan,

LittleStar Magazine Editor



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