Making: Art Lesson Ideas (2014)

The lesson ideas presented here invites art educators to extend their engagement with contemporary art—be it making or viewing—back into the art classroom. This handout builds on the momentum and interests with the last edition, Making: Art Lesson Ideas, (2013) and features new examples in the form of guiding questions and art tasks. With these examples, we hope it will deepen our understanding of lesson design in areas of Studio Practice and the Study of Visual Arts, and how each supports the other.

​Lesson ideas can be elusive, even for experienced art educators unbound by textbooks or over-prescriptive schemes of work. In the 2013 handout, we had suggested that art educators could use their own contemporary art practice to inform their art lesson planning: artistic processes or artworks could be used as starting points to create creative art lesson ideas.To scope this further, an art lesson idea could be developed into lesson segments that deal with art making, or discussions on art within a lesson unit. To see this from another perspective, arteducators could generate and shape lesson ideas just as artists and designers shape their medium and materials.

In the context of art classroom teaching, the medium might refer to the lesson format, not limited by these examples: a time-tabled, structured duration of teacher-directed instruction; a flexible student-centred lesson unit; a studio workshop; an art lab for experimentation; an art camp; a fly-by-night video competition.

Materials can refer to (physical, sensory s or conceptual) stimuli or an existing art lesson idea. It could refer to an artwork made by a contemporary artist that students could relate to. It could refer to an experience that requires students to think, and feel with their five senses. It could refer to big ideas that cuts across different disciplines and subjects studied by students that is distilled into a life-worthy essential question. It could refer to a brief concept of what students should learn and be able to do by the end of a fixed period, or a document that records what the teacher wants students to accomplish sequentially in a given period of time. There are numerous curricula design models that suggest how lessons might be planned but they usually lack the art ‘angle’, or fail to describe the creative flow that happens in a spontaneous, well-designed yet flexible art lesson.

Art teachers might identify and work with the following ‘materials’ as starting points to develop possible art lesson ideas.

Table 1: Generating Lesson Ideas

Lesson Idea Starting Points


Artist as origin. Choosing an artist—their life and work—as a source of inspiration for a particular project with an enabling constraint.

The stimuli could consist of a series of images of artworks by the artist, or a story told about how an artwork is made. It could also be the tools used by the artist to create the iconic style. Similarly, a snippet of an interview, audience reaction to the artwork or a documentary about the artist might be useful.

Craft and technology. Basing a lesson on material and technique; for mastery of a particular art skill.

Stimuli could include a live demonstration by the teacher or master artist, experimenting with a particular media and technique, or a challenge to create a particular effect from observation. The technique and materials featured in the stimulus should be accessible and achievable by the target group of students.

Art history. Enabling students to learn movements and styles by mastering sets of art skills and art vocabulary.

An image reproduction of a suitable scale and colour fidelity, or a visit to the art museum to see the actual artwork.

Interdisciplinary. Getting students to investigate how an artwork, technical process or event/context of an artwork is connected to knowledge in another subject such as literature, science, history or geography.

An interactive exhibition, artwork or a video that illustrate an interdisciplinary approach or outcome might be suitable. Objects that stem from either discipline could serve as stimuli.

Big Ideas. Common big ideas that students of a particular age group should know and these big ideas cut across the curriculum subjects.

Consumer products, historical objects, reproductions or objects of personal significance could be used.

Places of local interests. Places that is well-known locally, or is located near the school. These have been designated because of their architectural merit, social history, special function, or value to a community.

Images of a place of local interest, a learning journey to this place, conducting interviews or surveys, documenting an aspect of the place (e.g. signboards or road signs).

Personal interests. Relating to cultural phenomenon that students are attracted to, such as music, media, games or popular books. As an extension, students might be motivated to explore art ideas as a means of self-expression based on their personal experiences.

Stimuli could include a piece of music, pop song, toys, advertisement, magazine cutouts, children’s illustrated books, short animations or movies, a story accompanied by photographs or artworks, books, objects or artefacts.

In general, art lessons might concentrate on acquisition of art skills or encourage imagination and creativity. Some units might focus on connecting students with the subject and raising self-awareness and social awareness. Some units might emphasize appropriating styles used by artists in art history. Some might relate to an event reported in the news, making reference to the art world or real world in order to build a frame of reference to what is taught. Notwithstanding the potential of these approaches, they are but some of the ways, entry points if you like, art teachers could use to plan a meaningful lesson and build a purposeful school art curriculum.

Using the different lesson starting points listed above, we could begin to see how a stimulus might be chosen. With a strong class rapport and genuine interest in their teacher’s artistic practice, the art teacher could use his or her own artwork as a stimulus to introduce a particular technique that he or she wants to teach. Using an image of an artwork by a known artist, or by seeing an actual piece of artwork in an art gallery or museum, students could be invited to investigate themes and techniques associated with the artwork. Beginning with one relatively unknown object, or an object that is taken apart, or taken out of its original context, teachers could spur students’ imagination and curiosity. By selecting objects that are visually arresting, or allow comparison (compare and contrast) with a popular image or object, teachers might be able to guide students to relate them to big ideas or personal interests. Notwithstanding the potential of these stimuli, they are but some of the ways, entry points if you like, art teachers could use to plan a meaningful and purposeful curriculum.

For methodical reasons, we can group the art lesson ideas into:

Studio Practice – Elegant art tasks

Study of Visual Arts – Guiding questions

Elegant Art Task

The concept of “Elegant Art Tasks” allows us to understand how an assignment, or performance task, can be differentiated, made more appealing, and sufficiently challenging for students. In some schools, the term ‘art problem’ or ‘wicked problem’ are used to mean the same thing. Here, we prefer to use ‘elegant task’ in order to inspire a task that is ‘pleasingly graceful and stylish appearance or manner’ or ‘ pleasingly ingenious and simple’.

An elegant task is one that is flexible enough to provoke students at different developmental levels, elicit diverse solutions, and one that allows individual students to elaborate on and personalise their artistic response (Kay, 1998). An elegant task that is thoughtfully constructed, initiated with an existential question or provocative task will inspire personal artistic responses from all students (McKenna, 2006). An elegant art task is one of the first few steps to create conducive learning environment that is student centric.

An elegant task has the following characteristics:

• It is worth solving
• It is relevant to students’ experiences
• It is context sensitive, or issues-based
• It is open-ended
• It is studio based, and engages and fascinates students with materials and media
• It encourages students to explore characteristics of materials and media
• It encourages students to create extraordinary forms
• Students are guided to match materials to ideas
• Choices are provided while Constraints are put in place
• Provide Choices & Constraints
• Forced choice can also be called “enabling constraints”
• Choices and constraints can take the following:
o Media or art form
o Materials
o Format or product
o Scale and dimension
o Design or visual concepts
o Style of representation
o Ways of thinking
o Ideas and themes
o Workng independently or in a group
• It is best accompanied by an existential or provocative question.
o An existential question moves students to a deeper level and engages thoughtful aesthetic choices and careful crafting – because the answer is important and meaningful.
o Involves a ‘What if’ proposition, requiring the student to make a decision.
o Focus the direction of ideation (enabling constraint)
o Self-referential (the question is a personal one for which the student is the only one who knows the right answer)

While not all lessons must involve an elegant art task, we believe that performance tasks can be made more elegant.

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Exhibition Date: 7 – 19 March 2014

SOTA Art Gallery

School of the Arts

2014© Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts (STAR), Ministry of Education


We are grateful to the participating artists for accepting our invitation to submit their art lesson ideas, in the form of guiding questions or elegant art tasks. In the interest of making the reading experience more enjoyable, we have taken the liberty to edit the texts judiciously to fit an overarching framework related to generating art lesson ideas.

Last but not least, we are indebted to Dr. Amanda Allison, Art Education coordinator from Texas Christian University, who planted the concept of Approaches to Studio Art with Kok Boon and Ira that led STAR to re-examine the approaches teachers use to conceptualise and plan art lessons.

This handout should be reproduced, reused, adapted in any form for non-profit educational purposes. The authors of these lesson ideas should be acknowledged where possible if their lesson ideas are modified or presented elsewhere.

© Ministry of Education, Singapore.

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