We all know that art is a great way to express creativity. There is something very liberating about using colors, shapes and patterns to show how we are feeling or to depict our own personality. What people do not always realize is how important art can be in developing problem solving skills and abilities.
The beauty of art is that its possibilities are limitless; art can be anything and everything, and that is what can make art feel overwhelming at times. When you have a wonderful idea for something you would like to make, the next logical step is to figure out how to make it. Within each art form there are several decisions that need to be made as the artist progresses through the piece. There are multiple materials and techniques that the artist can explore to see which produces the results that are truest to his creative vision. The growth and confidence that comes from creative thinking and problem solving is incredibly important and translates easily into other parts of learning and everyday life. Having the ability to step back from a problem, examine it, explore options and find the best resolution serves us well throughout life.
In my own work as a sculptor I have a tendency to use non-traditional materials. I will make art out of just about anything. I have used everything
from hundred year old children’s shoes and nifty dollar store finds to rusty barbed wire. With each new piece I wish to create I need to learn how to properly assemble, adhere and display my chosen materials. There have been times when I have invented a new way of using materials to suit my artistic needs, like when I used lock-washers to convert 2,600 safety pins into chainmail like sculpture. I research, I experiment, I test, I create. With the next piece the process repeats itself but the problems and solutions are completely different. I love the hunt for the proper materials and the challenge of the best solution. For me, that is as much a part of making the work as are the initial idea and the finished product.
This rings true in my classroom as well. A good example of art-inspired problem solving comes from my 8th grade students' shadow box project. I introduce my students to the work of American artist, Joseph Cornell. He was the first noted artist to start using the shadow box as an approach in fine art. His pieces are whimsical and include materials from a variety of sources, including scientific texts, clock parts, antique glassware and things found in nature. He brings all the different parts together into an art piece layered with texture and imagery. Although Cornell is known for his use of the shadow box, his approach is only one of many possible resolutions.
I ask my students to select their own theme and provide each one with an empty cigar box. The rest is up to them. The results are as varied as the students themselves. I have seen boxes converted into miniature athletics
fields, usually dedicated to a favorite team. Some boxes are filled with
inspirational quotes or romantic gestures and dried flowers. Boxes have been interactive with a maze or ball game to play inside. Childhood treasures have been immortalized inside boxes alongside favorite pets and celebrities. There have been beach scenes and boxes filled with outer-space. Because each box is unique, its creation is as well. The artist must find a way to keep sand right where they want it or learn how to resize imagery to fit properly. Each step of the project creates another opportunity to decide on the best approach, both challenging and empowering the student at the same time. It is magical when the students surprise themselves with what they have accomplished.
Finding ways to embrace challenges and overcome obstacles has always
been an important part of art. Thinking outside the box and the search for the new idea has driven artists for ages. By encouraging creative thinking and problem solving in the classroom, we are encouraging students to think for themselves and to explore new ways of doing things while building confidence. Failure produces another opportunity to try for possible success. This helps to produce well a rounded individual who will not avoid life’s challenges, but rather approach them thinking how they can best solve the problem at hand.