“Perception of the object is a process of transition from experience to judgement, insight to application.” –Gemma Anderson, writing on the process of drawing.
A friend of mine recently lamented that her gifted 6th grader was asked to draw a picture based on a book the class was reading. “How is that serious homework for middle-school?” Her question made me reflect on our Summer 2018 Courses, and to explain why the studio art component is important, even for non-studio teachers. Drawing is another mode of understanding. When we examine something to draw it, we observe it closely, considering all that we can see, trying to sort what we believe we see from what we actually see, and inferring things we cannot see. Perhaps this sounds familiar? Examining an object, scene or person to create a work of art requires of us the same questions and critical skills that examining a primary source does.
The teachers who participated in our City as a Primary Source course in August learned about Philadelphia in a variety of ways. They sat in an auditorium and had a slide lecture. They sat on a trolley and listened as scholars told them about what they were seeing outside their windows. They walked through city squares, narrow streets, up hills to belvederes, and wandered 18th century houses. They scrambled up an industrial staircase to a railway viaduct, now transformed into a public park.
Some field trips involved listening, looking, and reflecting, but others incorporated creating from observation. During one session, we drew outside at the Philadelphia Rail Park. Another session had us drawing while walking along Broad Street, then incorporating those quick sketches with drawings from longer observation from the windows of the Kimmel Center, high above the thoroughfare.
Our drawings made us look carefully at what we thought we saw, either sketching quickly with pencil and folded paper on the street, or slowing down to try out watercolors in the park for a couple of hours. We observed, questioned our assumptions, and tested theories. We reflected, processed what we learned, and synthesized it into something new.
The connection between drawing and understanding concrete objects is fairly straightforward. How does this process work when trying to understand something more abstract? I like how this teacher describes using drawing in her literature classes: Drawing: Another Path to Understanding. If it can advance understanding in literature, how about in the sciences, or mathematics? The Picturing to Learn project found that students’ knowledge of a concept increased when the student had to make a drawing depicting the concept (I recommend checking out the first drawing in the conductors and insulators section.) In this brief ArtNet feature, the late mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani talks about drawing as a part of her problem-solving process.
In thinking about how drawing in particular and the creative process in general helps us form knowledge, I came across the work of Gemma Anderson. The article she wrote about drawing and mathematics with geometer Alessio Corti is available online from the journal Leonardo. It’s a weighty article, the gist of which the authors describe in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eWW_X9Gpqo
All this research indicates that drawing is another form of learning, and that it can indeed be serious homework for a middle-schooler . How do you incorporate drawing in your teaching?