HAROLD PEARSE: EDUCATOR
I teach courses on the curriculum and pedagogy of elementary and secondary school art for preservice and inservice teachers at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I am also an experienced teacher of drawing and visual art for learners of all ages and abilities.
When I introduce an art education course, I emphasize to the students that to be a teacher of art requires the synthesis of two components: one’s teacher persona and one’s artist persona. Whether the teacher is an art “specialist” assigned to teach that subject specifically or a “generalist” who teaches art as one of many subjects, when the objectives are to teach art concepts or processes, the teacher must feel, think and act like both a teacher and an artist. I see the purpose of an introductory “art methods” course for preservice elementary generalists, many who have not taken an art course since their own elementary schooling, to be to give not only essential information about how art curricula can be conceived, developed and taught, how children learn in and through art and how to use effectively a variety of art materials, but also to learn how an artist thinks, works and makes decisions critically. What does it feel like to be engaged in the creative process? How can these experiences be interpreted, documented and reflected upon? These questions are also central when I am teaching art (usually drawing) to children and adults wherein the purpose is to learn to think and work in ways characteristic of artists while addressing personal goals related to knowledge and skill acquisition and confidence development.
As images and text are mixed and ideas probed and presented visually and verbally, the boundaries between the two personae of artist and teacher are blurred and overlapped. It is in those interactions, intersections and interstices that the art teacher persona emerges and forms. The engaged student, already in the process of becoming a teacher, becomes confident in her/his ability to work and think like an artist and hence an art teacher.
As illustrated above, a central tenet of my teaching philosophy is that a teacher educator in a particular subject area should be a practitioner of that subject, immersed in the theory, history, methodology and practice of that discipline. For five decades, I have lived my life as an artist and a teacher, each role affirming and sustaining the other.
A cornerstone of my teaching philosophy is Sir Herbert Read’s call for an egalitarian, arts centered education articulated in his influential book, Education through Art (1943). Read saw education as “the fostering of growth made apparent in expression –audible or visible signs and symbols. Education may therefore be defined as the cultivation of modes of expression – it is teaching children and adults how to make sounds, images, movements, tools and utensils” (p. 11). A person who can make such things, claims Read, is well educated. The aim of education then is the creation of artists, people with keen aesthetic perception who are proficient in various modes of expression. Although writing in the mid twentieth century and considered the prototypical modernist, Read’s vision of the centrality and necessity of visual literacy is even more relevant in today’s post-modern, computer mediated and highly visual culture. Art is a powerful way to learn about the world. Learning about the world through art is what I do when I make art, when I teach art to children, when I teach art (drawing) to adults and when I teach adults to teach art to children.
Reference: Read, H. (1943). Education through Art. London: Faber and Faber.