I'm also trying to write an art instruction book and I obviously want to try and make it as effective as possible to help people learn. The question I'm confronting at present is how best to do that.
With my 'There are no shortcuts' principle in mind, and following on from yesterday's post Outstanding performance - a talent or 10,000 hours of practice?, my post today looks at art books and the curse of the 'five easy steps' mentality.
What follows today and tomorrow are some thoughts on:
- the way people learn
- the way people learn about art
- the nature of instruction available in art books and
- the economy of publishing.
Art Instruction Books
Art Instruction books are supposed to help people learn. So - here are some things to think about:
- Is it possible to become an artist just by reading books?
- Can you really learn all you need to know from books?
- Do art instruction books help to make it easier to become an artist?
- Can art instruction books - which show art as a simple step by step process - make it possible to speed up the process of learning how to make art?
How do people learn?
Here are some of the ways that I know about how people learn.
- On the left of the table below are some of the generic ways in which people learn
- On the right are some of the ways in which the generic approaches are employed. The right hand column is about art instruction rather than art instruction books. I've highlighted the latter to demonstrate how often they play a part in the process
I hear, and I forget;
I see, and I remember;
I do, and I understand.
Confucius (China's most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)
|GENERIC WAYS OF LEARNING||ART INSTRUCTION|
|Analysis of process: Breaking knowledge and components of a skilled process down into parts and steps - creating an appreciation of the whole and how it is constructed||Step by step demonstrations of a work in progress|
- in art instruction books
|Being very focused on the task to be learned. Focus is generally recognised as being a characteristic associated with those who achieve exceptional levels of performance||Focus can be advocated however it tends to depend on the student rather than the medium of instruction|
|Watching how a specific process is executed - a very traditional method of instruction across many different skills||Watching the tutor demonstrate how to mix paint or how to make brush marks or paint a picture.|
- Art instructions books can try and replicate this
- however art instruction videos and class/workshops probably work better.
|Action Learning - get the tools, follow the instructions and find out what happens||Can be advocated in art class/workshops and and by art instruction books and can involve homework|
Less feedback and chance to compare outcomes with others when not done as part of a group or class.
|Reiteration (simple) - learning a process or skill through practice until competence is achieved||Art tutors and art instruction books can advocate this but the practice of reiteration is essentially down to the student|
Students can be influenced by the practices of and the tone set by the tutor/author
|Reiteration (complex)- deliberate and reflective repetition of a process or skill until mastery has been achieved or the subject matter has been fully explored||Essentially down to the motivation and drive of the individual artist - possibly helped by a tutor/mentor/coach|
Master Classes are more usual for musicians than artists.
|Osmosis - being in an environment where a process is talked about and practised all the time leads to "a gradual, usually unconscious, process of assimilation or absorption of ideas or knowledge,"||Simple if one or both your parents are artists!|
A benefit allegedly available for students attending art school (although some would disagree)
An apprentice could well find themselves in an environment conducive to osmosis
|Story telling - a traditional way of transmitting culture, beliefs and practices||Tutor may tell stories - in a workshop or in an art instruction book|
Buddies/Peers may also tell each other stories
|Collective learning through social interaction and dialogue with peers - participation in story-telling and problem-solving in groups||This form of learning is confined to those who are members of a what is usually a peer group (ie minimal presence of a tutor or intervention by a moderator).|
Members of an art school, art group or workshop or online network may
- tell each other stories
- review problems and find solutions
- discuss and debate different perspectives
- show each other images of merit
A commitment to lifelong learning
|Essentially an attitude of mind and personal to the individual|
Can be promoted through the practices and tone set by a tutor/author
Have I got all the bases covered? Can you think of any other ways of learning? Do please leave a comment.
It seems to me that the main issue with art instruction books is that a number tend towards the notion of "a folk theory of mind" and don't embrace the wider aspects of how people learn. To my mind it's this sort of approach which generates the 'five easy steps' approach to learning.
a folk theory of mind as follows:My personal preference is for art instruction books which treat me as an adult and are a bit of a challenge. I really appreciate authors who recognise and talk about the complexity of making art. People who look at all the different aspects rather than the ones who want to boil it down to '5 easy steps'. Although I understand the rationale behind breaking processes down into steps I really don't want to read books which are choc full of step by step demonstrations.
- knowledge is ‘stuff’
- mind is a container
- learning involves putting stuff in the container
The books I used to find worked the best for me were written by people who were practising artists and teachers who emphasised the many different aspects of making art rather than the '5 easy steps' (I'm thinking of people like Charles Reid and Robert Wade).
I've also noted in the past few years how many times I've seen people say in forums, groups and blogs how much more they have learned and enjoyed learning once they've started to participate in some form of online social interaction.
In writing my own book, I've concluded that that my main challenges are:
- to try and pitch it at the level of the book I've always wanted but could never find.
- to create a book which is accessible and emphasises practice
- to find a way of relating an instruction book to some form social interaction
A couple of questions:
- Do you have a favourite art book? What is is it and why?
- Is there one book which had a huge impact on you and your work?