Blog Teaching the Artists of Tomorrow

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Teaching Artists of the Future...

I have taught art to both adults and children for almost 20 years, many of which are students working towards their GCSE’s. This blog is my perspective on society’s preconceptions of artists and creatives and how the education system has not yet designed a qualification for them. One of the many topics I am spoken to about is right and left-brain bias, the creative side of the brain being right, and the logical side of the brain being left. I have just Googled “right brain creative” and been given the following definition,

"The right hemisphere is associated with cognitive skills, such as creativity, emotion and intuitiveness. It also controls the left side of the body, so right-brained people are often left-handed. Right-brain dominant people are characterized as artistic, innovative and often random."19 Oct 2012 Source:

Whether you are creative or not, people tend to utilise their entire brain, and creatives are not “random” as so eloquently described by the quote above; we are logical. It is just that we view the world differently, so our logic is divergent from the mainstream linear logic. In the 1960’s Edward deBono discovered lateral thinking. This is something we are all capable of, and in fact I remember as a child my father encouraging me to solve puzzles to increase my lateral thinking abilities. If you would like to understand more about lateral thinking, I strongly suggest you read Edward deBono’s many books on the subject.

A nasty phrase that is linked to lateral thinking is “thinking outside the box”. This is even more annoying than the segregation of the two parts of the brain! Over 20 years ago, I went to an interview, and my interviewer said to me – “Are you able to think outside the box?” My reaction, which did not get me the job, was to ask him calmly whether he had read my CV? I was applying for an admin position with a Fine Art degree. He stuttered and faltered, he hadn’t read my CV, and by asking the question meant that he was thinking in a linear logic. So, in answer to his question – “No, I never think outside the box – I don’t have a box”. That is the fundamental difference between the creative and non-creative; creatives are not bound by convention. In fact, they are so far away from the box, that they don’t even understand why you would want to have a box in the first place to think outside of.

As with any skill, lateral thinking can be developed and learnt. The more I work in the creative industries the more I find that the lateral thought process comes into play when approaching problems and developing ideas. I am not denying that creatives think differently and are often thought of as “odd” because they see life in a different way. However, that isn’t to say that a creative cannot think logically; I do this every week when I do my accounts and admin. Most businesses appreciate and headhunt lateral thinkers because they bring a fresh perspective to a problem, one that the majority haven’t thought of. I certainly experienced this long ago in my distant past employment career.

How does our education system approach creatives? Ideally you would hope that they would be encouraged, and their skills developed and perhaps even encourage the linear thinkers to start thinking laterally too. Sadly, I do not think this is so, not only from my own experience of the education system from primary to degree (bearing in mind, that I took creative subjects), but also in my experience of helping many frustrated and confused creative students trying to gain a high grade in GCSE art.

Please do not think at any point that I am against education, as I am not, far from it. I hold the firm belief that we are all life long students, and I embrace learning new things. I love to learn, from new art materials and techniques, to new languages when I go abroad. I have mentioned in previous blogs that I frequently watch lectures on subjects from maths to botany and read books about psychology to genetics for interest. To me, this is the great thing about being human, I no longer have to search for food, I can read, learn, travel and share my knowledge with others. This is how I see tuition; a tutor is only there to share their knowledge and experience with someone who has less knowledge or experience in that particular subject. A tutor should always be open to learning from their student.

The art GCSE has not been designed for the artist. You would naturally think that these are their primary customers, but the GCSE has been designed with a linear logic and you get a high grade for writing about the logical thought processes behind your ideas. This is simply not how a creative person thinks. Ideas do not always come with an explanation. Sadly, however, just like the GCSE artists need to write about their art work, because galleries and customers want to understand what an art work is about before they invest in it. I write about my work a lot, it is a habit I have learnt (under quite a lot of duress). The ideas that I have will often arrive, but my brain rarely informs me of where the idea came from. I have spent a lifetime being a detective to the origin of my own thoughts. For example, at school I was rather good at maths. I could look at an algebraic equation and tell you the answer. This was a huge problem, because you got marks for HOW you worked the equation out, not just for providing the answer. I often did not have the foggiest idea how my brain arrived at the answer, it just told me. To me, my creative thought process and lateral thinking, functions on its own. Sometimes I feel it just carries on without me, and occasionally pops up and tells me an idea without rhyme or reason. These are good ideas, I tend to run with them, but then someone asks me why? I’m still learning the why. I brainstorm and write notes on my ideas and slowly I am able to clarify my “why”. It is important to know though that this has taken me YEARS to understand and figure out the ideas and purpose of my art work.

So how can a GCSE student who is a genuine creative possibly begin to understand where their lightning bolt idea came from when they woke up that morning? This problem is often compounded because a high proportion of creatives have learning difficulties, so being able to communicate what they are thinking and feeling is almost nigh impossible. The best way I can describe my dyslexia is that you get locked in your own head. I may write what I want to say and how I feel, but sadly only I understand it (I get a lot of help writing these blogs). It is not that I don’t want to communicate, but verbal and written communication is so often lost in translation…

Art GCSE shouldn’t be academic, it should be a vocational course. A course that understands that the artist’s ideas naturally leap about and there is no linear A to B thinking, unless they can go via M first. Students, shouldn’t have to write lots and lots about why they chose to use watercolour over coloured pencil, and the advantages and disadvantages of each medium. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be artist research and study, but the written content could be reduced. Far too much of the GCSE is based upon ticking boxes and linear thinking, designed, I suspect by linear academic thinkers. Even worse because of the structure of the GCSE, linear thought is being developed and encouraged over the lateral thought, conditioning the creativity out of the students. When in fact, creativity, lateral thought and problem solving is a treasured ability within industry. Let’s instead embrace and encourage a lateral logic within academic subjects.

Finally, for all those art lovers out there, reading this blog, embrace a little creativity. When you next visit an art gallery, don’t bother reading the “about” card next to it. Instead just stop, breathe and look. Then look again. Stand for at least 2 minutes looking at the painting – How does it make you feel? Does it matter that you may or may not know what it is about? What does it say to you on a nonlinear, instinctive level? Not everything in life needs an explanation…

Below, is one of my abstract doodles it has little purpose, but to create harmony of aesthetics with colour and shape on the 2D plane…

abstract art claire harrison

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January 2019



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