Teaching Philosophy for Secondary

Art Teaching Philosophy
Tessa Sutton

My student-centered secondary art classroom will foster creativity through hands-on discovery of material processes, techniques, art history, aesthetics and personal expression–a blend of holistic, historical art education ideas (Bates, 2000).  Students at the secondary level are interested in deep social, environmental and political issues, identity and other spiritual and existential questions in their daily lives and I will use these ideas in crafting lesson plans (Woolfolk, 2019).  Using Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) including art history, criticism, aesthetics and art making, combined with the inquiry-based, hands-on studio elements of the child-centered philosophy of John Dewey and social constructivist theory espoused by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, I will emphasize open-ended material explorations that serve creative expression and personal voice (Bates, 2000).  Art is about connected action, so theory and history should exist to support getting our hands playing and making.

The idea of journey and discovery is one that I will emphasize in my classroom experiences.  Traveling into the unknown takes courage and persistence.  Inside each student is the creative furnace linking concepts and materials to their own psyche, heart and mind, making it their own.  As Anselm Kiefer so eloquently states, “That sense of longing came to me very early in my life. And art is longing. You never arrive, but you keep going in the hope that you will” (Wroe, 2011).  In The Radicant, Nicholas Bourriard’s theoretical art tome on identity and post-modernism, he explains that the journey or wandering through time and space is the mode of aesthetic inquiry where we leave our culturally prescribed labels behind to become artistic nomads, just as a traveling plant puts down roots and grows downward as it moves up and along a path:

Thus the journey is not just a fashionable theme but the sign of a deeper development, which affects the representations of the world in which we live and the way we inhabit it, concretely or symbolically. The artist has become the prototype of the contemporary traveler, homo viator, whose passage through signs and formats highlights a contemporary experience of mobility, displacement, crossing. (2009, p. 113).

 Continuing this theme of travelling, Jerome Bruner’s “spiral curriculum” is one that I will integrate into my lessons because he talks about “big ideas” that are repeated spirally through a student’s educational career (Woolfolk, 2019, p. 371, 387).  This is especially applicable to art education because ideas such as transformation, lateral and dimensional thinking, imagination and play are repeatable concepts broadly applied to art at any level.

Exploring through play in an art-centered integrated curriculum is important to my pedagogy because my personal artwork treads the path through diverse subjects using painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture; it’s just how my mind works.  My strength lies in being able to make connections between domains and create interconnections that probe questions of personal experience.  According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, domain cross-connection is the weak area in contemporary education and teachers need to emphasize working across subjects and a current challenge is art education is to transfer art skills to other arenas (1997, 2013, p. 329; Hetland, Veneema, Winner, & Sheridan, 2013).  Key to making this viable is bringing in artists’ strategies and research methods into an inquiry-based setting (Marshall & Donahue, 2014, 20-21).  For example, cross-pollinating artists such as Mark Bradford, research history such as the Civil War and twist it with modern material of billboard paper that he layers and removes, like the form of history itself.  In Marshall and Donahue’s, Art Centered Learning Across Curriculum, they stress that the purposes, methods, forms and knowledge of disciplines through research enable students to explore different fields (2014, p. 16-18, 24).  Part of this inquiry process involves giving students choices about the path for their art process.  Offering choice is a proven way to increase motivation and impart a sense of autonomy (Woolfolk, 2019; Dravenstadt, 2018).

As a working artist, I want my room to be a studio environment where students use artists’ strategies incorporating non-linear stages of the creative process such as preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, 2013, p. 79-80).  The Eight Studio Habits of Mind of developing craft, engaging and persisting, understanding art worlds, stretching and exploring, reflecting, observing, expressing and envisioning are also essential to guide students to think like artists (Hetland et al., 2013, p. 135).  I will encourage them to experiment wildly and widely as we travel the path into the unknown together, asking questions.


Bates, J. K. (2000). Becoming an Art Teacher. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Bourriard, N. (2009). The Radicant. New York, NY: Lucas & Sternberg.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997, 2013). Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
         New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Dravenstadt, D. W. (2018). Learning to let go: motivating students through fluid teaching in a
       choice-based found object
assemblage unit. Art Education, 71(5), 8-13.
Hetland, L., Veneema, S., Winner, E., & Sheridan, K.M. (2013). Studio thinking 2: The real
        benefits of visual arts education.
New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Marshall, J., & Donahue, D. (2014). Art-Centered Learning Across the Curriculum: Integrating
        Contemporary Art in the Secondary School Classroom.
New York, NY: Teachers College
        Press, Columbia University.
Woolfolk, A. (2019). Educational Psychology, 14th ed. New York, NY: Pearson.
Wroe, N. (2011, March 22). A life in art: Anselm Kiefer. The Guardian. Retrieved from