Studio Art

The following presentation synthesizes the concepts in Studio Art. Also included at the bottom of the page are student examples of papers synthesizing this information.

Studio Art Notes

Studio Art 002

Early Art Summary Comments from Papers:

Studio Art Discussion Questions (word)     Studio Art Discussion Questions (pdf)

Studio Art Paper Assessment

Early Art Summary Comments from Papers

–Art doesn’t have to be a “special activity” for the talented! (Which many people think it is unfortunately.) Perhaps if art was a “daily endeavor” more people would not be “afraid” of engaging in art experiences.

–Art is important. Children aren’t just ‘playing’ but are creating, and learning how to be critical thinkers. Even though none of the people I interviewed grew up to be artists, they still felt that art helped with problem solving, critical thinking, and understanding. Hearing about other peoples art experiences and my own I found that encouragement from parents and teachers allows kids to explore, imagine, and communicate.

–Consider how art and play are similar. Do they share some of the same basic “characteristics”?   Is it important for children to be involved in these types of activities? Why? (This is a question you’ll need to address as a future art teacher.)

–Pride seems to me to be an important characteristic of art. Also, you can’t have pride in your artwork unless you have ownership!

–Repetition is one of the most important factors in learning.

–With regard to “represented form”—young children will draw what “works” and is pleasing to them as opposed to drawing something from observation.

–Most students are not intrinsically motivated by “assignments”. Why?

–Art teachers need to challenge students, but at the same time they have to be careful not to frustrate them. Consider how you will need to create this balance in your art teaching. A good art teacher knows when to challenge and when to nurture the creative process.

–The relationship between materials and maker is an important component in the art making process.

–The “transformation of materials” is essential for a work of art to be successful.

–Art can help us achieve a personal goal about whom we are and who we are going to become.

–Consider how you might offer “choice” in the art experiences you will develop for your students.

–The person making the decisions is the person learning.

–Problem solving is something I still use daily in my artwork especially while trying to simplify complex designs and ideas I generate. Consider the importance of problem posing.

–True learning is an integration of many disciplines.

–In the 3rd and 4th grades children get very self-conscious about their art. It would seem that, because of this, the art teacher might consider the importance of teaching children how to draw.

–Art is about making our ideas concrete.

–Learning a new method of making art in combination with learning real world applications helps the art experience.

–Passion is an important element in making art. Art involves being: Passionate, Pertinent and Personal.

–For art to be meaningful it has to be personal. Students have to have a connection to the art they make!

–All of our experiences occurred under adult supervision but were left without
specific rules in order to encourage creativity and experimentation as growing
artists. Creating art in these encouraging environments allowed all of us as
children to make our own decisions involving aesthetics and subject matter. The
guidance and encouragement paired with limited restrictions made all of our
early art experiences memorable in a positive way.


The first project for the semester was given without instruction. The professor simply told us to “do” for one hour every day until the critique, two weeks later.  We were directed to consider the pure act of doing without thought of a final piece.  The idea being the act of doing would generate a final piece without sketches and “pre–plan thinking”.  My action was sewing and hopefully it would generate enough material to amass a final piece for the fateful critique.

We were to be “doers”.  We were asked to “do” without any conscious meaning.  It was to be a repetitive act that we integrated into our day.  We became the class of makers.  Sewing became an unconscious act for the first hour or so.  With no direction or plan I went through about ten yards of material simply making pouches and sewing the pieces together.  I did it over and over again that hour.

It would be wonderful to say that my mind did not race that first hour after I stepped away from the machine. I became somewhat tormented by the little bags of red satin I had made and thrown over the kitchen floor.  For two days it went on the same way.  However, with time I began to experiment with different shapes, fillers and thread size and began to think critically of what I was doing.  Why the red satin?  Why sewing?  Where had those shapes come from?  Where had I gotten the shapes from?  Such thoughts pulled me into thinking about who I was and allowed me to place the pillows into a construct of myself; my very identity.  The book, Studio Art, states that “praxis is a dialectic between critical reflection and action” (Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 9).  Did I gain understanding from my actions?  In more than one way I was able to understand the action of sewing.  I not only taught myself new techniques, but I was also concerned with the inner ideas I had been “reviewing” in my mind.

Was this experience Buber’s notion of the originator instinct?  According to Buber, what a child desires (in this case an adult) is its own share in this becoming of things (in Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 3).  I had created something that had not existed before, using my own ideas and experiences.  I had, in fact, discovered something of myself and in turn was creating something that was my life.  Artistic causality is described by the idea of “I am what I do,” or “I am what I make” (Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 18).  The artist makes all of the choices and ultimately decides the outcome.  My sculpture professor not only turned us into makers, but she also granted us complete control of the process and outcome of the art work.

I became very protective of my pillows (verbally defending them) and began to construct them into a final piece without even realizing it.  The very idea of a pillow renders comfort or sleep and I used this sign to develop the idea of the inter-connected comfort pillow.  I had to place this pillow into the constructs of meaning—a symbol.  According to Langer, “symbol-making is rooted in the human mind’s capability to synthesize, delay and modify our reactions, whether to objects, events or other creatures” (Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 11).  I needed to place all those little signs into what I was thinking and feeling.  I placed them into a form that allowed for a variety of reactions from myself and others.  “The prime function of symbols in art is that we make them abstractions of life rhythms for our intellectual intuition; their second function is to allow us to manipulate concepts” (Zurmuehlen, 1990, pp. 12-13).  Langer discusses two types of articulation in order to understand how ideas are communicated. The first, being discursive, is presented in a linear fashion, such as language.  My finished piece, being a visual image, would be a non-discursive symbol according to Langer.  These she called presentation symbols, “in them symbolic elements are understood only through the meaning of the whole” (Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 12).  These two articulations are what make a critique possible.  The discursive element allows the viewer to gather knowledge and the non-discursive allows the viewer to sense and feel the emotion of the piece as a whole.  The naming of the piece was symbol oriented as well.  In its simplest form of the symbol a name allows one to come back to the piece without even seeing it.

When we finished with our critiques we had a photography session and would later use the images to recall the work we created throughout the semester.  The slide show of images brought several interesting points into view.  For one, the slide enabled the class to discuss my piece at further length without viewing the actual work.  Did each class member follow Irwin’s progression from the perception stage to the formalized stage?  I think this happened at the initial viewing of the work in its entirety.  However, how does one “re-register” the information when it is transferred to a slide or photograph?  The abstraction of the art work to a two-dimensional format is for Irwin, according to Weschler, a loss, “…any gain in practical efficiency or social utility is accompanied by a loss of real information” (in Zurmuehlen, 1990, p 16).  This statement is further enhanced by Whitehead’s concern that, “when we mistake an abstraction for the real thing, then that real thing is concealed, or in Irwin’s terms we have lost presence to abstraction” (in Zurmuehlen, 1990, p. 16).  The practicality of the slides or other works of art that are photographed in no way compares to the real thing.  I often recognized this idea; however, I was never able to consider why this may be true.  Irwin states, “…is about seeing—about ‘feeling’, and determining aesthetically…It doesn’t just happen to us—we make it happen” (in Zurmuehlen, 1990, p.17).

The first time a saw a Jackson Pollock painting I couldn’t get my mind around the sheer size of the thing.  I had seen pictures of this painting in a book and memorized its dimensions but the information had not yielded any justification for what I was seeing.  I believe this experience coincides with Irwin’s theory of seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.  This idea relates in part to the slide exhibition for our sculpture class.  We were to see these images as if for the first time and consider them as the real work of art.

First the making, then the naming, then finally, seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.  My professor had unwittingly placed her students into the childlike realm of art making.  I discovered things about why I do the things I do; why I am attracted to certain elements, and how this process plays a role in all things made.  Pollock said it best when he said, “I am art.”  I have a rational understanding of the processes involved in the making of art from my experience with pillows.  This reflective process of writing about my experience, along with the aid of new terminology, has given me the insight to further witness the processes involved with art making more deliberately.  I was maker, doer, and observer, and can therefore consider the applications of someone else’s art work through these theories.


Zurmuehlen, M. (1990). Studio art: Praxis, symbol, presence. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.



Creating a Clay Pot

In her book Studio Art, Zurmuehlen discusses the process of creativity as being an investigation of the external world, which advances into an exploration of the Self.  Conscious awareness is an active process creating mental dialogue.  External simulations make an impression on the mind, which are then subjectively transformed, regrouped and interrelated to produce meaning.  The creative process enhances the learning capability of young children.  Children learn from their observations of their surrounding world.  Through sensory experiences children explore their world.  The information that is collected is manipulated in ways that aid in their clarification of it.  The interchange between sensory experiences and mental faculties produces an understanding that is expressed in various ways.  The elements in the creative process involve observations, consciously and unconsciously placing the information, manipulating the material into a symbolic representation, and then transcending all intentional symbolization to bring about ‘idiosyncratic meaning’.  In one specific art experience, I came to understand the creative process discussed by Zurmuehlen, and why it is vital to the art making experience.

Through my studies in Art History, I came to know the visual language of art.  I became very knowledgeable about the different periods in art history, and how artistic expression varied from movement to movement.  My research led to an awareness of the visual language used by various artists’, but it did not provide me with an understanding of how the elements of the creative process become vital to art making.  I had never connected with the experiences that are involved in the making process, nor did I understand how perceptions and conceptions are transformed through the visual language in ways that mean something wholly independent of their origins.  However, my understanding of why and how artists’ involve themselves in the creative process transpired through my own involvement in the creative process of a pot.  As I moved through the different elements of the process, I connected my knowledge of art and art history to the understanding of artistic expression.

I was given an assignment to create an anthropomorphic pot that embodied personal insight of the surrounding world.  I was stuck.  It was difficult for me to begin expressing my inner perceptions about my world.  I knew the visual language, but I did not know how to apply it. Frustration became an increasing factor with the production of my pot.  After a long and tedious start of thinking and experimenting with several ideas, I finally turned to what I was most familiar with, the work of other artists’.  I opened my art history books and inquisitively search for a similar form that connected with my idea.  After investigating and finding several pieces that inspired me, I began my art making.  I rolled slabs, built various shapes of different sizes, and tore them down.  I participated in this process until I found a shape that fit my idea. Zurmuehlen discusses the importance of “art as praxis”, and the importance of observation to activate the creative process. She states that “…the concept of repetition as the most rudimentary aesthetic structure…[establishes] an emerging form…Another salient quality of repeated actions is that they happen in extended time, duration, and so may be occasions for acts of attention…”(pp. 2-3).  My repeated activity with the clay complemented by my knowledge of other artists’ work enabled me to fabricate my ideas in a visual experience.  I progressed from what Zurmuehlen explains as the process of “doing vs. making”. Where before I was becoming familiar with the material and the plasticity of the clay, just “doing”, I advanced into the making process in which reflective and unreflective thought converge.  The more I manipulated the clay and thought about what inspired me, the more it became my own.  I became the “originator”.

The relationship between my inner artist and the medium blossomed into an “intentional symbolization”.  Because it was an anthropomorphic pot assignment, I was shaping the clay into a symbol that represented the human anatomy.  Other students could approach my pot and immediately relate to what it symbolized.  It was a body with two breasts, a stomach and buttocks.  Zurmuehlen discusses the natural transformation of impressions into symbols and signs.  She states that, “any meaningful term has connotations, associations that the conception conveys.  Thus, we are able to think about an object without its presence, without reacting overtly because the connotation remains with the symbol” (p.12).  External stimulations make an impression on the mind, which are then subjectively transformed, regrouped and interrelated to produce meaning. Such transformations in the brain produce a physiology that requires signs and symbols for interpretation.  The mental capability to transform concepts into symbols is an inherent process of the human mind.  There are hundreds of linguistic expressions due to the aptitude of the brain.  These expressions are acquired through the cultural structures of humanity. Through formal operations of discourse the semantic level becomes abstracted into metaphoric formulation.  It moves into a symbolic level before entering into the epistemological dimension. The development of my anthropological pot was a direct link to the impressions of external experiences.  My knowledge of the human body and of the human body in the history of art motivated my organization of my pot. I was familiar with the concept of the anatomy in terms of a symbolic representation.  The further I investigated my knowledge of the human form, the further I transcended my idealization of the anatomy into an understanding of intellectual insight.

My continuous involvement with the material permitted a progression in my conception of the human body.  My idea became more abstract and advanced from a symbolic representation to an internal dialogue with “idiosyncratic meaning”.  Comparable to a poet writing a poem, I began to construct a visual reality that metaphorically elicited internal dialogue about external stimulants. The process became “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”.  I became completely absorbed in the pot so that the whole experience of the creative process from the praxis to the intentional symbolization and to the present became a single happening.  I came to the realization that the different occurrences pertaining to life act as points of departure for the formulation of a complete harmonic composition, rendered by the basic elements of a visual language.  Similar to words of conventional language, visual language communicates what is conceptually articulated in a visual form.  The artist utilizes the basic elements of art to depict the infinite realities of human experience.  Zurmuehlen interprets the translation of sensory experience to mental operations when she discusses “Art as Presence”.  The basic elements of a visual language are composed to form higher levels of cognition, which in turn constructs various levels of organized meaning.  Sense adapters contribute to the high levels of cognition by translating experiences in time and space.  Whether it is sound, touch, smell or vision, the stimulant perceived creates a universal generality that the mind can mold into something comprehensible.

The creative process in its entirety is a crucial role to the understanding of art.  My experience in creating a pot led me through the different stages encouraging an expression that gave an accurate description of content.  My knowledge of art matured into an understanding of the making of art and the importance of constructing idiosyncratic meaning from external experiences.  This understanding is essential for art education. Students should utilize their own experiences as points of departure for their making of art.  Experiencing the different stages of the creative process and the emotions that are entailed is crucial for the connection between the individual and their art.  A successful work of art is fluent communication, which is a comprehension of various realities.  Because the creative process is complex, knowledge of art as a visual language goes hand in hand with the actual art making.  Art resembles a poem, but it is a poem without words.


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