Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where did that idea come from?

So often, I see lessons posted that I've seen before 'somewhere'. Earlier this week I was going through a binder of lesson ideas clipped from magazines for many years, and so today's post features a little sampling of what I found, that I've all seen recently on the blogs.

How many times have you seen this 'falling backwards' lesson?  Sometimes it's called falling into space, or falling into water, or foreshortening, or... you get the idea.  I first came across this lesson idea in a May 1985 Arts & Activities page where it was mentioned pictured to the left), but if you read the text, you'll see that the lesson was first featured in the September 1984 issue.  While I began teaching art in 1976, I was in a high school position until June 1985, so this lesson idea was probably one of the first things I clipped and saved.  And I've done various versions of this project over the years, with various media, but I've never posted any. I figured everyone has seen it before in one version or another.

So go ahead, post your versions, but please don't say you invented the idea! (You didn't.) After all, this magazine first published the lesson 28 years ago!!!!  And maybe it was somewhere else even before that!

And how about this much used Louise Nevelson lesson idea, in the left-hand photo below, from Spark magazine in 1994? (I posted my own version in this post from 2010.)

 Or this Laurel Burch lesson, in the right-hand photo above, from a School Arts article published in March 1999?  If you read the article, you will see it also references Matisse (Henri Matisse & Laurel Burch are both personal favorites), and the technique used is a drawing with white glue on black paper, which after drying is colored with pastel chalks.   You've all tried that technique, haven't you?! 

Then there's these 3 articles below,all from School Arts magazine, April 2000, April 2001, and April 2005
I actually collected shoes after I saw one of these articles, and my 6th graders did a fabulous sculptural painted project, re-imagining the shoes they brought in.  Stupidly, I have no photos, and since it was probably in the early 2000's, any remnant of these shoes in the art room are long since gone.

So many times I've seen lessons in magazines, or on the internet, that I've seen... and seen... and seen again.  If you've read School Arts and/or Arts & Activities for as many years as I have, you've undoubtedly seen lessons repeated many times with minor variations (or have posted a variation yourself), from coil pots, to mirror image names, to kaleidoscopic drawings, to taking lines for a walk, to Matisse goldfish bowls (I posted mine here and here), to Klimt trees, to Kandinsky circles, to Van Gogh starry nights, to Monet Japanese bridges, to collaborative circle paintings, to Mondrian animals, to dancing giraffes, to Wayne Thiebaud cakes (I posted mine here), to woven pouches (I posted mine here and here)...  you get the idea. I think I'd better stop.

And that's OK.  We don't always need to reinvent the wheel, and it's always miraculous to see kindergartners paint sunflowers, no matter how many times it's been done before, isn't it?  So keep on posting that wonderful student artwork, and your versions of the tried and true, but keep showing us your original ideas too!. 

Sometimes, I find wonderful original ideas, or interesting twists on old standards, when perusing the blogs.  Maybe it's Artful Artsy Amy's wonderful negative space value study paintings of bicycles painted on old maps, or Art Project Girl's creative version of Andy Goldsworthy, or these wonderful Matisse-style paintings on wallpaper at Fun Art 4 Kids, or Mr. MintArt's gorgeous notans, or Cassie Stephens' clever cuckoo clocks, or Art With Mr. Hall's value landscapes done on the computer.  And I'm only scratching the surface of what's out there. 

Where did your ideas source from originally?  Do you save decades-old magazine articles like I do?  Do you see the articles repeat themselves after a while?  What sparks an original idea?


  1. Wow, I can't imagine anyone claiming that they are the sole "originator" of any art lesson. Since the beginning of art history, artists learn from other artists, then these ideas and images grow and mutate as they pass through the brains and hands of each new artist.
    I think it is also important to remember that although some projects may have "been done" countless times before, it is always new FOR THE STUDENT. Sometimes we teachers get a little bored with teaching the same thing over and over and we need change for our own entertainment, and that's great, as long as we are still primarily focused on the students' experience and what works best for them.
    I often publish similar lessons year after year, because my audience of parents changes with each school year. I want the parents of my students to be able to see what is current in their child's art class, and many of my lessons are favorites every year, so I continue to repost, even though it may be boring for the other art teachers. The students also love seeing their work posted.
    What sparks an original idea for me? Whatever it is, it has certainly been filtered through countless images from artists and art educators I have experienced throughout my life.

    1. Wow, Hope, I hope you didn't think I was being critical of anyone posting these tried and true lesson ideas. I personally will never tire of seeing those kid versions of Matisse's goldfish, or Klimt's Tree of Life.

      I was just intrigued by how some of these great ideas have been recycled over decades. Thank you for your terrific response, and the reminder that everything is still going to be new for each batch of kids that enters your classroom. Well put!

    2. No, I didn't think that at all. I agree with you about people trying to "own" a lesson idea that has been handed down in various forms for years. Believe me, I have upgraded my lessons many times over since discovering blogging and pinterest, all for the benefit of my students. I do think it is important and try to always thank other teachers when I have been influenced by their take on something that I then used. So much talent out there is really helping to keep things fresh for those of us who have been at it a while...

  2. Is "Spark" magazine still in print? I've never heard of that one. Funny, I was just contemplating doing the falling away lesson with my students to focus on space.

    1. I don't think so. At least not the Spark magazine that this came from.

  3. I so agree! I have seen the same lesson for years.

  4. A couple of years ago, I inherited a treasure trove of School Arts and Arts and Activities magazines from the 60s and 70s. I cannot bear to throw them away. I even like looking at the ads! I did a Henry Moore cast plaster lesson from one of them and published it on my blog.

    There are some fabulous lessons in there, and I think School Arts and A&A should scan some really old issues and put them online.

  5. I've had teachers ask me if it was "ok" to use "my idea." I always say absolutely, because I probably took it from somewhere else to start!