The Art Studio at the Detroit Institute of Arts offers classes and workshops for the public, museum visitors, and school and community groups in a broad range of art media at beginning to advanced levels. We offer classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, clay (hand-building and wheel-throwing), bookmaking, paper arts, and many other disciplines. Our staff of professional artists develops and teaches our programs.
In our classes, making a simple pinch pot becomes an exploration of the properties of the clay, stretching the boundaries of the hand’s work and the form’s potential for use, meaning and expression. The final product is never as important as what has been learned in the process and the questions, interest and confidence the process stimulates in the student.
We work with a very diverse population of students, from young Detroit children whose elementary schools provide no art classes, to local community group members, including mental health groups, drug rehabilitation programs, the homeless, veterans, teens and seniors. We also teach registered classes for adults and youth in various media. We adapt our teaching to the needs of our students, but follow a few basic principles to fully realize the potential for learning and stimulation in each particular project.
Who We Are
The Art Education Studio Staff at the DIA is comprised of local working artists with experience teaching in many different venues, including art workshops and projects with and within the local community. Because of our diverse backgrounds and familiarity with different media, we continuously educate one another as we collaborate to develop projects and curriculum involving these various media. This ongoing process further enriches us as teachers and learners.
How We Teach
Many of our students, though of all ages and different backgrounds, come to us with very little or no art-making experience at all. As we have developed our teaching approach to encourage these beginners, we have found that the same approach can be applied beneficially to more experienced students as well. We follow a few simple principles in the projects we teach.
We work to establish an atmosphere of calm attentiveness. We ask students to give whoever is speaking their full attention. With this in mind we make efforts to remove unnecessary distractions and also carefully plan each session so that it flows in a relaxed but orderly fashion. To maintain this learning atmosphere, we teach in pairs, with one teacher acting as lead, the other as assistant, any programs or non-registered classes (such as Art Discovery, Studio Days, Camp Days, Community Group visits, etc.) which exceed twelve to fifteen students. This obviously also allows students more individual attention from the teachers. Our teaching is not only informed by our extensive teaching experience, but also by an art viewing method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), employed by our docents at the DIA, who usually tour our visiting groups before their studio session. This viewing method encourages groups of art museum visitors to perceive and develop the narrative of an artwork by grounding their observations in visual evidence they see displayed in the art object itself. Rather than simply providing visitors with objective information, this process stimulates the viewer to think critically, and ask grounded questions while forming a sense of personal connection with the art.
Preliminary to the actual work, we find a way to open students’ perceptions and/or provoke personal narratives. This may happen by asking stimulating questions and probing for details and descriptions to aid visualization. This peer group discussion also helps germinate creative thinking among the students in the process of sharing different ideas.
When we demonstrate the properties of a particular project or medium we involve the students’ ideas as well as their hands as much as possible, keeping our own input to a minimum. We do this by asking for help from the students, offering the materials to them to try for themselves and by rephrasing and redirecting their questions back to them for consideration. The constant objective is to uncover and reinforce the student’s individual expression and encourage a sense of their own agency over the materials.
As we observe students working, we avoid cursory affirmations in favor of asking each about their ideas and intentions. Simply showing genuine interest is much more effective as a means of encouragement; and the process of verbalizing thoughts can be very helpful for creative problem solving when a student feels blocked or frustrated. When time permits, we also encourage students to share their work by showing, describing and explaining it to the rest of the group at the end of the session.