About Katie Garner

Katie Garner is a middle school teacher in Huntington Beach, California. She teaches English Language Arts and Social Studies for 6th and 7th grade.

In high school, I was taught how to see. The best art teacher I have ever had stood in front of the class and gave us the simplest explanation as to why our drawings and paintings did not look lifelike. The images being recorded on our pages were symbols of what we thought pictures should look like. When drawing a human face, eyes are generally oversized, as this is the part of the face that our brain most focuses on in real life. Hair is drawn as straw-like strands because, in our mind, hair comes in singular strands. Trees are drawn perfectly symmetrical with a cloud-like puff to represent the leaves on the upper half of the page.

My art teacher inspired me to take a closer look at the visual world. She taught me that the smallest details make life beautiful—a lesson I have found valuable far beyond the artistic spectrum. Slowly, my symbolic images began to look more and more lifelike. I was understanding symmetry and ratios and how they applied to visuals I looked at every day, but had never before really “seen.”

The vast majority of my students were uncomfortable translating words to pictures. Click To Tweet

I knew when I got into education that I wanted to take the lessons my art teacher had given me and incorporate them into my own classroom. When we are doing readings in my English class, I encourage my students to try to put the visual images their mind creates onto paper. I noticed, however, that the vast majority of my students were uncomfortable translating words to pictures. They had no artistic confidence. I discovered that this was due to the fact that there was no art program offered at the school. I knew I had to change that.

I created the school’s first art club so I could pass on the wisdom my art teacher had given to me. I had never been trained in teaching art, so I used the knowledge I had, some books on art education, and my own passion to encourage my students. I told them to practice by going outside and learning relationship and perspective of the visuals around them. Still, my encouraging words are often met with the most discouraging of statements:

“I’m just bad at art.”

Every time I hear these words, I try to explain to my students that they just have not learned how to look at the small details. You would never expect to master Algebra if you had not been taught multiplication, and art is no different. Try as I might, many of my students could not move past the fact that they have decided they are “bad” at art, and there is no way for them to change that.

Art has powerful impacts on children’s development. Click To Tweet

The sad fact is, in many schools that lack funding, fine art classes are cut in order to focus on subjects covered in the Common Core standards. Art is thought of as a luxury. In reality, art has powerful impacts on children’s development. It encourages them to practice fine motor skills and improves decision making abilities. The fact that these formal courses are cut from primary education means students are missing out on opportunities to better themselves academically from a young age. Without art, our students are not learning to embrace the creativity and inventiveness that comes with practicing fine arts.

Without art, our students are not learning to see.

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