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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

IGCSE Art And Design, What It Is All About?

Art helps us see connections and brings a more coherent meaning to our world. - Earnest Boyer, President, Carnegie Foundation

Maths and science have been the main focus of various schools in Malaysia. For this reason, art subject is often being pushed into the background. To most parents and students, art is often considered as an “inferior” or “unimportant” subject. Little do they know that art can be used to enhance critical thinking and analytical skills.

When teachers promote critical thinking and encourage questions from students through art, they grow in multiple ways. There are many good reasons to focus on art, one of them is students learn to sharpen their observational skills and become better problem solvers.

In Asia, the common approaches to art education in traditional schools often stress on building art skills by practising various techniques over and over again, until the students have perfected those techniques. For example still-life drawing, scenery painting, or copying the master’s art pieces. Many times, the ability to paint is seen as more important than the emotional expression of thoughts, creativity and intuition.

However, in the West, the approach to teaching art requires students to apply critical thinking skills to construct new knowledge, and transfer their new understanding to different contexts so deeper learning can take place. In other words, the concept of art is more important than a piece of decorative painting without a clear context. Art is centred around artist personal expression, creativity and intention. Such practice is found in Western educational programs such as IGCSE, IB, Canadian and Australian education programs just to name a few.

Therefore, a Western curriculum such as IGCSE requires a more interactive teaching style. One way to achieve the best student learning outcome is to encourage class discussion. Student-centred teaching is preferred because students must learn to take control of their learning. Effective questioning is necessary to help teachers find out their students' strengths and weaknesses. Through class discussions, students will learn to see the different roles of art play in different societies across cultures.

In IGCSE Art & Design course, students learn that art is much more than just appreciating the aesthetic values of a piece of painting or drawing. No doubt, having the necessary skills to create beautiful paintings are important. But the ideas, concepts and insights behind a piece of an artwork are actually what the examiners look for when assessing a student’s work. On top of that, students are also required to understand the different art movements that have helped shape the modern day art. Through learning various artists’ work, students are given the opportunity to experiment with different art concepts, techniques and styles. They also learn to evaluate and critic their own work more accurately.

The IGCSE art syllabus allows students to explore creative thinking using analytical skills through various art projects. Students not only work on how to paint, but they must demonstrate their understanding in developing their body of work, from artist research to modifying artistic ideas to the final art piece. Students are required to record and explain the progress of their work in their sketchbooks so that they can gain a broader understanding of the various perspectives in art.

The Western approaches to art education are really about “observing and studying” art. Researching the art world through the analysis of artworks that the students have not been exposed to will certainly help them to become more open-minded and culturally sensitive. The reason why Western education programs incorporate critical thinking skills into art subject is that such skills are crucial for living life. In fact, the skills students learned in the art room can be applied to all other subjects as well. To sum up, art is not just for art’s sake. It’s about the art of thinking and living.

Article published in Dreamic Educational Magazine, 2018.

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