A Vision for Art Education Part Three: Authenticity


Vision 3


There is a renaissance happening in art education today. It’s a rebirth of concepts and methods that originated as grassroots efforts by art teachers in the 1970s but got overshadowed by the Getty Foundation and Discipline Based Arts Education (DBAE) in the 1980s. Like its beginnings, this renaissance is being led by art teachers who want more for their students than making art through a teacher-directed lesson. They want their students to take part in the full process through making choices, demonstrating their voices and creating authentic art. In short, the vision these teachers have for the future of art education lies not so much in their students making art but rather working as artists.


Authentic Art Making

To be an artist means deciding ‘how’ and ‘why’ a work of art will be created. This, by definition, is the authentic art making process. It is what we as art teachers do when we create art. Having our students create authentic art should be our objective.

In order to meet our objective, there are several areas of control that we need to release to our students. The first area to release is the ‘why’. This is the meaning and purpose the artist defines when making art. It is not uncommon for the traditional art teacher to provide her students with the ‘why’. However, the purpose for the art being created should originate from the artist.

The second area of control to release is the ‘how’. If our goal is to have our students create authentic art, we must provide them the freedom to make decisions about the materials they will use and the way in which they will use them. The traditional art teacher will often decide what materials the students will use for a project. This decision can often be so specific to include the exact size of the paper. We need to relinquish this control and let the students decide what media will best express the purpose of their art.
let students choose media

No Techniques or Lessons?

Relinquishing control over the ‘why’ and ‘how’ does not mean art teachers don’t provide direction or challenge students with limitations. Quite the opposite is true. We certainly need to provide instruction on proper use of materials and techniques and skills. However, we need to make sure these teacher-led lessons are there only as a means to an end. We need to be cautious that our skill-building lessons do not become projects. We should teach skills so students can use them as tools for creating their art.

The Dreaded ‘T’ Word

The renaissance I referred to in my opening sentence is Teaching for Artistic Behaviors or TAB.  Some see TAB as the dreaded ‘T’ word. They wrongly misunderstand TAB as being the equivalent of putting out supplies and letting students do what they like. Others equate TAB to full choice. They make remarks such as, “I’m not TAB. I’m modified choice.” TAB is neither of these. TAB is about teaching students to both understand as well as engage in activities as artists. It’s about allowing students to create authentic art.
The future of art education will consist of students making choices about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ in their art making processes. Projects will no longer be extensions of lessons in the elements and principles of art. These will be reduced to mini-lessons to demonstrate techniques as they were originally intended to be taught. A paradigm shift in thinking from product-based projects to process-based thinking will occur. We will no longer be interested in ‘making art’ but rather in ‘making artists’.

How do you make artists in your classroom?

What is the hardest aspect of control for you to give up?



As Amanda mentioned on Tuesday, after two years and nearly one hundred articles, I am stepping down as a contributing author for the Art of Education. I have enjoyed working alongside Jessica and the rest of the AOE team. What a wonderful and talented group dedicated to providing Ridiculously Relevant professional development for art teachers! 

Likewise, I have enjoyed reading all the comments and email you, the readers, have posted and sent. One of the best aspects of writing for AOE is that it has never been a one-way street but rather an engaging dialogue between art teachers everywhere. I would like to thank everyone for allowing me the opportunity to start those conversations.

[email protected] Artists!

Ian Sands


Ian Sands


This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Heather Alexander

    I have been reading and researching what TAB is really all about. I am inspired to get there and redesign my thinking. #TLAP I’m learning that I don’t have to throw out what is the important content of the old projects, but shift the decision making to the students. Continue to demonstrate the methods of construction, embellishment materials and techniques, then have students practice and demonstrate for formative assessment. Use the same historical examples, but spend more time exploring how the vessels were utilized, “why were they made?” What role does the handmade object have in 21st century life? What I am kicking around is turning the summative assignment over to the students to design, plan and build their own work. The project rubric criteria needs to become less specific – backing up right to the language of the standards. The students can work together to complete the language of the levels of achievement. Okay, after a comment this long I need to work on my neglected blog!

  • Dora C. May

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and practice with us. You inspire me. I am going to teach my last few years returning to what influenced me to become an art teacher in the first place! Going to make some artists, inventors, and innovators!

  • Thanks for 2 years and nearly 100 amazing articles, Ian. We had some great times, and it was an honor getting to know you and your beautiful wife. You will be missed!

  • Hi Ian, Nice articles you’ve written over the years. You have a lot of thought provoking ideas. Now I may be stirring the pot with this question but while there have been many articles about introducing more choice, more student-directed authentic art .. Art of Ed has also posted many strongly teacher-directed lesson plans… birch bark trees, color wheel projects, Mondrian collages. I’m wondering what Art of Ed feels is best. Can you do both?

    • Can we do these projects as a way to learn techniques and materials for a few days, then turn them loose to make what they’d like? I have not had such great luck in the past with this (“Can we write our names in paint now?”). I wonder if we could list our objectives for the directed projects (mix paint, incorporate balance, make art that has no identifiable subject), then turn them loose with the same objectives. I have had success with letting kids choose projects more and more as the year goes on (2nd semester–“modified choice?”). Suggestions?

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  • Abby Fliehler

    Such an inspiring article and such a reminder that is art come from the mind of the artist-it is not just following the recipe. At the end of this school year I had students vote on their favorite part of the school year in art and the overwhelming winner was “getting to choose how we make our projects!” that is all the reinforcement. It may be more challenging to assess “measurable data” this way but if you know what it takes to make art you can see that students are growing in technique, problem solving and most importantly CREATIVITY! I have turned my best guided projects into practice centers to learn techniques and it has made a tremendous difference. The students are ready to go on their own idea after a demonstration can be turned loose and the students who need a refresher or more practice can work with me on the guided lesson-it is so amazing to see them gain confidence and then get an original idea from it to go work after they feel comfortable with a technique. The best part of our job is that we have students year after year so as these techniques build, we will get to see their growth in originality and technique first hand. I’m SO excited to see what kind of art my kindergartners will be doing by 5th grade, I’m already impressed with what has happened this year and what amazing work my youngest students can do. I wish more teachers would understand that the cookie cutter art isn’t what a true artist does and contributes to young artists thinking they “aren’t good at art” because it doesn’t look like the rest of the class’s project. Your articles are great advocacy for those of us trying to improve problem solving and creativity in our classrooms!!!

  • HipWaldorf

    Ian, I have enjoyed thinking deeply with you. Both here at AOE as well as on the FB art teachers group. Enjoy your next adventure! Steph Brooks

  • erica stiniziani

    Wow I’m gonna miss your insight… You have a truly unique voice. Sometimes I would hop over to AOE for the sole purpose to see what’s going on in the Ian Sand’s art world. Today when I hopped over to read your article I saw you are moving on in the comments!!! You will be greatly missed and I look forward to reading your insights on the art teachers FB page! I love your perspective, it was refreshing. Now I need a moment :(:( waaaahhhhh

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