Let’s Face It: Your Students Aren’t Going to Be Artists

When I was in 7th grade, a sketchbook assignment invited me to “draw what you want to be when you grow up.” I aspired to be a dentist and vividly drew a dental scene. I’m sure my art teacher never thought I’d turn out to be an art teacher, but somehow I did. This can be said for most of our students. Do we really expect them to grow up to become artists? I can honestly say, “No.” I do not step into my classroom each day with the mentality of creating professional artists. It’s not that I don’t want my students to become artists, but I’d rather provide ALL students skills they can use in their future.

Check out these 7 skills art education provides.

1. Design Thinking Skills

We use design thinking strategies constantly in the art room. The design thinking mindset isn’t problem focused, it’s solution focused which allows for forward thinking. Unlike critical thinking, design thinking seeks to build up ideas not break them down. This skill can come in handy in almost any profession. Emphasize this process in your teaching for the future architects and engineers in your classroom!

2. Trade Skills

saw blade
Many art rooms could be mistaken for hardware stores due to the number of tools found within. For many of our students, the art room might be the first place they explore some of these tools. I first used a table saw as a freshman in high school to create canvases in my art class. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be able to use a table saw as effectively as I can today.

While some trade skills will be used more than others, they are still beneficial to learn. In my college sculpture class, I learned to acetylene weld, which is a skill I have never used outside that class. However, from this experience, one of my other classmates found an affinity for welding and became an ironworker, not an artist.

3. Problem-Solving Skills

One of the best things about art-making is the idea of multiple solutions to one problem. We live in a world of complex problems waiting to be solved. Challenging students to solve problems is a constant in the art room. If you’re not sure you are providing this skill to your students, give them an identical set of materials with a simple prompt to create the same thing. You’ll be shocked to see all the different solutions!

4. Collaboration Skills

students working together on mural
There will never be a time when your students won’t be asked to work together. Whether it’s in their future careers or organizations, they will be asked to collaborate. The art room is a wonderful place to explore collaboration because many ideas often come together to make one great idea! Giving your students opportunities to work on collaborative projects will arm them with skills that will most certainly benefit their future endeavors.

5. Color Theory Skills

One of the most important skills art teachers teach is the concept of color theory. Besides being important in the art-making process, it can help in other areas of life. Before diving into color, I always point out real life situations to my students to help them better understand why it’s important. Without a knowledge of color, picking out an outfit to wear would be difficult, decorating a home or business might be challenging, and the color choices used in marketing and advertising might not sell a product. These simple situations show how we use and interact with color daily!

6. Patience

paint tubes
There are many remarkable art-making techniques and processes that we get to share with our students. Some of the processes students enjoy most, like printmaking or batik, are those that take time and patience. Through these experiences, students learn in order to be successful, they must be careful and thorough.

7. Risk-Taking Skills

Art allows students to take risks, explore, and venture outside the norm. In the art room, students can actually create a world that doesn’t exist. As part of this adventure, art causes students to leave their inhibitions behind and try something – even if they might fail. In the failures come some of the greatest learning moments that will serve as a skill for a lifetime.

What we teach our students goes far beyond paint or clay. An art class should give students a set of skills to use for a lifetime!

If you’re looking for specific ideas about how to incorporate these skills into your curriculum, don’t miss the Summer 2016 Art Ed Now Conference where there will be two dynamic presentations on this theme.

First, host of Art Ed Radio and AOE Instructor, Andrew McCormick, will present How To Bring Your Art Room Into the 21st Century. He’ll share ways to get your students thinking more creatively, collaborating more effectively, and developing their critical thinking and communication skills. Next, high school teacher extraordinaire, Luke Nielson, will present How to Get Your Students Ready for the Real World. In Luke’s presentation, learn how to find projects that will have your students interacting with real clients to design and create real, finished products.

What future skills does your art class provide to your students?

Do you have a skill you learned from your art teacher?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.


  • Jenni

    Your title really grabbed my attention and I appreciate your perspective on this. As art teachers we need to do a better job of reaching those students who are in our classes because they are REQUIRED to be – not the ones who are there by choice. I teach high school, and the vast majority of my “Art I” students are there just to get their fine art graduation requirement. They will likely never take another art class in their life. The last thing I want to do is offer them a tedious exploration in reinforcing their self-doubt when it comes to art, especially realistic work. These kids should be provided with meaningful process-oriented experiences that provide insight into their own life/experiences as well as other cultures and aesthetic viewpoints. Thanks!

    • Abby Schukei

      Thank you, Jenni for sharing your perspective. I absolutely agree, the more real-world experiences we can provide our students will only yield a greater result. I think one of the most challenging things for art teachers is trying to truly create those meaningful experiences that will last a lifetime. It is certainly possible, but it comes down to knowing your students and their needs!

  • Berta Newton

    No, not many will be artists…but, we do need those who will be the audience to art, and those are the rest of my students who don’t want to be artists. Art is for everyone.

    • BossySnowAngel

      I think teaching students to be discriminating consumers is a big deal. I do one project called “Good Design/Bad Design” and we look at everything from buildings to cars to fashion that were poorly conceived. We discuss how good design costs more and I show Daniel Pink’s Ted Talk section on design. In a culture where everyone can in theory by whatever they want, people need to be pickier about how they use their money. Is it better to buy a cheap trendy item that won’t last a month or spend more and have a classic item that will last years? I tell my kids that if they know how to pick a tie or arrange a resume for that first big real world interview, then I’ve done my job.

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  • BossySnowAngel

    Two stories.
    In the first, I had a boy who complained mightily over the art history unit and research assignment that I did as part of a unit learning graphic design. “I’ll never use this,” he said,”it’s useless knowledge.” But I went on anyway, concentrating on American art styles since the Revolution in my Art One class. That year he took the AP US History test. On coming back from the test, he came by my room and said, “Five questions, there were FIVE QUESTIONS on the Hudson River School and Manifest Destiny.” I laughed and said “I told you you’d never know what you learned until you needed it.”

    Another boy, who claimed to be in Art One just for the credit, came into class angry. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “Doggone it, I was looking at a car and it was perfect in every way, but I hated the color. Now I find myself criticizing design and color on everything from my house to the clothes I wear. It’s like I’m seeing art EVERYWHERE!”

    And this is why in spite of the various negatives in the past few years-cell phones, etc-I keep teaching.

  • Brian

    Empathy skills, humane being skills, Aesthetic sensitivities, and awareness.

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