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Is Drawing GenEd?

I have been giving this question a great deal of thought as I teach my classes.  I consider GenEd to include those skills and traits I want to instill in my students that help them to be among other things problem solvers.  I also believe that problem solving is often a collaborative effort and to work collaboratively one needs a method of communicating ideas.  As children before real language develops we communicate with hand motions and gestures, expressions on our faces.  Before we can write we pick up a crayon and we scribble…. these scribbles eventually become shapes.

Eventually these shapes become geometry our scribbles become sentences we begin to develop our GenEd skill set.  As adults we all continue to write, to speak and do math.  Why do some of us continue to draw and others not?

As an Architect one of my most cherished problem solving and communication skills is my ability to draw.  I am so connected to it that my problem solving suffers when I do not have a pencil in my hand.  Every day working with my students the one ability I most want to see them develop and nurture is their ability to problem solve and communicate through drawing.

So I ask the question:  Is Drawing GenEd?

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7 Responses to Is Drawing GenEd?

  1. Great question, Paul. I wouldn’t say that drawing, specifically, is a gen ed skill or practice, but I would say that a more generalized description of drawing — perhaps something like “creating visual representations of ideas and things” or “problem-solving through visualization”– very well could be.

  2. Paul C King says:

    Hi Matt,

    I like your generalized description. So then I ask you to consider the next part of the question. Should we look to include “problem-solving through visualization” in our curriculum development?

    In Architecture it is a part of everything we do. Why not include a “visualization” component in courses where it traditionally does not exist…. would not the ability to express yourself visually be a benefit to a student’s understanding of Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus…. would not a writing assignment based on a student observations during a field trip be augmented by the inclusion of sketching as another form of observation?

  3. “Should we look to include “problem-solving through visualization” in our curriculum development?”

    My answer would be “yes.” But I’d be very surprised to find that something like this wasn’t already part of the matrices that the Provost’s Gen Ed committee has been putting together. Shelley would be a good person to ask about that.

  4. Jonas Reitz says:

    Paul, I love this post. While Matt’s argument makes sense to me, I still say “YES” — drawing is definitely gen ed, if anything is. As I’m still searching for a definition of gen ed, I’m not sure how meaningful my proclamation is… but it feels right to me. (Example: Is writing gen ed? How is drawing different from writing?) Drawing is one of those skills that, at some point in the first twenty years of my life, I basically quit doing — and I think I lost touch with an enormously powerful vehicle for self-expression in doing so. I still doodle now and then, and I’ve made an effort to learn to draw basic three-dimensional shapes on a blackboard (a necessity in Calculus III), but not much more. Terrible!

  5. Sandra Cheng says:

    Great question Paul. I think drawing embodies multiple strategies that fall under Gen Ed such as critical thinking and analysis. Creating a visual representation of what you see requires a thoughtful consideration of what you are trying to render. Even though I’m a terrible draftsman myself, I ask my students to make sketches or doodles of the works of art they see in class (though few do). Just drawing a complex image in schematic forms, ie stick figures, gives them a better idea of scale, composition, etc. and forces them to look more carefully, and that is something they need to learn in our hyper-visual world. Your question raises the notion of ‘critical looking’ that I’ve been mulling over for a while now. Because the visual is so dominant in contemporary society, I feel students need to learn how to better critique and understand what they see. Drawing is a great way to start. Articulating what one sees is another useful skill to learn. I think these are important basic skills that will lead to better analytical thinking.

  6. What’s there to question? Of course drawing is part of gen ed. It should be part of education, generally. Drawing, whether a formal product or a sketch as a means to an end, can be a way of knowing/thinking. I’ll give a couple examples.

    Fellini storyboarded his movies before they went to script. (He once worked as a cartoonist.)
    A semantic map is a drawing. What a powerful tool to brainstorm and organize ideas.
    I once tutored a hearing impaired student who had repeat failures on the CPE. Incidentally, she was an advertising-design major. One day I got the idea to have her draw an outline for her work. Not only did she relate to drawing, she also passed the test.
    A friend who’s an art director told me he sometimes sketches his to-do list and project outliens. He suggested I try it sometime when I feel particularly stressed.
    For some of the childrens’ books I wrote, I found that I often doodled such things as character action and description so I could then write about it.
    In publishing where I’ve spent many years, the magazine editor or the editor of books heavy with text and graphics must create a book map for art and production. Sometimes pageholders in the bookmap have crude sketches showing the text-graphic relationships on each page of the book. Other times the pageholders must show the preliminary placement of functional art, illustration, photographs, or advertising.

    In other words, drawing is thinking. We have no problem with the fact that writing is thinking. As we move at a rapid pace towards the graphic-written delivery of information, I believe that drawing should be a thinking tool and creative expression at students’ disposal. It does not have to be a competency, but the activity of drawing might be an intelligent habit that the mind has ready as a means to an end.

    OK, now how do we get over the expressed resistance, “I can’t draw!” Well, get over it just like you had to get over that you can’t write or that you hate math. We provide the care and support where it’s easy and comfortable to express one’s “coming to know.”

    Does drawing (or writing) ipso facto generate better grades? No, why should it? It generates thinking and learning and that’s why we’re in this business.

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