Deirdre Moore | October 2014

Think Like An Artist

As arts educators, we want our students to see themselves as artists. We want them to develop the habits of mind to behave as artists do. Engaging in all stages of the creative process.  The new National Core Arts Standards are written in such a way as to help teachers facilitate that process.  In case you haven’t looked at the standards yet, the authors created 4 basic categories (Creating, Performing/Presenting/Producing, Responding and Connecting). Then, wrote general anchor standards for each of those areas. And then, fleshed out under each of the separate art forms.  The standards are more theoretical. Asking the essential questions, and focusing on the big picture, leaving the specifics up to the educators.

Under “Creating”, the Anchor Standards focus on helping students examine and explore how artists are inspired to create work and how they bring that work to completion.


One: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Two: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
Three: Refine and complete artistic work.

Those Anchor Standards and the individual standards for each category in each art form are a wonderful way to conceptualize bringing students through the creative process.  However, the reality is that engaging in the creative process and being an artist is hard work so getting specific tips from artists on what to do when you have hit a creative obstacle can be extremely useful tools for beginning and experienced artists alike.

Quite some time ago, as I searched for something online, I ran across a series of “Rules for Storytelling”. Attributed to a woman named Emma Coats, a Pixar Story Artist.   When I read through them again recently, it made me think of our new arts standards. In addition, creating the mindset of believing our students are all artists. Along with, talking to and teaching our students in a way demonstrating that belief.  But as I read the list of rules again, I realized because all art is storytelling in some way, you can take any of these tips and apply them to any area of art.

Take #2 for example:

You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

Every art form has an audience and it is important to keep that audience in mind.  We teach that in ELA but it is important in any means of communication.  I like this tip to the artist whether you are creating a painting, composing a song, choreographing a dance or writing a play it is important to think about what you like as an audience and include it in your composition.  Keeping yourself in mind as your audience, if you would be entertained yourself by the piece, chances are there are others who will be too!

Or how about #10?

Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

What fantastic advice!  This is again thinking of yourself as an audience but also as the artist.  It’s a wonderful lesson to students of any age that which art works you are attracted to, what songs you like, what kind of dancing you like and what types of plays or movies you like reveal something about you.   This can be very deep analytical work but it could be as simple as noticing that you like comedy whether it be in visual art, in music, in dance or in theater.  That is a great jumping off point for budding artists.

And then there is #11 – fighting the perfectionist.

Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Yes!  Put it out there so you can look at it, fix it and share it.  It does not and should not be perfect in the first version you create whether it’s a sculpture, a dance, a song or a play.  It’s called the creative “process” for a reason!

Those are just some examples but the entire list is worth checking out as a resource for all the artists in your life to help them think and act like the artists they really are!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.