Scientific Method depends on top-notch observation skills that visual art curricula should be enhancing, but some art lessons need serious improvement.

Let’s take the portrait-drawing formula – where kids draw an oval head, grid it, position eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth and ears. A starting point, yes. But does it prepare kids to SEE? Does it optimize rare classroom art time? In my experience, kids merely continue to generate oval portraits with symbols of eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth and ears, relying on hair color or clothing details to help people identify the subject in the portrait.

I begin portraiture differently – with a simple contour game to help kids discover that they know far more than they realize and aid their growth of self-confidence. And all it takes is a few bed sheets.

My interactive classroom game has three children of the same gender and basically the same hair color come to the front of the room. The rest of the class puts their heads down and closes their eyes. Each of the three children is wrapped up to the neck in a white sheet and seated with their backs to the class. Then the class opens its eyes and I ask them to tell me who is who. And they are always 100% correct.  “Why?” and “How do you know?” questions prompt kids to COMPARE and ARTICULATE nuances based on shapes of heads, ears, necks, hairlines, etc., and think in terms of  “frames of reference.” That’s the best foundation for all observations – art, cooking, pure science, life, whatever.

I was reminded of my successful lesson by a recent series of photographs from French photographer Quentin Arnaud. The photos capture head contour information, removing virtually all facial features. Perhaps these images will stimulate other art educators to revisit standard portrait drawing lessons, too.

Made any upgrades to other same-old same old art lessons? Especially as they enhance STEM education?