Learning from art

cloud collecting quay arts

More like this

See all Essays

Eileen Adams, Art Consultant

Art links the inner world of memory and imagination with the outer world of experience – experience of life, of people and of things.

Art involves a personal, emotional response.

Art offers ways of thinking different from other subjects in the curriculum.

To learn from art, you cannot just look at it and think about it. You have to do something.

You have to make something.

Art is about making

Family workshop, Soft Touch Arts
Family workshop, Soft Touch Arts
  • It is about making sense of experience: ordering it to understand it.
  • It is about making connections: linking experience, thought and feelings.
  • It is about making meaning: shaping ideas, dreams and imaginings.
  • It is about making judgements, making choices, making decisions.
  • It is about making things: creating paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, animation, film and blogs.
  • It is about making things happen: organizing exhibitions and events.


There are many ways in which young people can be involved in art. For many, drawing is the way in. However, scribbles, doodles, patterns, sketches, diagrams and cartoons are not just for children: they are also the stock in trade of professional artists and designers. The skills that young people learn through drawing can be used to good effect in the creative industries as illustrators, graphic artists, fashion designers, animators and architects.


When young people are involved in making art, they might be attempting to understand something for themselves. Or they might want to express their feelings about something. Or they might be trying to communicate information or share ideas. They make discoveries and solve problems. They develop confidence and skills in investigation and experiment through handling and using materials, media, tools and technologies. Both a paintbrush and a computer mouse require hand / eye / brain coordination. Learning skills requires practice. Achieving greater levels of skill creates motivation and results in pride in achievement.


Students showing and discussing their work alongside Generation ART, International Youth Day, Turner Contemporary
International Youth Day, Turner Contemporary


Art nurtures young people’s capacities for appreciation and discrimination. It prompts them to make choices and judgements about artworks. Curators generally select the content of an exhibition to share new knowledge about something. Young people organizing an exhibition bring different experience to the task, and are able to provide fresh insights and interpretations. They develop critical skills when they select individual works, explain their selection and give reasons for their choices.


Young people live in a world where visual information is increasingly important. They need to be able to read and interpret the visual language they encounter – not only in works of art, but also in the environment, in the media or in graphic design. Bombarded by images everywhere, they need to develop critical skills, where they are able decide about intention and meaning. They also need to be able to make judgements and form opinions, and be capable of explaining their views.

Young Evaluator, Leicester
Young Evaluator, Leicester


Art is about learning how the world and its objects can be shown, represented and shaped. It is not about making images, artefacts and designs that accord with adult expectations and preconceptions. It is about giving young people a voice. It is about encouraging them to think about what is important to them and what it is they want to say. It provides a means to say it. Through their interest and enthusiasm, they can become persuasive advocates for art.



What useful knowledge and skills do young people learn from engaging with art? They learn to understand ideas. They learn to communicate. They learn that they can do things. Most importantly, they learn to think. Art is based on investigation and experiment: it develops an enquiring mind. Art encourages intellectual curiosity and contributes to intellectual development. Art nurtures young people’s capacity to feel and to empathise: it develops emotional intelligence. Art enables young people to do things: it promotes practical knowledge. Art teaches them not to fear failure or frustration – these are part of the process of invention.  Art fosters creativity.

Leandro Stafford and Newington Youth Club, Turner Contemporary
Artist Leandro Stafford and Newington Youth Club


Many young people are influenced by the work of artists or by working with artists. It is easy to be excited by an image, but it is not always so easy to understand the ideas that lie behind it. Working with an artist gives young people experience of how artists think and how they work. Artists can share with them how to find inspiration. They can challenge them to take risks and try new things. They can show them how to play with materials and techniques to develop ideas. They can demonstrate that art can be fun and serious at the same time. Working partnerships between teachers, students and artists can prompt new approaches to learning and teaching.


In discussions about young people’s art, teachers are often neglected. They have a significant influence. They provide inspiration to motivate their students. Sometimes this might be through introducing them to the work of artists or through visits to galleries or museums. They provide frameworks and scaffolding to structure learning experience. They offer prompts to help them think about what they are making.

They introduce ideas to extend what young people can think for themselves. They teach techniques to enable young people to express themselves with skill and confidence. Generation ART shows how young people, teachers and artists have shared the excitement, hard work, satisfactions and achievements that art can offer, and reveals some of the skills and understandings they have learned from these working partnerships.