art as inquiry

“Art as Inquiry is an approach to art education that frames art-making as a form of inquiry—a way of exploring and learning about ideas, ourselves and the world. The goals of an art-based inquiry are understanding important topics, imagining possibilities, and inventing new realities. Students create art in order to meet those goals and they do it with a teacher’s guidance.

Art-based creative inquiry straddles the line between scholarship and studio practice. It is scholarship because it entails systematic procedures, research, critical thinking, logic, verbalization, critique and reflection with the purpose of learning about important concepts and art. It is studio because it involves conceptual play, imagination, invention, elaboration and interpretation through art works and art-making.  It is a hybrid practice taken from contemporary art, adapted to the classroom.”1

Traits of an inquiry-based approach in art education:2

✦ Emphasis on ideas

✦ Strong structure (scaffolding and support for ideation and construction)

✦ Promotion of thinking and inquiry over technical and formal training

✦ Documentation of and reflection on process and learning

✦ Open-endedness

✦ Focus on imagination and invention

teaching with contemporary art

I introduce students to diverse contemporary artists that work in a wide range of media in order to show students what it looks like to be a living, working artist in today’s world. I choose artists that reflect my students’ backgrounds and cultures and inspire a path forward for them as artists. I often pair work by contemporary artists with art historical works in order to demonstrate the timelessness of certain themes and media in artmaking.

8 Essential Characteristics of Contemporary Art3

Contemporaneousness (created in the present and about the present)

Liberation of practice (open to a multitude of ways of making and presenting)

Supremacy of concept (ideas come first and determine the form of a work, its style, technique, and medium)

Cross-disciplinary practice (artists play with concepts, methods, and forms not traditionally associated with art)

Radical aesthetics (meaning and emotional/intellectual response replace classical notions of beauty and aesthetic pleasure)

Inclusiveness (a broad variety of perspectives and forms are recognized and honored)

Interaction with popular culture (art and popular culture interact and mimic each other)

Global/local perspectives (the art world is international; applying local perspectives and forms to global ideas and issues)

“Your students are contemporary artists: They are experiencing, thinking about, living in, and working in a particular time and place as they make their art. [...] Students and established contemporary artists are encountering and experimenting with the same new technologies and using the same social media tools for sharing their work. Students’ experiences of these social issues and new technologies are shaped by their contexts and personal concerns, and of course they bring this lens to their forms of contemporary art.” —Kimberly Sheridan et al.4

1+2 Marshall, J. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2023, from

3 Stewart, C., Thulson, A., & Marshall, J. (n.d.). What is contemporary art? Teaching contemporary art with young people. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from

4 Sheridan, K., Veenema, S., Winner, E., & Hetland, L. (2022). Studio thinking 3: The real benefits of visual arts education. Teachers College.
© Ava Lonergan 2023