Studio Habits of Mind

Studio Habits of Mind

“When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

                                                                                                                                                         -Wendell Berry

This week, working with a team on an upcoming teacher workshop, we got into a conversation about “Studio Habits of Mind.”  I won’t go into the conversation but to note that it got me thinking about my own studio habits of mind when I work in the studio.

Studio Habits of Mind or also known as Studio Thinking is a framework designed by practitioners at Project Zero (the research arm of Harvard’s School of Education). It is a set of eight dispositions that an artist uses. It has become a framework for student learning in the art classroom and has expanded into many other content areas in k-12 education. The 8 habits of mind include:

  1. Develop Craft: learning to use tools, materials, artistic conventions; and learning to care for tools, materials, and space.
  2. Engage and Persist: learning to embrace problems of relevance within the art world and/or of personal importance, to develop focus conducive to working and persevering at tasks.
  3. Envision: learning to picture mentally what cannot be directly observed and imagine possible next steps in making a piece.
  4. Express: learning to create works that convey an idea, a feeling, or a personal meaning.
  5. Observe: learning to attend to visual contexts more closely than ordinary “looking” requires and thereby to see things that otherwise might not be seen.
  6. Reflect: learning to think and talk with others about an aspect of one’s work or working process and earning to judge one’s own work and working process and the work of others.
  7. Stretch and Explore: learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
  8. Understand Arts Community: learning to interact as an artist with other artists and within the broader society.

Habits can have a negative connotation. One definition of habit is, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” (Why do I think, “Ugh, being in a rut!”) Habits do have wonderful attributes. Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick in their book, “Habits of Mind” define habits of mind as, “dispositions displayed by intelligent people in response to problems, dilemmas, and enigmas, the resolutions of which are not immediately apparent.” For Costa and Kallick habits have very positive qualities that include:

  • Habits are efficient- Once a habit is in place, artists and those in any creative engagement become more effective. The action that has now become a habit is smooth, elegant and energy efficient. Artists or others who are creatively engaged in a task and have developed efficient habits have become more of an effective creator.
  • Habits are authentic- Habits tend to grow from positive impulses. When we develop a habit, the behavior associated with our habit is in tune with our inner condition. Our external habits are an eloquent self-portrait of who we are, of our creative idiosyncrasies.
  • Habits change us- Habits can be transformative. If we think of a habit not as enacting a status quo, but rather as an outward expression that matches our inner condition, the habit is in sync with our self understanding.
  • Habits support us- Habits keep us in balance. When learning or engagement gets tough, habits become part of our tools or a repertoire of ways to proceed.

The application of these habits go far beyond the art studio or even a school setting. Businesses or any organizations can benefit from valuing the ways that Habits of Mind can be used. Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Source: Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, Hetland, Winner, et al, Teachers College Press, 2007.