University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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Title and Author: The Art Lesson by Tomie de Paola

Field of Philosophy: Aesthetics

Plot Summary: Tommy knows from early in his life that the thing he likes to do best is draw. His cousins in art school, who are “learning to be real artists,” tell him “not to copy and to practice, practice, practice.” In first grade, a “real art teacher” comes once a week to give art lessons. The students each get one piece of paper and are told to copy what the teacher draws on the board. Tommy is horrified, and, when asked, tells the art teacher that he is going to be an artist when he grows up and real artists don’t copy. The art teacher, after deliberation, responds that it wouldn’t be fair to let Tommy do something different from the rest of the class, but if there’s time left he can have another piece of paper to draw his own picture. Tommy does so and, the book tells us, continues to do so.

Some discussion questions:

Can students’ drawings that are copies of what the art teacher draws be considered art?
Can we learn about art through copying other works of art?
Do artists ever copy?
Does all art have to be original?
What does it mean for a work to be original?
Can anything ever be truly original?
Is it necessary to create something original to be an artist?