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, an aspiring artist, is about to have his first art lesson in kindergarten. Tommy practices art all the time, but has learned from his sister that true artists never copy, and so he refuses to copy. Finally, the day he has been waiting for arrives, his first day of art class. Excited, Tommy brings his impressively large set of crayons to class, but is devastated when his teacher not only prevents Tommy from using his beloved supplies, but also refuses to give him more than one piece of paper. What's more, she expects the students to copy her in creating their art! Tommy finds himself in a frustrating situation, but he finds a way to make due and compromise with his teacher without sacrificing his creativity.

Some discussion questions:

Why did the teacher only give Tommy one piece of paper?
Why was Tommy not allowed to bring in his own crayons after the first day?
Is it fair to say all students must use the same crayons? Is this realistic?
Is copying art?
Why was the teacher mean?
Why did the teacher make everyone copy her?
Why couldn't all the students just bring in their own crayons?
Does uniformity stifle creativity?
Is art a skill to be learned or something else?
Are there certain qualifications to make one thing art and not another?
If someone creates a perfect duplicate of say, a Rembrandt, does this count as art?
Would it be acceptable to allow more "creative" students more access to art supplies than other students?
What are the pros and cons of uniformity? Of individuality?

A nice follow-up activity to this lesson is "What is art?"

You might adapt this activity more specifically to the book by asking students to split one paper in half by drawing a line across the page and creating some sort of art in the top space. Then collect the papers and redistribute them. This time, ask each student to try to replicate the original artwork in the lower frame. From here, some questions that may arise might be:

Are both of these images art?
If not, which one is?
How do we define what art is?
Does the person who put the material to paper have a say in the matter?
Who decides what is art and what is not?
Is replication an art or something else? What would that something else be?

Make sure you allow enough time for students to see pictures!
Consider the implications of giving a student one piece of paper to create with.

Contributed by Gobe Hirata