Using artwork as problem context in generic critical thinking instruction: A strategy for thoughts

Kelly Y L KU*, Venus S.L. Lee, James Walter ELLIS

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The teaching of good thinking is in part about taxonomy of skills, and in part, about stretching one's awareness and sensitivity to all possible problem contexts. Inquiring about social issues is currently a common instructional strategy to enhancing generic critical thinking. It has been found effective in nurturing a mind that is structured and evidence-based (e.g., Angeli & Valanides, 2009; Ku, Ho, Hau, & Lau, 2014). Critical thinking, nonetheless, is “not mechanical” (Wegerif, 2007, p. 7). One current challenge is to integrate into the conventional logic-based practice of generic critical thinking instruction the ‘soft’ elements of thinking (Claxton, 1999). We argue that artwork presents itself as distinct and novel alternative to the more verbal-based learning materials that students are habituated. In observing and thinking about art images, pre-logical and preverbal thoughts and feelings that are otherwise not easily assessed can be elicited (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2003). Observing and imaging are primary thinking tools representing the more primitive, implicit, and sensual aspects of a person's reasoning. In this article, we reviewed evidence of existing generic critical thinking instruction, and illustrated a strategy that infuses visual artwork as the problem context into Halpern's (2003) Four-part Critical Thinking Instructional Model. There is a need for educators to acknowledge that any high quality thoughts must be a result of the mind simultaneously engaging in creation and critical evaluation of its creations (Paul & Elder, 2008). Though we are cautious not to make an automatic connection between reasoning about artwork and nurturing creative thinking, we considered our argument a step towards recognizing creative and critical thought as “integrated, and unitary” (Paul & Elder, 2006, p. 34).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-59
Number of pages7
JournalThinking Skills and Creativity
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Education

User-Defined Keywords

  • Art
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Instructional strategy


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