Independent Project: ARE 6049

Beckie Harwood

February 9, 2018



     Art educators have shaped the lives of many people since the 19th century, and their responsibilities extend over and above lesson plans, teaching technical skills and classroom management. Art teachers must look beyond the obvious to help their students unlock their creative potential focusing on self-expression, learning how to create with others and building connections to the world at large. Stankiewicz (2001) also described art educators as art therapists, vocational counselors, exhibit designers, art advocates, art historians, art critics, philosophers, anthropologists, graphic designers and artists themselves. Indeed, the obligations of an art educator and the benefits of art education reach far beyond the classroom walls. Proving this occupation requires a great deal of devotion. The teaching practices that take place in the postmodern classroom owe a tribute to the art education methods, ideas, and theories from practitioners and scholars of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The study of art education history reveals a shift in education teaching trends over the decades, with the focus changing from technical skill to self-expression to the study of aesthetics. Ultimately, these movements influence the modern day classroom. Stankiewicz advised the study of art history education provides an opportunity for critical reflection on contemporary teaching trends and habits; which stimulates thought concerning what the art educator's role is today. Many art education pioneers paved the way for postmodern educators. However, the contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane stand above the rest.   Both women felt everyone had artistic potential and sought to unlock it by freeing the unconscious. They preserved their teaching methods and shared them with the world. Both women published books concerning their practices. Their books are more like teaching manuals, providing clear instructions to engage students successfully. Shaw and Cane were both educators, and their experience also carried over into art therapy. The purpose of this paper is to provide a comparative analysis of lives Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane by taking a close look at how their methods significantly impacted art education, art therapy and how their contributions led to the success of artists who proceeded them.


Personal History and Professional Development

     Shaw was born into a family of talent and education. Her father was a pastor, and the president of a Christian prep school in North Carolina and her mother was a teacher and a gifted musician. Shaw graduated from the James Sprunt Institute, a school for girls, in 1906 (Marable, 2006). She received no formal training in art. However, she possessed artistic talent and pursued it as a hobby (Stankiewicz, 1984).   Shaw was well traveled, she lived overseas numerous times throughout her life. In 1922, Shaw opened a school in Rome for the English speaking population.   Marable stated, "Shaw's enriched curriculum was aimed at teaching the principles of life and included reading and composition through the classics, literature, history, mathematics, mythology, and art" (p. 3). Likewise, Cane's family also possessed strengths in education and creativity. Cane's husband, Melvin Cane, was a poet and her sister; Margaret Naumberg was the founder of Walden School, a private school known for its Progressive methods. Cane was also described as a suffragette and advocated for women's rights. Cane was concerned about teaching methods at her sister's school. She believed the student's art did not reflect originality and creativity. She convinced her sister to hire her as the art instructor (Cane, 1951). Her teaching experience led to another opportunity at the Dalton School as the Art Chairperson; this is where Shaw and Cane's paths crossed. Shaw was also working at the Dalton school as a part-time art teacher at the time.

The Progressive Movement

     According to Stankiewicz (2001), the art teachers that belonged to the Progressive Movement agreed that all subject matter should be rooted in creative expression as a result of the student's imagination or experiences.   Also, Progressive teachers stood united by the belief that artistic growth requires knowledge of the psyche. Both Shaw and Cane fall under the umbrella of the Progressive movement, but their means of unlocking their students potential slightly differed. Shaw believed students learn best from playful sensory experiences to include role-play, games and field trips. Stankiewicz (2001) noted Shaw felt the teachers should guide and listen to their students. Shaw wanted her students to be independent, discovering the world by experience. Shaw insisted that learning should be fun and students were encouraged to use their imagination, which led to her student's success in verbal expression (Mayer, 2005). Shaw wanted to round out her students' experience and sought ways to unlock their unconscious visual expression, which ultimately led to her development of finger-painting. Unlike Shaw, Cane (1951) asserted herself as the teacher, the authority on the process of creation. She advised teachers must have artistic ability and they need to be effective communicators: providing simple instructions. Cane recognized the importance of her pupil's psychological development and offered specific direction for each age group. On the other hand, Cane and Shaw both encouraged students to work from their imagination and their memory (Stankiewicz, 2001).

Successful Teaching Methods

     Shaw and Cane possessed the ability to help their students discover their imagination, which unlocked their creative potential. Shaw and Cane's skill required a delicate balance of teacher instruction and student freedom. Their methods of teaching reveal a systematic approach that offered both guidance and growth (Stankiewicz, 2001). Shaw wanted her students to explore creativity in the visual arts but thought traditional art materials were too cumbersome or unsafe for little hands. Meyer (2005) noted Shaw insisted that her students use simple materials and her ability to look beyond the obvious unlocked the creative potential of her students and led to her invention of finger paints. The idea came to her as a result of a watching one of her students smearing iodine on a door with his finger. This random encounter launched into five years of research to produce a slow drying non-toxic paint that allowed tiny fingers to glide across the paper. This discovery was Shaw's solution to help her students achieve creative expression. But, this was only the beginning. Shaw (1943) explained although finger-painting must come from the imagination and personal experience, one must learn how to use of the medium; therefore, the principles of color, design, and perspective are essential. Shaw suggested students complete movement exercise activities to warm up their muscles allowing them to feel the paint. She explained the hands are an extension of the imagination, encouraging students to use rhythmical sweeping motions until a pattern or form appears. Shaw advised finger-painting is suggestive; students should not labor over fine details. Shaw warned, "Finger-painting is a pleasure, not a chore" (p. 13). Her approach awakened the body, urging her students to use multiple parts of their body to create. Thus, uniting the conscious and unconscious.

   Likewise, Cane's systematic approach to teaching also provided the right amount of instruction compared to student expression. Similar to Shaw, Cane focused on materials, art principles and the connection between the mind and body.   Cane (1951) believed art materials matter and advised selection of the medium should match the child's abilities. For example, younger students should use soft crayons or pastels because they encourage freedom with minimal effort. Cane also advised care of tools and supplies is a critical component in student training. She stated, "If the child learns early that tools serve him well only if he takes care of them, he will have laid an important foundation of stone" (p. 31). Like Shaw, Cane believed when teaching young children all learning must be rooted in play. She also felt movement creates pleasure. Therefore, Cane developed many playful exercises to encourage movement and rhythm; which according to Cane, both are part of the creative process to awaken the spirit.   Cane asserted art has the power to heal and aid in reaching one's full potential; which is accomplished when the human functions of movement, feeling and thought are matched with their art principle counterparts of rhythm, harmony, and balance. Cane (1951) stated, "Every man is born with the power to create" (p. 9).   Similar to Shaw, Cane promoted the need to join the conscious and unconscious. To assist her students' ability to tap into their unconscious, Cane developed the Scribble technique. Whereby, students simply scribbled lines on paper. Then her pupils were asked to relax and think about their scribbles. Soon their imagination found forms and shapes within their scribbles. Finally, she would encourage them to develop their drawings.

Beyond the Classroom

Shaw and Cane achieved great success in their teaching careers. Their effectiveness in the classroom led to additional opportunities in the medical field as art therapists.   By the 1940's Shaw's methods were considered a beneficial form of therapy for patients with psychiatric disorders. Shaw spent several years on staff at both the Menninger Clinic and at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Shaw also gave several educational finger-painting demonstrations to doctors who treat children for mental illness, disabled veterans and prisoners (Marable, 2006). Likewise, Cane shared her techniques openly, to assist setting the human body and soul free. Elinor Ulman, an art therapist, wrote a summary concerning Cane's ability as an art therapist. She stated Cane's approach to art therapy employs the same methods that she uses while teaching an ordinary student, however, there is more time spent on fantasy rather than skill building (Cane, 1951). The human functions and their art principle counterparts were a part of Cane's patient's evaluations. Cane participated in a study concerning gifted children. During her study, she matched the body with movement, psyche with dynamics, mind with organization and spirit with emanation.   Nonetheless, she warned it's important to treat gifted children the same as the ungifted.   Instead, she urged specialists, teachers, and parents to allow extra time to develop the gift (Cane, 1936).


Influence and Legacy

It comes as no surprise that both Shaw and Cane were influenced by artists of the past. Marable (2006) linked the healing sand painting of Southwest-Indians to that of Shaw's finger-painting techniques. Marable also indicated Leonardo da Vinci also employed a finger-painting method.   Cane (1951) advised her imagination stimulation scribble activity is similar to that of Leonardo da Vinci, who often looked for forms and images on stained walls.   The Progressive Movement and teaching methods of Shaw and Cane may have influenced more than just their students. Marable (2006) linked Shaw's style to that of Jackson Pollack's action painting. He noted many similarities between Shaw and Pollack to include the abandonment of traditional supplies, using the body as a tool to create. Both also focused on expression by tapping into the unconscious. Also, Shaw and Pollack proclaimed they never started painting with an end in mind; they allowed the art to unfold naturally. More recently, artist Chuck Close is also known for applying paint to the canvas with his fingers as well. Another contemporary artist, Parks Reece, of Shaw's former students, has a fruitful career as a freelance artist as well. Cane's teaching on the connection of mind, body, and soul tapped into her student unconsciousness, which is a significant component of the Surrealist and Dada art movements.   Also, there is no denying the profound impact Cane had on her twin daughters lives. Both credit their mother for their talents. Katherine Cane Detre was a dance teacher and yoga instructor. Mary Cane Robinson was a successful freelance artist. Shaw and Cane made a substantial impact in the field of art education and art therapy: developing creative expression in both their students and patients (Martin, p 6B).


Since the nineteenth-century, art educators have shaped the lives of many students, and they have made an impact on our world. The roles of art educators expand far beyond the school walls, acting as therapists, historians, and advocates just to name a few. The study of art education history reveals much of what is taught and practiced in the postmodern classroom rest in rich traditions of the past. Understanding the past promotes clarity of today and provides a roadmap for the future. The contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw and Florence Cane helped shaped art education as we know it today. They generously shared their teaching methods with the world, and now over fifty years later, their methods are still effective. Their teaching styles and sample exercises encouraged me to change some of my teaching approaches. And, to my surprise, I achieved great success with my PK3 and PK4 students. They thoroughly enjoyed Cane's warm-up exercises, their imaginations were fully engaged, and they shared very interesting stories about their work. As a result, I want to write new lessons to incorporate more of their methods. Both lives and work of Shaw and Cane significantly impacted art education, art therapy, and their contributions led to the success of artists who preceded them, including my students and me.


Cane, F. (1936). The gifted child in art. The Journal of Educational Sociology,10(2), 67- 


Cane, F. (1983). The artist in each of us. Craftsbury Common, VT: Art Therapy 


Jackson Pollack Biography. (n.d.) Retrieved from


Marable, D. (2006). Ruth Faison Shaw: First Lady of finger painting. World and I


Martin, C. (2003, July 14). Artist was fanciful, yet practical. The Denver Post, p. 6B.

Mayer, V. (2005). Rediscovering Ruth Faison Shaw and her finger-painting method. Art   

     Education,58(5), 6-11.

 Shaw, R. F. (1947). Finger-painting and how I do it. Chapel Hill, NC: Triangle Press.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (1984). Self-expression or teacher influence: The Shaw System of Finger Painting. Art Education, 23(2), 20-24.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.

Surrealism Synopsis. (n.d.). Retrieved from



Great Moments Beckie Harwood

ARE 6049

January 17, 2018

Finger painting proves to be more than just messy fun for tiny fingers; this teaching method allows artists of all ages to explore creativity. This technique made its debut in America during the 1930's, and this style of art exploration is still thriving today. Just look at the work of contemporary artist, Iris Scott, who specializes in finger painting. It is difficult to imagine what art education would look like without the contributions of Ruth Faison Shaw, the inventor of finger paints and the finger painting method.

Stankiewicz’s (1984) research revealed Shaw was born in North Carolina; her father was a minister and a school principal. She also pursued a career in education. "Shaw demonstrated an interest in art and was regarded artistic by her friends and family" although she received no formal training in the arts (p. 20). Stankiewicz (2001) noted, Shaw followed the Progressive method of instruction, which placed value on educating the whole child, putting the child’s needs first. Shaw insisted learning must be fun. Therefore, her teaching techniques included "games, field trips and dramatic play"; which led to her student's success in verbal expression. However, Shaw wanted to round out her student's experience and sought ways to unlock their visual expression. Shaw felt pencils and paintbrushes were too cumbersome for little hands. However, her ability to look beyond the obvious unlocked the potential of each young artist and led to her invention of finger paints. The idea came to her as a result of a child "painting" with a finger covered in iodine. As a result, she developed a slow drying non-toxic paint that allowed tiny fingers to glide across the paper; which was Shaw's solution to introduce painting to young students (p. 34-35). But, finger painting is not all child's play. Shaw developed a system that mandated order, supply discussions, demonstration, storytelling, painting, and cleanup (p. 22).

Shaw's finger painting received attention beyond the classroom. Reviewers of her book "discussed the flowing lines and dreamlike forms which gave finger-painting abstract qualities similar to those found in Art Deco designs" (p. 21). In 1984, Stankiewicz voiced concerns about Shaw's contributions, suggesting students lacked a full appreciation of the arts and that Shaw’s technique may have provided too much influence. However, I disagree. I promote Shaw was an effective teacher although she lacked formal training, her impact on her students was evident through her connection with her students.


Stankiewicz, M. A. (1984). Self-expression or teacher influence: The Shaw System of Finger Painting. Art Education, 23(2), 20-24.

Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications