My alma mater, the School of visual Arts in New York City, had a slogan that was printed on their promotional posters that read, “Being good is not enough when you dream of being great.” It’s a thought are teachers can relate to not only with their own work, but more importantly with that of their students,
Art teachers aspire for rich artwork from their students but are often frustrated when the results are less than spectacular. Some art teachers face this concern as they transition into a choice-based program. They may notice that their high-school students’ work looks, well, like high-school student work. How do we motivate students to not settle for good, but to create something great?
Surpassing the Standard Level
To begin with, we cannot confuse the results of teacher-directed art with the look of authentic student work. Student-directed work, when compared to teacher-designed projects tends to look less polished. The polished look is often the outcome of the students following a teacher-created exemplar. Choice teachers often eliminate the exemplar with the presumption that by removing limitations, students will surpass expectations, going beyond a predetermined skill level. However, exemplars are often created to demonstrate an expected level of skill. The challenge becomes having students create beyond a standard level when they are unfamiliar with the levels available. The following are three methods to help students surpass good and achieve great:
1. Fill Their Creative Bank Accounts
A video by Jake Parker titles Your Creative Bank Account has recently gone viral in art teacher circles. The video emphasizes the advantages of filling our minds with inspiration. If we want students to think and work outside the box, then we as teachers must first do the same. This means keeping abreast on the latest happenings in the art world. Spend time each week perusing websites such as Colossal, Bored Panda, and Art21. Seek contemporary artists and artworks to share with your students. Sharing your findings can be a class activity or be more personalized by sitting down with individual students and presenting artwork that relates directly to their specific project.
2. Suggest Materials and Techniques
Since students don’t know what they don’t know, it is even more important for us to inform them of the possibilities. Working with a familiar medium may not necessarily be a decision the student makes by choice, but rather because they aren’t aware of other options. Having experience and understanding of a variety of resources allows us to make recommendations for materials and techniques the student may not be familiar with. Look for opportunities to suggest options. For students who created small abstract paintings, suggest that they learn to stretch a large canvas. When we see a well-done line drawing, recommend etching or relief-printing. If students show an interest in fashion, pull out the sewing machine and have them consider fabricating a new outfit.
3. It’s Okay to Say No
Taking risks can be an uncomfortable situation. However, it can also lead to remarkable growth. Left to their own devices, students won’t often stretch beyond their comfort zones. We frequently need to push them out of their proverbial nests. If students propose project ideas that present little growth potential, don’t be afraid to say no. Ask them to develop their idea(s) further. As mentioned, suggest materials and techniques they might not have considered and present other artists to enlarge and inspire their creative bank accounts. Don’t let them settle for good—ask them to achieve great.
Ian Sands is a visual arts instructor at South Brunswick High School in Southport, North Carolina. ArtofSouthB.com
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