Art is complicated because it reflects human beings, themselves being
complicated. That evaluation and intent for motivation coincides with
differences of opinion is to reasonably be anticipated and expected.
I am a taskmaster...a professional painter, and an artist that comes to my
current school having won a number of big state and regional awards. I am a
member of NAPPAP, "National Academy of Professional Plein Air Painters." I
am teaching K-12 art in a small system, which yet affords me the luxury to
be creatively productive. I am having one of my best selling summers to
date with regional galleries and the internet.
Having said such, there are many attitudes I confront, the first being that
the school is proud and happy to have me. Secondly, some students will from
time to time remind me that I am a professional, and "that's why its easy
for you!" As though I popped out of my mother's womb with a pencil and
sketchpad in hand! hahahaha.....
From all that I've experienced over the years, (including three very
distinct shifts and phases in art education philosophy)...it is safe to say
our job is not about the task of cranking out artists. I let my students
know that. We are preparing a future generation to be aesthetically
sensitive such that they may find greater dimensions in appreciating their
world and surrounding culture.
With that in mind....I will explain that as much as the world admires a
Michael Jordan for his grace and abilities on a basketball court...it will
be athletes the world over who make every effort to excel yet fall
consistently short that will look upon Michael and possess enough "knowing"
to shake their head in humble appreciation and respect. Thus, though my
students are not being molded to become artists (not being discouraged from
such either, btw), I want them to understand enough of what it means to BE
an artist....to truly appreciate what it would take had they wanted to
I want my students to know that my skills and the talents of others do not
come from spending every night in the local bars. That denying much of the
leisures and priorities that most others have are exchanged for the benefits
of developing a gift to see and to express. That such requires patience,
sacrifice, hard work, and passion. Art making is not just about pumpin' out
"pretty pictures" which even much of the rest of the faculty will think.
Art making should not always be about what comes easy. I prefer to see my
students struggle and wrestle with a thing from time to time.
That the gift of vision and expression requires a certain alertness to the
world's state, and that the world needs the prophetic voice and insight of
intelligent concerned creative minds. They understand this immediately when
you compare such vision to a number of music groups, such as "U2"....and
that draw attention to world needs and disparity.
I also want my students to understand that life is a call for spirits to
engage, and that the arts are a welcome vehicle to express as a form of
celebration. When we make art, we are aware of being more "fully" alive.
So, I have great demands in my classroom, and my grades are a means for me
to demonstrate that I live up to my words. My students have learned that
55% of my grade is "Work Ethic" and 40% is grading their work, while 15% is
grading their sketchbooks. How class time is spent, and grading with
emphasis how that time is spent goes a long way to validate the importance
of growth over time. Thus, I emphasize that work which is found wanting
now, because of the habit of effort and persistence will and cannot help but
improve. Where I see students applying themselves and making effort to earn
a good "work ethic" grade, I am also more liberal in paying out good grades.
Where I see the concept of work ethic violated and attitude lax, I make
effort to show where such is responsible for why art works are not
progressing, and that is thereby made evident also with grades.
It is important that dialog is taking place throughout the quarter or
semester. Students know the bar I raise for them to reach for.
Because I am "the artist"....I am also accutely aware of the potential
criticism of wanting to duplicate myself in my students. Again....since I'm
not about cranking out artists, but rather "art appreciators"....I have no
problem whatsoever encouraging vision that differs from mine, but for Pete's
sake...develop a vision, okay?
In a small community struggling to keep a school alive much less affording
this or that, I want to champion the cause of art....and thus I love to
plaster my student's work all over anything that stands still. Art
education is not only about educating the students, but the other faculty,
the librarian, the administration, and the community. I make a big stinkin'
deal over the kid's work...."so it must be good, right?" ...or at least
that's what others assume, because I am "the professional"....and because
they are culturally and aesthetically malnourished!
Act like a crusader...make a big stinkin' deal over your program....develop
your own professionalism that elviates all doubt, and there will be no
second guessing of your motives and intent. There will be instead, much
I had to fail a ceramics senior this past quarter. That greatly disturbed
me, but it was not my grade...it was this young man's! In nine weeks....he
made two pinch pots that my 3rd graders could easily have duplicated. If I
do not meet out the ill effects of a poor grade when a student has clearly
earned it, it undermines the value of the good grade for those that do!
Then, you will see motivation fall by the wayside. I like to reward effort,
and my students know it.