How do you get the kids to work longer, take more care, etc in order to
produce "better" art work?
- - - -
Classroom management...getting the kids to want to work, always
Its not just art students, its also artists that struggle with working
harder, longer...and I talk to quite a few at Wetcanvas.com (as a moderator
of eight forums). Recently I shared this quote from author Peter London,
"When there is something important to say to someone of importance,
the urgency to say it full and clear is sufficient to say it well."
As an artist, a performing musician...I create, I work as if what I do
matters. I have an inbuilt sense of urgency, and am aware of the cause for
which I feel is important...thus I have a work ethic that I willingly and
joyfully subcumb to. Thing is...each of us has to put together a plan of
attack how we are going to help nurture that sense of necessity, urgency to
kids such that their interest to meet their impatience headon and overcome
it takes place.
Some of us try to create that urgency with threats. I for one have
constructed my grading so that 65% of the grade will reflect work
ethic...that is how the students use their classroom time, including in that
their attitude. Some try to mirror and model that urgency. I am myself a
painter, have my own website...do work for a number of galleries and show in
major exhibitions. Students wouldn't think that I would need to practice.
Some think erroneously that talent is a birthright and thus comes for a
select few very easily.
I decided in addition to my gallery work (I paint plein air) that I would
begin to paint a one a day or "incidentals" as I call them to model that I
believe art making important enough to do, not only for them but myself. I
grab any object or two that might make an interesting exercise and paint it
in about an hour's time. During a moment of the day...I'll quickly work up
a block in, and I stay after school...after getting other things done (which
can make for a long day), and finish that hour's effort.
A number of us artists have been adding such things to our websites...so in
addition to seeing them finished the next day when they come to
school...they can see them at home, show mom and dad, etc;
Believe it or not...this has led to incredible dialog and exchange with the
students. Some of my fifth graders a week ago begged to see me start one.
They are all about 5"x 7" postcard size, and mostly oils.
For one, they want to know why as a professional artist I am doing these?
Why would I need practice?
That gives me ground to talk about artists, that excellence is not an
accident...and that no one will work harder in my art room than myself.
That comes off as a challenge. They see my own work ethic worked out
artistically, and I suppose gives me greater credibility and clarity to ask
and expect more of them.
You'll get those, "yeah...but I'm not an artist!" comments or
complaints...or, "I'm not going to be an artist!" and I have my comeback
talk all geared and ready for that as well. We aren't in the business in
public education to crank out artists. The art room is not a factory. It
is all about art appreciation however...and we want them to have an idea
what it is that artists do, what it would require...what challenges the
artist would have to face...endure...overcome IF one were to decide to be an
I don't apologize for art being difficult....I show process...we have fun
projects, but I don't lower standards or make it easier. I don't mind
letting them struggle, because if its about art appreciation they need to
understand that artists are ordinary people driven to do extra ordinary
Next...as difficult as art may be...I also have a heart filled with empathy.
Many of these kids are carrying baggage. Painful home lives....broken
families. How can we expect a kid to prioritize getting their English
assignment done when mother got beat up last night and put in the hospital
from her drunken ex...or boyfriend? This unfortunately, is not a thing
state testing considers.
I see room after room of extremely good well adjusted kids mixed with a good
many of what I might consider damaged kids. Those latter are filled with
bitterness, resentment, fears and doubts. By placing more emphasis on how
classtime is spent, I actually have some levity to be more gracious and
kind. If I can get them to cooperate and work (even though they sense no
urgency to strive to do their best or become better)...I can get them to
pass my class without great issue. Unfortunately you and I are one of
"those!" A teacher, an adult....an authority figure. To get the idea
across that we are not the enemy no matter how deep their issues...well, its
difficult isn't it? We try our best.
Unfortunately in today's times...its no longer simply teaching art to
students that are dying, hungering to take it all in. We have to make our
purpose and cause known, exciting, felt necessary and urgent. Convince
students they are important and have something important to
say/contribute...but the difficulty, the real difficulty (as I've shared
with artists concerning London's quote) is it may not be as easy to convince
them that the world out there, or those at home are "important" as those
worthy to sacrifice our time for...or share what was so important to them.
They lack a recipient of any generous effort worthy to receive their work.
I'll bet if many here were to admit it...there are kids that simply do not
bother bringing their work home. IF you didn't put their work up on
display, it would more than likely have been simply discarded. Junk!
Without that full equation which London speaks..."someone of importance" to
share what was important to them as young artists making necessary art, I
think our task very difficult. In their world...few have proven to really
care about them. An old saying comes to mind, "Kids don't care what you
know...'till they know you care."