Learning is the Space Between
The point of teaching art is, or should be, to get students to make art. Their own art. Not just the follow along, teacher selects the media sort, either, but the autonomous, deeply understands and can apply new skills type.
This is what I try to assess with my final exam by comparing work from two points in time; the first day of class and the very last.
On the first day of class, I asked students from my high school Art 1 class to draw something, no other directions. This huge, ambiguous task was energizing for some students, while others are paralyzed with indecision and the rest tend to recreate something safe and familiar. I save these drawings, and on the last day, I pass them back ask students to do the same task again, then meet with each student to talk about what the comparison of their work shows about their increasing ability to independently work as artists.
Before: Anna did a great job drawing flounder, but the work wasn't very original. After: paint, yarn and ribbon combine to make the familiar unexpected.
Before: Kat was stuck on the first day. Kids had over an hour to work and she said she spent most of it unable to think of an idea. After: she confidently selected media and recreated the same image she'd selected before easily, combining it with images of global warming to add additional meaning.
Before and after images both address things the artist likes, but the first image was unfinished and relied on stored symbols, while the second is thought out, intentional and visually interesting.
Before: She was stuck and couldn't think of an idea, so she just drew her phone and added random colors. After: She still couldn't think of an idea and knew she had to start working, so she asked her friend to pick an image from a magazine for her and filled in the background, adding a red line to emphasize the figure's emotions.
Libby used the same colors of chalk pastel in both her before and after, she told me, but in the later version created more volume and defined shapes and depth.
Isabella and I talked about the many improvements between these two points and how her work has progressed from flat and generic to dimensional with realistic details.
Before and after are both lotus flowers. Camille talked in our conference about not knowing what media to pick or how to use it well in the first image. The flower she made during the exam. she said, was made with chalk pastel that she blended smoothly, achieving what she envisioned but was not able to achieve in the first experience.
In all these sets of work there is a common theme of growth. Not just in the technical skill that is easy to see in each work, but in the capability of undertaking the process of art-making; to generate ideas, plan how to communicate them visually, problem solve when challenges are encountered and select appropriate media - all independently. The best part about this whole experience was how comparing the two works help students reflect on their own growth. Looking back at that work from the first day was as good as having a time machine - they remembered how they struggled with this big, open task I set, then saw how differently they approached the same assignment now by applying all they've learned.
Every student, many of whom started as unsure or even unable to use their own ideas were all able to confidently use the studio to make original art on their terms. They didn't need me and that's the whole point.
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I'm interested in creating a student student centered space for my high school students through choice and abundant opportunity for self expression. I'm also a writer for SchoolArts co-author of The Open Art Room.