I've been looking at picture after picture of art teacher rooms today. They are decked out to the nines with thematic, coordinating decor. I felt a temporary urge to run to school with my staple gun looking at them. I suppressed it. You see, I think we as art teachers place too much importance on appearance. Now I've lost you. What art teacher wouldn't place the up-most importance on how things look, you ask? Well, one who places more importance on the thought behind them.
Take, for example, the student artwork in the hallway. It's beautiful, brightly colored and coordinated. We've all seen it countless times. It has the same appeal as a rack of shirts at the Gap - looks great on display but no one would mistake each one as an original. Art is there, in the set up of the lesson, in the organization of the steps, in the displaying of the work but not in the work itself.
The tasks that students are asked to do in this scenario are to reproduce each step as directed. It's what the parents expect, it's what the teachers expect, it's even what the students expect but it is not art. Art does not match, it is not same size and color palette as the art it's displayed next to. It's not orchestrated by the teacher. Student art should be planned by the student. It should be varied, original and sometimes messy. Student artwork isn't always pretty. There are false starts, mistakes and projects that get entirely scraped. That's okay. Mistakes often provide the best opportunities for growth, as does failure. When the teacher takes on the planning, the selection of materials and the problem solving of a lesson the work that results is the teachers, not the student's.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.