Thursday, July 23, 2015
The Student is the Product
The following was originally posted on TAB-Choice Art Ed Yahoo site, November 3, 2010, Post # 19720 and re-posted here by request. http://tinyurl.com/nftw2o4
I think all TAB teachers may go through "buyer's remorse" when they let go of the beautiful, teacher-directed projects that wowed adults and looked great on the bulletin board. To expect that the authentic art of children will approach this standard is unrealistic.
It takes some time to adjust and genuinely appreciate kid-art that is developmentally appropriate, but not always adult-pleasing. Our ideas of what should be produced in the artroom is skewed from prevailing practice in which children are manipulated to produce artificial product - products that are naive-chic.
Have you ever taught that portrait lesson where you ask the kids to draw just head, neck and shoulders? "Like your school portrait" I used to say, often timing it to be near school picture day. Although you specifically instruct the kids to let the shoulders come right to the edge and meet the bottom of the paper, some kids sneak their arms and legs into the picture, resulting in a huge head and neck and comically tiny arms and legs.To them, it just doesn't make sense to crop the image the way you suggest. Cropping is a concept that comes later on. WE like the way it looks, and appreciate how it makes the kids draw big (WE love it when kids draw big).How many of us have have instructed kids that their image needs to touch 3 sides of the paper? That helps make their art look great too ("their art"?). We are experts at this subtle control to produce product.
When students are allowed to explore, experiment, play and discover, it is not uncommon for them to take several steps backwards developmentally (or appear to), back to a more age-appropriate stage, or even earlier, to a less mature stage - if they have had little experience or opportunity to use art materials without adult control. Hand-printing, finger-painting, splatter-painting and swirls of color are all pretty normal step one ("scribble stage") stuff, but can quickly become kind of boring, so most students use these experiences as a stepping stone toward artwork with more purpose.
I had an interesting experience today with a class made up of half old know-it-alls (students I started with Choice-Based art last year who were chomping at the bit to get ALL the centers open NOW!!!!!) and half new-to-me students. I TRIED to open centers slowly but the experienced ones were getting ready to either explode or mutiny, so I opened the Drawing, Painting and Sculpture centers all at once and asked their help to bring the new kids along.
After I said my standard "centers are now open, start your art" one new 6th grader from Russia came to me and said "I listened to everything you said, but I must have missed something - what are we supposed to do? I explained that this was up to her - she could choose a center and begin. I watched as she started a painting. It was as if she had never experienced any of it before - what to do? What to make? How to make it? What next? And now what? Each mark she made delighted her. She made a red heart outline (on a GIANT piece of paper) and filled it in with more red (she was delighted with this) then - made a red heart outline and filled it with blue (it was touch and go for a minute - had she put it too close to the first heart? Would it fit? A Cliff hanger!) then what? "Five minutes til clean -up" I announced. Hurry! Scribble scratch paint a background Oooooo - that doesn't look very nice! Now what? Oh! Fill it with black! Look! It covers all the scratchy background! Time's up! Finish tomorrow.
I wish I video-taped her - it was like watching a baby take her first steps.
Will it look good to the principal? Nope. Was it a good use for a 24" X 36" poster board? Probably not, could have used newsprint. What will it say about the program if I have an art show? Not much. What was the quality of the learning? Enormous. The student is the product, not the painting. the learning is the thing. The thing is not the thing. Will this student charge into the studio tomorrow eager to get to work? I'll let you know (I am betting yes).