In the art classroom, at least mine, I aim to provide an enjoyable experience for kids that helps them learn new technical skills and practice existing ones in a layered and connected way. I try to provide engaging contextual themes for the kids to create within. I also try to include the part of art that is meditative, self-affirming, and just plain fun. Kids need more of that than ever before, especially in middle school. Balancing all these elements is so challenging within a limited schedule like art teachers have. What do we focus on, what to we leave out? Facing more and more time cuts due to testing and other disruptions, time is precious and each activity means more.
Kids love "free art" time because they determine the project they create. They often make things that show very little skill (the dreaded "painting" of their name or splatter paint - yuck!) and challenge themselves very little. But it is THEIR art, and it makes them feel good. An art teacher has to capture that spark of interest that a child has in making something -- anything -- and turn it into a skill building, feel good activity. Considering that each student in the room has different interests, skills, and understandings, this is not an easy thing to do! Art teachers routinely practice differentiated instruction, all day long, every project. Collaboration and peer sharing is a natural part of the art class environment. Self reflection is often an automatic part of the process. Technology is integrated, easily. It all works because it is ART and making art feels good. By "overacademizing" the art classroom we are losing the best part of art education. By thinking of visual art processes as merely support for other academic subjects misses the point completely. The plot is lost. To quote the great Roddy Frame:
"You're damming up the river just to figure how it flows / if that's the price of knowing baby,
I don't want to know."
What will you make today, because you CAN?