How to grade artwork is a topic that comes up often in groups populated by art teachers. I am sure that not one art teacher really wants to grade art, but unfortunately for most of us, it’s part of the expectations those in higher pay grades at central office place upon us. But, if we really thought about it, is grading the artwork itself really a good measure of a student’s artistic growth, learning, application and understanding? And, isn’t that the point of school–growth, learning, application and understanding? I mean, school is the best place to “screw up”–to fail at something, reflect on it, and learn from the process/what went “wrong”. No big merger or client’s money is really at stake here, so why not take risks.
Risks are huge in creating artwork. All the masters that so many teachers use in their classrooms are great because they took risks and experimented. For every artwork that was successful, they had at least 3 that either sucked and were failures or just were meh. (Just for the record, I am making that number up. I am basing it on my own journey as an artist.) If that is the case, why are we holding our students to different standards that working artists don’t hold to themselves?
If we grade artwork on how many lines students used, or if they incorporated X# of organic shapes and X# of geometric shapes, then how do we as teachers know what are they really learning. I don’t know many artists that work like that? Why are we telling them they need to have this or that? Shouldn’t the artwork dictate that? Whose work is it anyway? Letting the students figure out where and what to use or not use in their work will help them learn how to grow as an artist. Having conversations with them will help them reflect and grow.
BUT, what if we just decided NOT to grade the artwork and grade their engagement in the process instead? What could that lead to? I’ll tell you what it could lead to. It could take the pressure off students to be “perfect” in their work. It could tell them that they are in charge of their work, not me, the teacher. It could lead to students taking risks in their artworks. It could lead to students trying new media and techniques. It could lead to experimentation that otherwise may not have happened if they are just trying to have X# of shapes in their work. It could lead to failure, which in turn with reflection leads to learning. And all of this leads to the students learning to behave, think, and become artists. And, isn’t that what one of our end goals of art education should be?