In my opinion, an amazing Art Teacher is one who, aside from all obvious teaching responsibilities, makes time and is continuously seeking ways to advocate for the Arts within the community he/she teaches in. It is hard, especially when we work in a society that doesn't give the Arts the importance that they deserve.
If you are an Art Teacher, and you are as unfortunate as I am in this department, this means that you will be constantly fighting for time, resources, and validation from students' parents, and even co-workers that seem to think that what you do is easy and/or not as important as their subjects. You may even be the ONLY Art Teacher in the entire school, as I was for several years, which means you are entirely on your own.
My advice? Don't get discouraged and don't let any of this stop you. Continuously seek ways to engage students and educate the rest of the school community about how engaging in creative processes is nothing to joke about. Help both students AND adults understand that thinking of an idea, creating something from scratch, and putting it out for the world to see is probably one of the most difficult things in the world. It is imperative for people to understand that these kinds of classes will help students develop skills that more "academic" classes won't and will be essential for their future success.
Living in a society that sees the Arts as something secondary (or not at all) only means that, as Art Teachers, we should use our position to wake people up. Even if change is slow, I am convinced that through hard work and consistency, you will start changing people's minds about the subject. I have definitely seen a change after five years of working at my school. Throughout these years I have managed to help establish a Fine Arts Department that offers Music and Visual Arts extracurricular workshops after school. Before, it was only offering Sports classes.
I have also really improved the quality of student Art Exhibits and have incorporated different things into them that have helped transmit the importance of Art Education to the school community. These exhibits are what I will be giving you some ideas about today. Student Art Exhibits are amazing opportunities to show everyone about the learning processes that happen inside the Art Room. Moreover, they are a great opportunity to transmit the fact that creating an artwork isn't just about making something pretty, but about planning, experimenting, persistence and communication.
My 5 Main Tips for Creating Amazing and Effective Student Art Exhibits
1. Before starting the semester (or school year), establish and organize what projects you will be working on with each grade you'll be having. Depending on the amount of classes you will have with each grade and the time you have each class, set a tangible amount for you and determine what techniques you will be using for each. I love incorporating a variety of techniques for each grade because this gives them a chance to experiment with different supplies and get to know what types of art projects they enjoy the most. I create combinations of painting, oil pastels, mixed-media, collage and do my best to work on a 3D project with each grade. This variety in techniques and supplies really impacts the audience at the time of the exhibit as well. With all this in mind, be flexible and understand that, even with a laid out plan, thing can change.
2. Give yourself PLENTY (and I mean PLENTY) of time for preparation if you want to keep your sanity, especially if you will be receiving little to no help throughout the organization, project preparation and mounting, like myself. I personally start with project titles a month and a half before the exhibit on my off time from work. During class, I focus on students and continue working with them on their projects until literally the week before the exhibit. But I realize I am an insane person. By this point, I focus on students which require extra attention in order to arrive at the two pieces they will be exhibiting at the event. I like including two pieces per student even though I have over 250 student each semester. Again, I realize I am an insane person. Previous teachers at the school only did one.
3. Presentation is EVERYTHING. I dont know if it is my inner Graphic Designer speaking, but the way you decide to display student projects really transmits the level of importance you give to your students artwork. It tells people that you value your students work and others should value them as well. I decided early on that I would be cutting and pasting selected student projects on colored cardboard to create a margin for them. Yes, this means cutting them all myself in weekends. I pick different colors for different projects. Both the projects and their title (more about them in a bit), have the same color. I try not to repeat colors in one same grade.
4. Find ways to incorporate technology into the exhibit and use it to help get the message across. In my exhibits, each project has a title that includes a QR code leading the viewer to videos of my students explaining a bit about their projects. In them they talk about what they learned before starting projects, parts of the process, etc. Yes, I record these videos during classes. Yes, I edit these videos. And yes, most of this is done on my off time from work. After the event, I set up links to these videos in a blog that I made for my Art classes years ago in which I post pictures of students at work throughout the semester. This way, parents can find them and view them again at home after the exhibit. There is usually a lot of noise during the exhibit and they ask me where they can view them later. *Awesome suggestion: I love sending an email to my administrators with the links to some of these videos so they can see how much students learn in my class.
5. Include brief project descriptions that tell viewers what knowledge students gained from this specific project, what techniques/supplies were used and what part of the Art Curriculum is being covered by it. This helps people understand that, yes, you also have specific curriculum topics to teach and that there is a reason behind everything you do in the Art classroom. I have found that this also helps parents understand that there are specific things that are graded in each project. The more you get the message across about how there are specific, objective things you grade in each assignment, the less you'll have to deal with parents asking why you took of points off from their child's beautiful work of art.
That's it! It's time for me to make time for my own art today. Which, in itself, is another important thing. Share your own projects with both students and co-workers and show them that art is important to you. Show them you take art seriously and are constantly working on improving your own skills.
If you have any questions or comments, shoot me an email through the About Me/Contact section of my site. I'd love to help you out! Also, if you'd like to view more pictures of past Art Shows, click on the "Art Shows" button in the Categories section of the sidebar. My students' Art Show is next Friday and I will be posting pictures on Instagram all throughout next week of what I am doing in terms of preparation!
Cheers my friends! Thanks for reading!
Let's be friends!