Here’s a typical conversation between my students and me in art class..
Me : .. So let’s start off by making a few rough layouts for our poster design.
*10 minutes later*
Me: Are you done?
Kids: no ma’am! five more minutes
Me: what are you drawing for so long? I asked you to make a rough sketch
Kid: I did but… it didn’t come out well. I erased it off
Another kid: I did something.. Is this correct?
Me: *internally screaming* yeah, it’s good. Maybe we can make it less cluttered. Why don’t we…
Before I finish my sentence the student would have erased the whole thing and started again, while I try not to scream “LET THAT BE AND MAKE ANOTHER ONE!”
This goes on for another 20 minutes and before we know it, we have spent the entire art class drawing and erasing again and again. A complete waste of time and energy.
Here, I can’t help but feel intense hate towards that eraser. There are times when I have confiscated erasers from these anxious perfectionists and told them to be messy, and see what comes of it.
The eraser is sometimes a beautiful metaphor for second chances, and is supposed to erase the fear of making mistakes. That’s why we have them in the art room. If you’re drawing a portrait and one eye comes out different from the other, we can always erase and correct it.
But what I see in classrooms is that, students from feel so pressurised to make perfect art (even rough sketches) that if their sketches are anything less than a replica of a masterpiece from the High Renaissance, they want to erase it off. How is it these children are measuring themselves with such impossibly high standards, that they would rather show an empty page than their own artwork?
My mother always tells me that as a toddler learning to scribble, I had the habit of drawing faces filling the entire sheet of paper, and I would always forget to draw ears on them. When someone pointed it out, I would find some space on the head or under the chin, and draw a pair of ears there. The grownups would just laugh and move on. We as children would fill the last pages of all our notebooks with sketches that we weren’t afraid of showing to anyone (perhaps to the teacher whose caricature we drew on those pages, but no one else).
But of late, I have begun to notice that grownups don’t do that anymore. We dissect and try to correct these adorable mistakes. We find artistic children and fill their heads with ideas of great art, so much so that these children lose all sense of self and aspire to be someone else’s idea of a great artist. These ideas are reinforced with art competitions, art exams and constant comparison with other children’s art works. The pressure to be the best student has spread to art classes. This is why, art teachers have a hard time viewing children’s sketches, because they’re intimidated by good art (instead of being inspired) and simply unwilling to show their work.
How do we make this situation better? We cannot stop them from buying erasers, but we can find a way to replace it with a little confidence.
- One thing that has helped me connect with my students and gain their confidence, is to forget all my skills and just sketch like I’m in art school and have a submission due. Instead of the awe-inspiring art teacher who’s always going to be better than all the students, I’m vulnerable and messy and imperfect and still learning to be better, just like them.
- Another way to help them understand the artistic process is to expose them to more art from around the world. Not just the classical paintings, but other art movements like fauvism and expressionism. It helps when we talk about artists and their life stories, so they understand that no great artist was born that way.
- The best way is to lead by example, and that means the art teachers themselves maintaining sketch books and sketching regularly. Drawing is a skill that gets better with practice. Continue creating art – good or bad – and share it with students. Do more brainstorming sessions during class, where students learn to move past the first step of doing a rough sketch and do more, without worrying about making it perfect.
Let the erasers sit safely in their pencil cases while the children fill pages with ideas and art.