Sunday, 19 February 2012

Why Won’t my Art Student Paint?

Almost every art class has one student that cannot or will not deposit paint onto paper. The teacher may offer assistance on the rounds only to find the student has done no work by the end of the lesson. How can the teacher raise student motivation in art class?

How to Motivate Students in Art

Before tackling the problem of the procrastinating student, the teacher must first identify the source of the problem, which, for example might be that the art activities are too advanced for the student, or not advanced enough. Many other factors might come into play, which could be any of the following

Art Activities too Advanced

Beware of the subconscious assumption that anyone can draw a cube or mix blue and yellow to make green. Some students may still need guidance with such practices. An absolute beginner might not have the confidence to pick up a paintbrush, let alone mix paint. A fear of looking stupid might hide itself behind a façade of bravado or a withdrawal response. The student might simply not know what he/he is supposed to be doing due to vague learning objectives. In an effort to encourage the student, the teacher might make things worse by the following actions:
  • Devise an alternative art activity that is so basic, it shows the student up.
  • It highlights a disability or learning need that might make the student feel singled out.
  • Being overzealous with prompting that makes the student feel pushed into a corner.
Art Activities are Too Basic

The lesson plans might not inspire the student or does not offer sufficient challenge. An art course that centres upon basic colour theory is unlikely to motivate an ex-graduate in Fine Art. Either such a student needs to enroll on another class or the teacher will need to rethink the art lesson plans. The activities must not be so prescriptive that it forbids experimentation, a little deviation or differentiation. On the other hand, it must not be so vague that it lacks meaning.

Bad Learning Experiences in the Past

The learner might have been emotionally conditioned by past failures in education. This will cause a low self-esteem whenever exposed to an environment of learning. A fierce inner critic will certainly sabotage any efforts the student will make in being creative. A fear or looking stupid could also be borne from the student who lacks the confidence to experiment and make mistakes, not helped by spending a lifetime away from a creative hobby due to an academic and demanding career.

Communication Barrier Between Student and Teacher

Learners have preferred learning styles which might not be catered for in the art lesson. A teacher who explains pastel shading techniques too quickly, imprecisely or incoherently will not be understood by the student. Some students might prefer to digest at leisure from a handout, or discuss within an art group, or to be shown via a demo. Similarly, some students might prefer to be told what to do rather than to be left to ‘get on with it.’

The Art Studio Environment

An art class might not be as welcoming as it could. A clique of noisy students could make a quiet student withdraw further .The room might be cold, cluttered or the student might not feel ‘cared for’ by the institution, either due to an admin negligence or the teacher who fails to convey any encouragement or praise. A grey classroom with flickering tubing, displaying spilled paint and old easels (I have taught in such places) is unlikely to inspire.

Human Needs in Art Class

Basic human needs might not be satisfied such as hunger and tiredness. Home pressures and worries can also be a factor that will impact upon the student’s output. Debt worries, travelling difficulties or even the time of day can cause the student to feel ‘not up to it.’ Evenings and wintertime can be most difficult.

A Drive to Learn in Art Class

Once the problem has been identified the teacher can make changes to address any of the above. The following actions might help:
  • Match the art activity with the student’s ability.
  • Make sure the art exercises are sufficiently clear that the student knows exactly what is expected.
  • Take caution the student is not singled out because of a learning need, disability, cultural or gender difference.
  • Devise an ILP (individual learning plan) that sets out clear and precise goals and in small increments. This must be agreed with the student. If confidentiality is preferred, the student may fulfil the ILP at home. (Devising an ILP for the art student is an involved process and is covered in another article.)
  • Make sure the learning objectives are sufficiently flexible to permit differentiation, from the gifted student to the beginner.
  • Ensure the student experiences success in learning to instill a positive leaning experience. Give praise whenever the opportunity arises and offer encouragement.
  • Establish a preferred learning style. A student might prefer to be given instructions than to be left alone on a self-discovery in creativity.
An Effective Classroom in Art

Students will keep returning if the environment of the classroom is welcoming and friendly. The teacher has limited powers in such matters but ensure the room is well-lit, tidy and clean, and tries to exhibit a Rota of students’ work on the walls to make their efforts look valued.

A teacher might be criticised for parting a clique of students but in the long run will be respected. Firmness, fairness and ground rules are essential to any classroom and will in fact make students feel more secure. A student who feels catered for in the classroom is unlikely to withdraw into non-productivity.

Dynamics of the Art Class on Student Inspiration

Some students are harder to motivate than others. By eliminating possible factors as described above is a good start. In some cases, the cause may remain hidden. If this happens, keep motivating and keep encouraging. Revising the ILP might be necessary.

Further Articles on Teaching and Art Activities

Two opposing teaching methods for art
Alla prima painting technique
Step by step demo on painting fruit
Essential art matierials for oil painting

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