Motivation and deeper learning are intrinsically linked to art education. I consider myself lucky to teach a subject that I thoroughly enjoy, and that I know will have a positive impact on every single one of my students. It may sound odd for an art teacher to say this, but it has never been my goal to teach and guide the next generation of great artists. Instead, I try to make sure every single student leaves my class with these three understandings:
~ Hard work always pays off. It may not happen right away, but in the long run, one will reap the rewards of maximum effort as long as he or she doesn’t abandon the “try”.
~ Every single person (including you!) matters. Everyone deserves respect and kindness. Seeing and understanding each other’s differences makes learning a two-way street. In my room, all voices are heard and valued.
~ Art is a safe space. Ask questions, express yourself, try new things, and be confident in one’s self. The world would be very boring place if everyone followed along blindly.
All that being said, my classroom isn’t some “hippy-dippy” place where we all sing Kumbaya. Nurturing and welcoming does not mean easy and/or unstructured. In my class, I adhere to discipline-based art education, guided by SOL foundations and strategically cumulative curricula. I am also conscientious of visual culture, because the world my students are growing up in has changed a great deal since I was their age. Regardless of what subject one teaches; if it is not made relevant to students’ everyday lives, there is little to no likelihood that they will retain the concepts long-term.
It isn’t generally all that hard to get most students to be intrinsically motivated to succeed in art. The motivations for striving to succeed in art can be extrinsic, e.g. people viewing/complimenting one’s talent, creativity, insight, skill, etc. Undeniably, public acclaim and winning contests play a role in extrinsic motivational factors. But those same things are also what drive many away from art, fearing that they will never be able to compete with an individual they perceive as “better” or “more talented”. I have no problem with a little healthy competition and extrinsic motivation, but if the majority of your students’ motivation is not intrinsic, than the point of education (in any subject) is missed.
Most individuals find a greater reward in self-fulfillment e.g. mastering a skill, pride from one’s creation, and good old-fashioned hard work. In and of itself, the process of creating art is fun, so regardless of the finished product, it is an enjoyable experience. When a student’s motivation is intrinsic, deeper learning occurs much more naturally. I think of my syllabus as an exercise in educational synergy. Connections with core subjects and everyday visual culture are seamlessly part of our daily activities. For this reason students leave my class knowing that what they learned is applicable to far more than just making something “pretty” or “cool” looking.
Instilling intrinsic motivation and cultivating deeper learning takes profound dedication, self-reflection, and unwavering commitment to both one’s students and profession.