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Every time I look at this picture I get agitated…

horse picture

Because it’s not just a horse. It actually represents a long year for my 9 year old daughter in art class. Yes, art class.

My passionate, creative daughter hated art this year because her art teacher never quite understood that art should inspire and excite.

Instead, this teacher was intent on making the kids sit with their hands folded in front them, draw lines as perfect as possible and never think or draw outside the box.

They never experimented with clay or glued bits of different materials to see what gorgeous, unusual creation might develop. Class was structured and tedious. This teacher even painted on children’s own paintings to make them more acceptable, more perfect.  At the school’s art show, all the art looked almost identical.

I’m saddened for all the children she did not inspire this year. I’m sure if there is a future famous artist in one of her classes, their passion will persevere.  But what about the kid who is struggling, who may have discovered a creative outlet if only she had freed that child’s spirit.

My husband and I even met with her and the vice principal.  It was civil. It was polite. And she never got what we were trying to say. But the students have won lots of drawing awards, she pointed out. I’m not sure that’s the purpose of elementary school art, I pointed out.

I told my daughter that this was a lesson is learning to deal with difficult people. That she would meet and have to work with lots of people in her hopefully very long life that weren’t her favorite and it was necessary to learn the skills to get along with them.

Thankfully, my daughter did love her classroom teacher. She was lovely, kind and warm. The kids did projects on the planets and even got to create their own aliens out of recycled materials.  There were no rules. Or perfect aliens. Just creative freedom.

This was Dylan’s alien from Neptune…


Dylan’s alien looks like… umm….

Two microphones. Yeah, something like that.

The horse has been put away (per my daughter’s request). But the alien is proudly displayed in our living room. It’s sparkly, bright and an original. Just like my girl.

mama bird notes:

I’m once again working with Luvs and the new season of ABC’s “Bet On Your Baby.” On this entertaining show, families see just how well they know their toddlers (ages 2 to 3 1/2) by predicting their child’s next move in the hopes of earning prize money toward their college fund. A college fund? Damn, I need to get on this show.

I will be live tweeting during “Bet On Your Baby” this Saturday night @ 8pm EST.  Please watch along with me and join the conversation! You can find me @mamabirddiaries or look for the hashtag #LuvsBOYB

18 Responses to the imperfect artist.

  • Rebecca says:

    Gah! As a middle school arts teacher, I am completely saddened for your daughter and her class. The arts (um, all learning, actually) should be about the STUDENT and her discoveries, it should be about process, experimentation, fun, and risk-taking! I hope her next art teacher is more suited to her creative nature (which can’t be taught, by the way – she has one up on that teacher already).

  • Karen Williams says:

    I normally relate to all your posts but not this one. I think teaching kids skills and techniques are essential. Whilst you will always appreciate her microphone aliens, if you want her to actually learn something in art class then let the teacher teach! She’s at school, not nursery … She is meant to learn not play fingerpainting. It’s like a pianist learning scales or finger exercises.. boring yes, important yes! You don’t tell the piano teacher to just let her bash away at the keyboard do you? You expect the teacher to teach certain skills to enhance her natural creativity. Because whilst a parent might enjoy aimless thumping on the piano *or aliens… Not many others will. School is ultimately about learning new things not just doing what you like all day. Artistry involves understanding technique as well as personal flair. If you want her to make collages let her do that with you at home. Let her teacher help her improve upon her gifts.

    • I agree with both sides of this argument. There is a time for free play in art and a time for learning some technique. I’m thinking this teacher may lean too much to the latter and may also not be very good at teaching technique without intimidating the students with her perfectionism. My daughters have a fairly strict art teacher who insists on teaching them certain techniques (i.e., how to paint different types of backgrounds, how to sketch from a model before painting), but she also allows them quite a bit of leeway within those parameters. Her art show at the end of the year features a beautiful variety of children’s paintings – you can see the repeated themes, but you can also see the hand of the individual artist. I think you’ve got a not very good teacher – she isn’t flexible enough to adapt herself to the abilities of the individual student.

    • Kelcey says:

      The thing is my girls do take piano. They are learning skills, and having a ball. They love it! Because their teacher is bringing out their passion. I am not against my daughters learning art skills. But this teacher is stifling their passion. There should be no crying from art class!

  • I also think Age has a lot to do with it. A child in junior school doesn’t need much skill or technical abilities, but rather enjoyment and an introduction to skill. In High school (we start that in Grade 8 here) you need technique and skill. There you learn the Art of Art… so to speak. But not at this age.

  • beachgirl says:

    The thing with school nowadays is that is all about perfection. The perfect test scores, the perfect attendance, the perfect behavior, the perfect art work…kids dont need perfection. They need encouragement, kindness, love and acceptance.I am grateful that my daughter has an amazing art teacher who despite her limited creative area within the school ( because why should the art room need space or a window? ) she instills creativity in each and every child and celebrates each child’s uniqueness. My daughter has brought home some “not so masterpieces” and she speaks glowingly about them as she describes what Ms. M said she saw when she looked at her piece. My daughter loves art and a huge part of that is because she is encouraged to draw outside the lines and that because she created it then its perfect.

  • Mary says:

    I never pegged you for someone that would go to school and complain about the ART teacher!….I guess living in NYC, and being a teacher, makes me adverse to all the helicopter parenting taking place, it’s really gotten to levels that undermine what the PROFESSIONALS are doing, that said, it does sadden me to hear the student’s own creativity was being squelched. I see nothing wrong painting all year, and really trying to hone technique, in fact, it is an important requirement for all budding artist and the individuals who are just trying to use art as an outlet, but a great teacher can teach technique while capturing the student’s creativity. The fact that all of the horses looked the same is not necessarily a bad thing, at least they all mastered it, and there is value in that, but it’s extremely dull and art should always look like a unique expression of each individual. On the bright side, I went to FIT (the first time around) and we spent an entire semester on a shoe, and I am now an excellent show drawer….you don’t want oppose me in a game of Pictionary, oh no siree bob.

    • Kelcey says:

      I don’t view it as helicopter parenting when I’m concerned about why my daughter is coming home every week crying from art class. I don’t undermine any of my kids’ teachers (in fact my husband and I are some of the few who constantly volunteer and support their efforts).

      I believe it is possible to teach skills and ignite passion. My girls’ piano teacher is a perfect example. My girls are learning to play piano and they love going.

      • Mary says:

        She was coming home crying? Poor thing. Not all teachers are warm and fuzzy, but they all should be able to ignite passion and I personally think the only way to teach is by way of a student-centered constructivist model, but, sadly, many teachers fall back into the instructor-centered model, and while I quite like the Common Core standard, the punitive assessments practices make it easy and often necessary for teachers to shelve their constructivist approach for a “fill the vessel” with knowledge and facts (for the test) approach. The sad thing is that Art and Music are the only areas where teachers could be boundless in their endeavors to engage the students, so it should be over-the-top creative and FUN FUN FUN! (and I know you are not a helicopter parent, that was said in sarcastic jest…)

  • Liz says:

    Young at Art Museum in Davie is amazing. My daughter took art classes there from age 4-7 every Saturday until we moved back to the Northeast. Mixed media class is great!

  • Robyn says:

    When my daughter was in 5th-7th grades she had an art class much like your daughter’s class. She absolutely hated art. In the 10th grade, she was forced to take art as a school requirement and was dreading it. She got the best art teacher. He ignited a passion in her that she never knew she had and we discovered that she is actually quite talented when it comes to drawing. She took art in the 11th grade and will take an AP art class this upcoming year in the 12th grade and is considering art as one of her colleges majors. It just takes a passionate and skilled teacher to bring that out. There is hope!

  • Robin says:

    Hasn’t she ever heard Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers are red?”

    …you should totally gift her the song on ITunes. 😉

  • Elle says:

    I hear you loud and clear! I understand the need for technique, but these kids need to be able to express themselves as individuals in their arts and projects as well. It’s imperative. We had the same problem with our 6th grader’s science/social studies teacher this past year. Their end of the year projects on Central America ended up looking like carbon copies of one another. There was no individuality. Our poor neighbor girl (who is very sweet, artistic, and bright) was in tears about her project because she felt she really didn’t do it herself. As with Dylan wanting to put away her painting, this young lady had no intention of showing off the posterboard she made. She was ashamed of it and felt it was more of the teacher’s work than her own. Needless to say, a group of us concerned parents have arranged for a meeting with the principal to discuss the situation (since these kids will have the same teacher for the next 2 years).

  • kath says:

    I agree completely. My son is an artist. He was born with a crayon in his hand… and in fact the birth took 56 hours to achieve because he found some room left on my uterus that had been left undrawn upon.
    This obsessive drawing on anything ( walls, floors etc) continued, despite my efforts to confine him to less permanent canvas. He ended up going to a 4 year art college, ( Atlanta College of Art, which was swallowed up by Savannah College of Art and Design years later when he was actually employed there.
    Technique, they can learn. But even in college, they tried to teach that a certain type of art was more acceptable. He let them turn his head for a bit, but has gone back to being Adam the artist who does his own thing.
    He now works for GSU in the Art dept… ( not a prof) and he still paints, draws and etc.
    What those teachers do is wrong. What is right is for the child with a passion for drawing, or even just an idea, to be allowed to produce it. That teacher may be a teacher, but she is no artist. IMO.
    I had a biology teacher who encouraged us to creat art, written or drawn on any and every paper we turned into him. HE was an artist. Sorry that happened.


    A degree in art will almost always ensure that one is iving with a less than stellar income from a single source, so artists have to be creative financially, too…

    At least your school hasn’t shut down the art department, or made the high school library into a weight room. ( oh yes they did. )

  • N and Em's mom says:

    I cannot believe that anyone would defend a teacher who painted on a child’s picture. Really? Would you defend a teacher who changed a few answers on a standardized test to make it better? Who changed the spelling of a few words in an essay to make it better? This isn’t just about the art; it is about crushing the creativity of a 9 year old. I can’t even imagine my child painting something and feeling pride, only to have it crushed by a teacher who paints over it. The message these children are getting is your best is not good enough. By the way, if you really want to make a stink and I think you should, the bad publicity that the school would receive if the organizations sponsoring contests found out that a teacher nominated pieces of art for contests that were “improved” by teacher would be epic. I suggest that you send the principal a follow up email stating that the teacher touches up artwork, and you want to bring it to his attention so no artwork is submitted that is not solely the work of the students. This puts his a$s on the line if the teacher gets caught cheating.

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kelcey kintner