Does Fairness Matter when Showcasing Artwork?

Choosing artwork for special shows can be a daunting task for art teachers.  Personally, when it comes to selecting student artwork for shows, I freeze like a Popsicle!

First, I wait until the last minute, because being asked to pick one student over another it is the worst part of my job. I dread it! Then at the last possible moment, I go about the judging like any sane person would do. I take out 100’s of student pieces spread them all over the floor, stand on a table,  and stare into the sea of work. Comparing one students work against another is what I try NOT to do, but sometimes I have no choice. The following steps outline the process I use to determine which student artwork will be in the show.


3 Simple Steps to Choosing Student Artwork


1. What is the student COMMITMENT TO ART? Do they take their time? Do they do homework? Do they participate in discussions about art?


2.  Does the student have good attendance in art? Will the student and parent “show up” at the event? After all, there’s no point in having art hanging on the wall if the student never gets to see it!


3. DOES THE STUDENT BEHAVE APPROPRIATELY? Believe it or not, I have students who fit both of the above criteria but their behavior in other areas of school is not stellar. If the student represents our school in the art show they have to respect school rules. I don’t know everything about every kid, but I have put back a few very strong pieces because the student did not participate in other specials. That was hard to do!


Even after going through all of the questions,  you may still find you have a surplus of artwork that still fits the criteria.

It’s hard to know what to do.  There is added pressure for me because in our district wide art show, there are “winners!”  It’s a juried art show! This creates a lot of drama. All the winners have ribbons on their artwork. (Ribbons to me always make it look more like a county fair then an art show!) This year we had only one winner, which was not unusual. Even when we’ve had more winners I could never understand the reason why a piece “won” over another piece! Art is so subjective, isn’t it?

So this year, I put it out there on my blog. Mrs. E and others had some great ideas!  Mrs. E. from Texas wrote, “You should make some great pins for your artists to wear identifying them as the artists. Your kiddos would feel special, it would take away the sting of not receiving district ribbons, and I bet people would sit up and take notice….” I thought that was smart! So, I went to our local medal shop, got all my students medals.



A few people (“non artists”) found out about my solution and I was shocked at their response. Some said, “They have to learn they’re not always going to win” and “you have to teach them how to be a good sport” finally, “there are winners and there are losers.”

I never thought about it like this!

I thought the drama would end here, but wait…. there’s more!  Back at the ranch (aka elementary school) I had parents e-mailing me for an explanation of why their child wasn’t selected for art show or awards. To put it bluntly I could care less about the awards, it is the dirty work of being an art teacher. Comparing one child’s work to another’s is what I try to get away from all year and here it is staring me in the face and on my e-mails!

Having no idea how to make my students feel more appreciated then I already do, so I decided to ask them.  I asked “How can we make each other feel important and showcase more peoples talents?” A fifth grader decided to take on the task of curating a 5th grade art show! I thought this was a fabulous idea. All the students have to bring in their favorite art piece, so now the responsibility is on THEM to choose!

It seems as though everything had been smoothed over, that is, until next year!

How do you select art for special shows?

Erica Stinziani

This article was written by former AOE writer and insightful elementary art teacher Erica Stinziani.


  • I remember the post on your blog and thought I had commented there. I liked how you wrote that you were going to choose students rather than art. So many of my students don’t show up at the show. We actually had two shows with our district this year. Only one is judged and has prizes. I try to make a big deal to students that they even got to be in the show, but I really like the idea of giving them special pins. Maybe I could do that next year with pictures of the art that is in the show. 

    • Angela they really LOVED the medals and mostly everyone showed up because I had them wear their medals home and gave them a note that night. I know the other students in the school wanted a medal, so there was “winning and losing” on another level to deal with there. BUT, it totally improved turn out DRASTICALLY! Maybe even a sticker that says I’m in an art show tonight with the time and place that they can wear on their shirt home.

  • Knighth

    I follow basically the same criteria you mentioned, although our county shows are just exhibitions, not contests at the elementary level. I often choose works by the same artists, who are consistently hard workers. Think about it in terms of sports – you know the star quarterback is going to play in every game, so I don’t have a problem giving a young talent more spotlight.

    • I AGREE, there is definitely young talent that is impossible to miss. Usually, I find that the students who are “drawers” get pinned as the artists by the rest of the class. Do you notice this? They always seem to be the “quarterbacks.” To put it in sports terms there are soccer, ballet, rock climbing, field hockey, so much more then just drawing (although drawing is a strong foundation.) Some of my best drawers can’t talk about art with the same depth as another student. There are just so many different types of talent! 

  • Smilez893

    I had a local artist come and jury the show so I am not the judge! There is very little love for the arts at my school so I do first, second, third and honorable mention for every grade. I do a quick ceremony and pass out awards. I got a great turn out and not too much stress.

    • That is so good that you promote the arts even though you don’t have support. It’s so hard to do anything without support. That’s why I think the blogs are great for artists/teachers like us!

  • I can be at peace with choosing one student over another. I think kids who do well deserve to know about it, and deserve to be recognized. They may be the student who doesn’t get recognized anywhere else. I’ve had the “Showing Up” problem before too. I felt really bad hand picking kids because I knew they’d come, but it works. 

    • I agree. A few teachers in my district have a big problem choosing some art pieces as being “better” than others, especially at the elementary level. My view is that if students can be celebrated for acing a math test or winning a soccer tournament, why can’t they be recognized for their achievements in art as well? That said, it’s still difficult to choose favorites, and I’m happy I only have to choose art for one special District Office show per year! I also have an All School Art Show each year so that all students can feel awesome seeing their projects displayed.

  • Spbivona

    I participate in quite a few art exhibits throughout the year but they are all exhibits
    and not contests so I don’t have that problem to deal with. The one show, in town, at
    Charter Day – they give ribbons to ALL the students. Love that!!!

    I have a very organized system to help me make sure everyone gets a chance! I have
    a database that includes each student then I list the art show their work has been
    displayed in. I create my class list ( grade book) from that database. I have designed
    the roster to include the info about the exhibit they have been in. So, when i go to grade and process
    the artwork, i can easily see who has had work in a show and who has not! That way I do not pick the same
    students over and over again. I cannot guarantee it, but my goal is always to have each
    student be in at least 1 art exhibit between K and 5th grade.

  • Ms. Novak

    There are a lot of great ideas on here.  This year I did a WHOLE school art show – it was a bit nuts, but totally awesome.  I had each kid pick their best work and hung it in the gym – along with their clay piece.  This way every student gets to show off and I don’t have to pick.

    Now, if there is an area art gallery or exhibit that I am showing work at – I will often pick work that is done with great care.  I then send home notes to these families to share the excitement, but I don’t broadcast it to the whole school.  This may be ‘chicken’ of me – but it seems to work well.

  • Woloszh

    First off, I have not participated in any judged art shows….while I think it is important for students to recognized for their abilities, I think it’s much more appropriate for upper grades (I teach K-5). So I always tell my students when it comes time for our annual show, that its just a SHOW…not a contest. I open the show to all students in grades 1-4 (I feel K is too young…the art stays on display in our school for nearly a month, and kindred just don’t recognize their own work after that long!). The students are each allowed to submit one project from the current school year. I have my older students write “artist statements” about their work, too, which are displayed with the art. This helps the kids take the show and what they are choosing to put in it a bit more seriously, and it slows down the parents and other viewers who come to the show…they really LOOK at the work. And sometimes the things kids will write about their art…just amazing!! Anyway, with this approach, there is no drama, and no ‘unfairness’…its all on the kids.

  • Artvcu

    You simply cannot think of it as “winners” or “losers”. I have been doing this for 25 years and it boils down to who really hammered the lesson….I mean met every objective and went far beyond the objectives. Their behavior and attendance, to me, is irrelevant. Many students cannot help if they are absent…for whatever reason. Their behavior….if a student is behaving inappropriately throughout the lesson…then the work usually reflects that.  I have a handful of super creative kids who can’t close their mouths to save their lives….but their finished work is amazing. Try to remember what makes us all really creative people. I do notice that many of my students whose work is selected….have been selected before. If that is the case I take a harder look at the work of others. It is tough…but one has to keep the objectives in mind and show other students, staff and parents, what that program is really all about.

    • erica

      I think that behavior in the upper el grades doesn’t always reflect in the work. A lot of the behavior problems are “under the radar” such as bullying incidents. I can’t see rewarding these students even if their work is the best, it is a very complicated job we have and you’re right it is not black and white. Talking is definitely not a behavior issue in the art room. It is one of the only places kids CAN talk in school nowadays:)I have been thinking about how to show staff, parents and students what the program is really about. I’ve noticed when writing is displayed with work (student responses, artist statements) that the work gets more then a “that’s nice” response. Also posting pictures of students working “process pictures” with the displays helps everyone understand more about what we’re about. I understand though that a juried art show doesn’t have room for this type of thing and therefore can’t represent what my program is about. 

  • Woods Amelie58

    I go through the student artwork by project and pull out the ones that I think are well done–I don’t look at the names at this point.  Then I go through those and narrow it down until I get to few enough pieces that I can put them up on the wall to look at them.  Then, I wait until I have been out of the room and look at them when I come back in.  Usually there will be one or two that will jump out at me.  I am fortunate to have another art teacher on the faculty to whom I can turn for her opinion.  More often than not, we will be drawn to the same artwork.  At this point I will look on the back and see whose work it is.  If I have more than one exceptional work, I will weigh in on student behavior, work ethic, etc.  I consider whether one of them will already be receiving recognition for other accomplishments.  If one of them is a student who seems to struggle with acceptance and/or self esteem, or won’t be recognized for academic accomplishments, that is the one I will go with.  Not to say that I don’t use the artwork of students who excel in their academic classes, but I will always try to give a leg up to the underdog! I am fortunate that I can choose several artworks for our end-of-the-year art show.  We display work from all of the schools in the county and teachers are allowed to submit a number of artworks, though I try not to send more than one work of any single lesson.

  • Beverly

    like the idea of having a student curated show.  However, I work with middle schoolers and they always want to pick their friends.  Perhaps I will have the 6th graders select 8th grade work, 7th pick 6th grade artwork, and 8th grade pick 7th graders.  At the end of a quarter I have students spread out all their
    art and together we pick their best work for a show and the rest can go home.
      This way I can guide them to their best pieces and they have some control and
    personal satisfaction.  Also, I have students take photos of their artwork
    before they take it home (I enter student artwork to several shows that want me
    to e-mail digital entries for jurying.)  I set up a little photo area with a camera on a tripod.  Also, my district requires us to send in photo samples of student work to meet our Essential Criteria requirements.

  • Linda Evans

    I narrow down the art work I want to the finalists. Then I take a photo of each work and look at them on the computer and the LCD. Sometimes that is the tie breaker if there is something about the art work that does not translate correctly as a photo. I also ask my co-worker. In 2012 I was faced with a real problem. All 3 pieces I picked for YAM belonged to the children of teachers in my district. I sent a few hours taking another look at all the finalists…about 80, and it always came back to those three students. I did not feel bad about it, and no one questioned it.

  • mrs. c

    I service 2 elementary buildings of 300 plus, each. Each has an art show. I get all of their work passed back into their portfolio. I pick 3 for each child, as my personal assistant, aka my mom, starts framing. I go through the rosters and check which kid got what project. It takes me 15 hours for each building to do this. Then before the show, they get folders back and I congratulate them and tell them what 3 I picked. They take home the folder the week of the show. There’s always that 4th clay project in the show, too. I also try to have a collaborative display up from each k through 4 grade level, as well.

    Next year I am going to design student self assessment sheets that are attached to their portfolio. The rubrics can cover basic studio skills, behavior, etc, and they will have to self assess 2 or 3 times a grading period. There will be a section I can leave feedback on, so if behavior is lowering their grade they will see it directly.

    I don’t think it’s fair to with hold art bc of unrelated behavior issues outside of the art room. Same number of works for all. That special attention I can give to their family and chat about how awesome they are is so rewarding. I am so grateful for the opportunity to really get to know the families. Forget that there are 600. Open your heart and the lines of communication and you come to know sooo many.

    I make a brochure that describes 25 main projects of the show. There is a tiny pic ex of student work that is exemplary. That’s a wonderful time to boost someone’s esteem or reward, but I agree it should not be a contest.