4 Foolproof Ways to Help Students Develop a Passion for Making Art

There has been a great deal of discussion in educational circles about helping children find their passion. As art teachers, we hope all our students will be passionate about making art. But what makes something a passion?

There is an assumption that if we are good at doing something then we have a passion for it. But this is not necessarily so. Everyone in my family is passionate about playing golf. Everyone, except for me. I’m not a bad golfer but I just don’t enjoy the sport. It’s not my passion.

Likewise, just because we are passionate about something doesn’t mean we are necessarily good at it. I really enjoy playing piano. However, you might not be as passionate about listening as I am about playing.

It is fairly common to see both these scenarios play out in an art class. There are some students that are highly talented at making art but when asked if they will sign up for future art classes they are quick to say, “No”. They will take Guitar or French 3 or some other class. They are pursuing their passion, not simply following what they are good at.

Similarly, there are art students who can barely push a pencil who rush into the art room shouting out the news that they have signed up for more art classes. Like my piano playing, at least we can’t question their passion.


So, if talent alone doesn’t produce passion, what will? I believe there are four factors that, if incorporated into our art lessons, will help our students develop a passion for making art.

1. Art Projects Should Bring Enjoyment

Most people agree that art can be fun; but what makes something fun? Fun doesn’t necessarily come from silly, projects that are easy to do. Challenges can be fun. When an art project incorporates a challenge, the outcome of overcoming that challenge is enjoyable. In the same way an art project that is not challenging, where nothing is learned or gained, is dull. Busy work is boring because it’s intent is not to challenge but to keep busy. Making sure a project is challenging is just one way to make a project enjoyable. Making sure your project has a certain level of fun will keep your students wanting more.

2. Art Projects Need to Allow Control

The desire to be in control, especially of ourselves is a basic human need. Going to school takes away much of a student’s ability to control his or her world. Schools tell the student where to go, when to go there, and even which seat to take.  We need to design assignments that place the student in control of their art. Projects that are designed to build confidence put the student back in control. Keep in mind that a project that is challenging is fun but one with too daunting a task will cause the student to feel inadequate and not in control.

pasion2 copy

3. Art Projects Need to Offer Choice

Many students believe that art is what they make of it and therefore they should be allowed to make whatever they want. True creativity comes not from being allowed to do whatever we want but rather from making choices based on limited selections.  We should write lesson plans that provide challenges to our students by limiting selections. However, we must be careful not to remove all the choice or the projects will become boring. The fine line is to reduce options while still allowing enough choices for creative solutions.

4. Art Projects Provide Approval

All art teachers have experienced the student that raises her hand and asks, “Do you like my art?” Whether motivated intrinsically or extrinsically, everyone is looking for some type of approval. A good art project allows time for critiquing. This can be as formal as a class critique session or as informal as an encouraging word as you walk around the room. What is important is that the critique be both honest and helpful. Empty praise sounds good but fails to deliver any impacting approval. Likewise, a critique that provides only negative criticism will not produce passion.

passion1 copy

Consider how each of the above applies to your plans, and share with us in the comments section:

Which projects do your students find motivating? Which projects not so much? Why do you think? 

By making sure each of the four factors above are incorporated into your lessons, you will ensure your students develop a passion for making art.

What are some other ideas you’ve found to help students get passionate about art?


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Megan

    With my 8th grade students, I do a choice project where students make a proposal for an art piece (I make a variety of basic materials available), meet with me to discuss a plan and write a contract for how it will be assessed and what “complete” looks like, do research and sketching, make their project, and then complete a reflection/artist’s statement. I’ve done this project 3 times now, and it is AMAZING the motivation level and diversity of end results. At the moment they are finishing up this project and I have things like a cardboard Minecraft suit, clay One Direction figures, amazing drawings and paintings, melted crayon art, a hand-sewn outfit, a graffiti alphabet book, and more taking shape around the room! Love it! Students who gave me behavioral issues in previous grades are greatly reduced. Is it harder to manage than some projects? Yeah, it is, and I’m working out the kinks, but it’s so worth it to see the kids excited and PASSIONATE about what they’re making. I’m definitely pro-choice based art ed/TAB to whatever extent it’s feasible in your room/curriculum!

    • Charmaine Boggs

      I love this idea, Megan, but I can’t help wondering about your class size. I have 33 students in one of my eighth grade classes, and we only meet once a week for 40 minutes (assuming everyone changes class on time!). I tried something similar with them last year as seventh graders, although more limited in scope, and it had me pulling my hair out for the entire semester. How did you manage the time and space constraints? Any suggestions?

      • Megan

        I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, so because of the way my schedule is organized I have most of the 8th graders in the fall with just a handful of smaller periods (about 20-25 kids) second semester, so I’ve been piloting this idea with them. I’ve been there too with 30+ classes! I do have the advantage of seeing them every day for 50 minutes though rather than once a week.

        One of my biggest frustrations is the space issue…at the moment I’ve been pretty lax with size constraints, but it means my room is overflowing with projects…love the creativity, but I also love to be organized!! Some things I think I’ll do to simplify in the future might be to limit the size to something that can fit in, say, a shoe box, or limit project choices to things that are only 2D.

        Time-wise, throughout the quarter every Friday is choice project/catch-up day, and early finishers can pull out their projects at other times too — works well to keep them engaged. Many students are very motivated and work on their projects at home and after school too.

        Honestly, we’re wrapping thing up now for the end of the year and it’s chaotic and disorganized (nobody come visit my classroom right now, haha!), but the students are really excited to showcase their pieces at an upcoming school event so it’s worth it!

        I would love tips from others who have tried this too on how best to manage it!

        • Charmaine Boggs

          I like the ideas you gave about limiting the size of the project or limiting the project to 2D. You’re very fortunate to have the students daily because the continuity is such a big factor in maintaining motivation. Thanks for the deas, Megan. Good luck with the end of your school year!

      • Karen

        I too see my middle school kids only once per week for 20-45 minutes depending on how long it takes for them to transition. How do you keep them motivated and create continuity? I have been working with this schedule for 3 years now and am still at a loss. It is even worse when we have days off or testing. I have not seen a couple of my classes for 3-4 weeks at a time.

      • Kelly

        I absolutely agree with Megan. I do full student choice (teaching for artistic behavior or TAB) with my middle schoolers and have found its the ONLY way to be sane (especially with 8th graders who disnt choose to be in art!) and get students to be intrinsically motivated to create…especially for those who have been told what to do and how to do it their entire school life (and yes, even in art classrooms). You really have to sell your students on YOU (the teacher) thinking their Choices and ideas and inpirations are valid and worthwhile.
        A choice-based art classroom is a hard tradition for those of us schooled in the DBAE tradition, but it is so much better (for both teacher and student)
        Giant classes are definitely a challenge. But students understand that, especially when you tell them it is a concern of yours. Could you limit 2D work to 11×17 size? And with 3d work, could you say it must fit into a gallon-sized bag (clay)? I’ve also heard of teachers making a “size-test”=a box that all 3d work must fit inside of.

  • TiffE

    I do all of these things in an elementary classroom where I see them one every six days for 45 minutes and it works well most of the time. I think something else to add would be relevance which goes along with enjoyment. I see them being much more passionate about their project when it relates to them and their own ideas (choice). A question I have been wrangling with is how to not only help them be passionate about their work but also want to provide quality work. I can see passion many times but still not see them care too much about their quality. Any suggestions???

    • Lisa Hartz

      I have this problem too! They seem so engaged, excited, and loving the lesson, but their quality of work is less than what I know they are capable of doing. And then as a result, they aren’t as happy with the end product and want to throw it away when they get it passed back. I litterally want to cry when I witness this.

      • Lisa

        One thing that has helped me with my 4th and 5th graders is to remind them that I am picking quality work for the big spring art show. This is a big motivation for these students. What they don’t know is my hidden agenda which is to try to include one piece from each student. I still get some kids who rush and don’t do their best, but not as often.

  • Pingback: AOE LIVE: Episode 4: Making it Work with Cassie Stephens: Talking Passion and Fashion with The World’s Best Dressed Art Teacher | The Art of Ed()