Why It’s Time to Stop Using Craftsmanship Rubrics

What sort of art is the best? Is it the highly realistic painting with fruit so dimensional it looks like you could pick it up and eat it? Maybe it’s the abstract work with expressive mark making that adroitly depicts mood or the contemporary work that connects to issues of the moment? We, of course, know determining the “best” of anything is dependent on a range of contingencies. Preference is personal. However, adults often forget this when it comes to children. We want them to take their time, to be careful, so we come up with a definition for “good craftsmanship.”

student working with chalk

What is good craftsmanship?

We make signs and posters to describe it. The circle colored in with even, linear strokes of marker is “good,” the one colored with swirling, energetic lines that leave negative space is “bad.” This makes sense if you’re solely focusing on neatness. It makes no sense, however, if your goal is to instruct the individualized intricacies that make up the human collective of artistic expression. Look at the work of abstract expressionists like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollack. Or, for a more modern example DALeast. Even a cursory glance at contemporary art or art history shows us neat, even color is just one of many options.

I think, deep down, art teachers know the idea of a “right” way to color or shade or stipple is a false paradigm, but we continue to teach in absolutes. We argue students have to learn the rules before breaking them, kids need to acquire skills before they can be creative. However, creativity is the soul of art; it’s the entire point. We shouldn’t ever take our beautiful, divergent, luminous subject and boil it down to “yes” or “no” if we don’t have to.

The fact is, craftsmanship is not a “one right way” sort of thing. It’s a smorgasbord of options. To teach it as anything else doesn’t teach skills, it teaches compliance.

student working with chalk

Instead of teaching in absolutes, we should teach in options whenever we’re able. The benefits of this are enormous because students are asked to apply concepts instead of copy a model, resulting in deeper learning. Additionally, this approach makes room for personal voice and diverse definitions of success.

So, how can we move away from absolutes? Here are three ways to include options in technique instruction.

  1. When modeling a technique, say, “This is my preference, because…” and explain why. Then add, “You might choose to work in a different way.”
  2. Include multiple technique examples in charts and demos.
  3. Make craftsmanship conversations about how to use materials to achieve the student’s vision.

Craftsmanship in the visual arts is important, but we need to be authentic and honest in how we teach it. If we what we call “good craftsmanship” boils down to who best emulates our preferred style, we are doing both our students and our profession a disservice.

What are your thoughts? How do you approach craftsmanship in your room? 

Melissa Purtee

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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  • BossySnowAngel

    As a student, I really disliked it when teachers were so open ended in their assessments that they appeared to be based on nothing more than what they liked. To this day that rankles. So for students to have a shared idea that there are criteria to be met, there has to be some sort of quality assessment included. I tend to grade based on criteria such as “was there a full range of value?”, “was a background included in the composition?” or ” Was there there a clear focal point represented and used in the making of the artwork?”on almost all artwork projects. For subject specific pieces I may ask if the vanishing point was used to create all orthagonals or perhaps if more than one watercolor painting technique used in the piece? I do believe such criteria as craftmanship in terms of respect for the media and surface must be included because they are important in demonstrating attention to the overall project. For most artworks there are plenty of aspects that can be evaluated without simply choosing the “best” artwork (although honestly-even with these criteria-it usually is the piece that is obviously the best that gets the highest grade.

    • Jillian

      I get what this article is aiming at but there is also “care of work”. Unintentionally ripped, torn, folded, bent work falls into the category of craftsmanship. Especially in the secondary classroom where they take their work to and fro.

      • Melissa M Gilbertsen

        I really agree that it has more to do with care. I consider craftsmanship learning to work through problems, to develop focus and perseverance. (I’m sure that’s pretty standard.) I don’t grade students against other students, but instead was this work as good as hard work could make it for that student. At the other end of the spectrum is simply lack of pride in finished work. At the middle school years my students are happy to give me the least…until I get them to see that you want it easy or you want it good. It is easy for me to see who’s giving me their best and those who are not.

        I get so many students of different abilities, but I feel if I get to know them I can see how to help them and encourage them to slow down and enjoy the process while still retaining their own style, or voice. I think what I care about is giving them the tools at the middle school age to create the best work that they can do – and to show them that perseverance is an invaluable skill to be learned. Then they can take that where they want as they become more mature. But this is a thought-provoking question and I appreciate everyone’s point-of-views here.

        • Susan K

          I agree. I have 1st -6th grades, and especially with my upper grades, I stress “no box checking”.
          Was it your best? Is there something you should go back in after and rethink? The perseverance piece is big, because after 27 years of teaching, I find that kids now tend to reject anything that requires a little extra effort and time. As a working artist, I myself have days where everything comes together without a hitch, and others when it just doesn’t flow. I have to reflect, regroup, and revisit the work. That is indeed a behavior, and one that we do teach. It’s a work ethic that will carry their success, not just in the creative realm but through their lives.

  • Leo Barthelmess

    I understand your intent with this article but there are techniques and processes that should be learned. Sure if the student was aspiring for an abstract expressionistic picture then the craftsmanship and skill should be different than photo-realism but both have history to be learned, processes to know and exploration to follow.

    I also think you and I would greatly differ in our definition of creativity. Through my research, creativity uses knowledge as a starting point. Creativity individuals learn everything and then turn their backs on the previous and focus on the new.

    • Susan

      I completely agree. They are students, thirsty for knowledge and experiences with new materials. Establishing a standard of craftsmanship does not omit creativity and individual expression. It gives the students the tools they need to successfully communicate their higher level ideas. An expectation of high level craftsmanship is also a good life skill to have, whatever the endeavor happens to be.

  • pac

    I usually demo and have students “play with different techniques. The goal is to achieve control of the medium to get the desired results. an example of this might be working with values, and to have a wide range of values with smooth transitions. Students may be working with one or two mediums and can choose between hatching, cross hatching, stippling scrumbling, pencil pressure etc.

  • Once again, a great an timely article, Melissa! I just told a student yesterday to even out his colored-in shapes for a positive/negative shape project. Now I wonder if it would not have had an interesting effect if his “coloring” had been more scribbley. How do we guard against laziness, though? This particular student did not like the assignment. I include craftsmanship to reward people who spend a lot of time on something. Some students are unable to achieve nice, neat work, but they work and work. Maybe ‘time spent on task’ should replace craftsmanship?

  • Camille Gammon-Hittelman

    I get what you’re going for, and I agree with parts of it- but part of being in school is learning how to follow directions, learning basic skills, and then learning more advanced skills. You learn the “rules” of art so you can later break them. I never learned all the basics when I was a kid (or a middle schooler, or a high schooler, and barely got anything in art classes in college) because they just let us run with stuff. That decision by those teachers definitely hurt me as a growing artist. As a teacher, I show a few ways to do something, and then I explain that they don’t have to do it my way- but they do have to do it in a thoughtful manner. And that’s an absolute. They have to be thoughtful in how they do it- and scribbling quickly will not fulfill that requirement.

    • Scribbling can be gorgeous! Yes, thoughtless work is unacceptable but that shouldn’t exclude any specific styles, which craftsmanship rubrics can easily do. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/69/ff/48/69ff481fa039f5c1137b3d74b8cd09a3.jpg

      • Becky

        Scribbling can be gorgeous but often the kids want to learn to make it look neat first (obviously some lessons need a more expressive mark). At the elementary level, I feel you have to help fill the students’ “toolboxes” with the harder, more controlled craftsmanship. At this level you are building motor skills. I think there is a huge difference in craftsmanship and always coloring in the lines, so craftsmanship has to be taught. Otherwise my kids will continue to think pollack was just splashing paint everywhere just because and keep telling me they did their best by working for 10 minutes and being done instead of putting the work into it and then being amazed at themselves. And when you get down to it, when you show the kids how to amaze themselves, that’s when you know you’ve done what you came to do. Just creating however will not always do that.

      • Nicole Kosek Caulfield

        Scribbling can be gorgeous. You can always teach them a lesson on how to use it as a technique or encourage a student that truly works that way (and isn’t trying to rush) how to hone that skill. But by just saying craftsmanship doesn’t matter – that’s just silly. Nothing is black and white. Good craftsmanship is showing you care. I have been on jury boards for galleries before teaching and let me tell you, we would never have allowed in work that was careless or that was not presented professionally. I think it is important to teach kids that in the real world it matters.

    • Teresa Essex

      I agree with you 100%

    • Denise Tanaka

      Yes, I agree too! Well thought out.

    • Mary Jo Pauly

      I completely agree. We make the supposition that students know how to use (apply, clean/maintain/truly understand) materials and it is not necessarily true – knowing ABOUT watercolor, acrylic, tempera, etc. etc. enables a “toolbox” to design and devise meaning – and ultimately allows us to be free enough to consciously decide to make something “bad.”

      I am a book artist (M.F.A. Graphics/U.W.-Madison) by avocation and within that genre there is CONSTANT discussion about “craftsmanship” vs. “art” and how the two interconnect. The question, I find, is finding suitable balance; art is about creativity/innovation, but it is also about discipline. (The difficulty, in no small part, being that experienced artists make it all look so very easy.)

  • Abby Fliehler

    I absolutely LOVE this article! In a world where assessments dictate our profession and take up a huge part of our student’s school experience, it is important to let go of the constraints of rigid, formal art techniques and embrace our learning artists’ lack of fear, love of color, and confidence in creating their visions. Sadly, this is the one of the only times during the school day my students’ have to do open ended work. Yes, there are techniques to learn and media to teach; however a true artist takes those things and makes their vision anyway and that should be encouraged, not restricted by strict craftsmanship guidelines. I think kids are struggling because they CAN’T do things unless there is a checklist of guidelines to get to the right answer and I don’t believe art should be another one of those subjects.
    I also like the point you bring up about compliance-it kind of depends on what you believe education to be for-teaching compliance is not something I enjoy about my job. I know there are things you need to do for classroom management but in the art room, compliance to everything can turn into some really boring projects and pieces. These questions guide how we teach, what we teach and most importantly why we teach. I have to check myself a lot as well, why am I teaching art? So my kids have great technique or because I want the to love art as a way to express themselves like I do. It is a tricky balance in an academic setting but one that is all the more crucial in this data driven environment that we work in.

    • Yes!

    • Nicole Kosek Caulfield

      Someone else said that we teach how we liked learning. I loved learning new techniques and tried to master them. In the end I liked some and not others, but trying all of those different media in yes, the techniques my teachers taught, allowed me to experiment to know how much I liked creating and which media worked for me. I gained the experience of seeing and looking and how the visual world works by trying those techniques as well. I too dropped a class in college – painting 1 because the teacher would not teach techniques and just let us go. I would have preferred learning how to block in, how to do a grisaille, and how to use an underpainting. Instead he told us to paint then hovered criticizing our techniques. I never understoood that.

      My students get an incredible amount of freedom even though I teach projects because if I see them leaning towards a certain way to use a medium I didn’t show them I encourage and give them a mini one on one lesson on how to further it.

      I teach art because I love art. I get giddy about seeing new techniques and love seeing the way other artists do things. Teaching them technique does not stifle their creativity.

  • Matt Tully

    It depends on the objective at hand. You can’t have a scribbler when you are trying to do realism. Craftsmanship should be seen as how they took care of the actual piece..Are the edges bent or dog eared? Are there creases? Are there supposed to be creases, if so…If it is abstract expressionism, for example, then you need the “scribbling” versus the fine tuning of realism…etc….Good article.

    • Sure, kids should take care of their work, but what you describe sounds more like behavior than content to me. I googled “scribble realism” and saw lots of amazing stuff. Why not open it up to what’s possible? >https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/69/ff/48/69ff481fa039f5c1137b3d74b8cd09a3.jpg

      • Erin Crouch

        While that portrait is lovely, I wouldn’t call it realism. I suppose when I think of realism, I think of literal realism. That’s not to say there isn’t realistic qualities of that sketch, because it does achieve a likeness, but it’s doesn’t look like real life (which, in my opinion, is better than realism). I think the comment was correct. If you want to achieve realism, you need to have some good craftsmanship skills.

  • Betsy Glass

    Oh, I disagree. To be a great artist, one must learn how to do almost everything, to become versatile. Picasso figured that out, and used all kinds of painting/drawing techniques whether he was painting realistically, expressively, abstractly, making prints, ceramics, sculpture, EVERYTHING. His CRAFTSMANSHIP made him most USEFUL TO HIS ART.

  • karen Blackburn

    Here is my “check your work for good craftsmanship” list for 2D: Complete edges, redo outlines, no unintentional white space, complete your coloring (no scribble coloring) and lastly, name on it! I have a choice based studio. 3D: limit visible glue, sculpture should have a skin on it. (paint, etc).

  • Erin Crouch

    This article is great to open up these types of discussions. I have to say that I agree with some of this and also disagree. I do not use a craftsmanship rubric exactly, but part of students grade comes from craftsmanship. First of all, I teach high school. In my experience with 9-12th grade students, I think the student’s intention needs to be clear. If an artwork has the intention of being sloppy in appearance, sketchy or however (like the DALeast examples in the link above) then that is fantastic. However, when teaching techniques like burnishing with colored pencils, there is really only one way to do it. Most of the students who turn in messy looking work are not being creative. They are just being lazy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it works that way for all of them.

  • Tommy Simpson

    I think we sometimes we teach the way we like to learn. I was definitely one of those students who wanted to learn technique first. One my main reason for quitting Fine Art in college was the lack of technique being taught. Some of us can create even though we have very little creativity. I don’t know if that makes sense, if not, sorry. Oh yea, and now we have to now give visual arts EOCs (end of course exams) to our 3-6th grade students that are by no means creative.

  • Lauren Petiti

    I do understand that there is a time and place for breaking rules, but I also feel like this sort of philosophy can backfire on a teacher. Take “sighting” for instance; I am currently teaching my students how to draw from life, a useful skill for any artist. I am teaching them how to measure out and compare proportions of different objects to another. If I didn’t teach them a specific technique for doing this, inevitably I’m going to get a variety of responses and many students, if left to their own devices, may not be able to learn techniques using a method that they’ve made up. I’m an Art 1 teacher…it’s my job to teach the students the necessary framework so that they can be prepared for more advanced classes. If I say there’s no right or wrong answer, I’m ultimately doing my entire program a disservice.

    • melissa purtee

      I agree – I also teach Art 1 and there are lots of examples like you gave.

  • David Rufo

    I think that giving children choice and agency is always the best option. Case in point: https://www.academia.edu/3011155/Technique_Schmechnique_Why_Kids_Dont_Need_to_be_Taught_How_to_Use_a_Paintbrush

  • Jessica

    Craftsmanship is an objective on my rubrics but I describe it to my students as “having a professional appearance, clean and neat”. For instance your paper should not ripped, torn, or folded (unless intentional). If you’ve erased your paper down to nothing, you should restart. No glue-y messes or glue squirting out. So I take a more sensible, cleanliness approach to craftsmanship.

    • melissa purtee

      I think that’s a good approach!

  • BClaire

    “The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” Pablo Picasso….

    • Mel

      I assume you’ve seen Picasso’s early works? He didn’t start at Cubism.

      • BClaire

        Ha ha ha….

  • Alexandra Benton

    Are art teachers missing the message here? Like the English language we have “rules for craftsmanship” and just as many exceptions as examples for those rules. While we can stress the importance of filling the paper for example, it is far from an absolute. The art studio is a safe place to learn the rules and break the rules. We as educators need to find the sweet spot between pushing skills forward, time to experiment, discover and play; along with thoughtful discourse. Let’s give students the scaffolding to thoughtfully talk about their art and the choices they made as artists!

    • melissa purtee

      I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for commenting!

    • Colleen Hodel

      Definitely true that there are no absolutes!!

  • Janet Conlin

    THANK YOU! I agree 100% – We talk about ‘craftsmanship’ on a technical drawing, where there are rules about straight lines and measurement but other than that who said that drippy glue, coloring outside the lines, and paint smudges is something bad? There are all kinds of artists in the world and I let my students choose which type of artists they want to be… some want to be neat and tidy others want to be crazy expressive.

  • Ant

    While the intention here to make sure that students understand/appreciate the diversity inherent to visual communication and expression is great—laying this argument out in terms of “right-wrong”, “good-bad”, and “which art is best?” is a flimsy straw man at best.

    Early art education should consist of a well structured introduction to, and exploration of, the foundational conventions of that define visual communication. Conventions are not inherently good or bad—nor are they defined by any particular “style”—rather, they are the most basic components that, in aggregate, define an activity. You don’t let children explore mathematics or formal language without basic conventions, so the idea that visual communication skills should be grown without structured conventions promotes a diminishment of the activity into nebulous nonsense.(nonsense that is quick to be cut when budget issues arise.)

    Craftsmanship is the context of the art ed classroom implies a deliberate synchronicity of “creativity” and the appropriate sensorimotor skills to deliberately manifest the creative concept. Creativity in this context is act of deliberate manifestation. The aspiring creative should not encouraged to be a bystander to “accident.” This is not fostering anything. “Guessing” could sometimes have us arrive at the right answer to a math problem—but the approach is not on par with the basic operations and conventions of the activity.

    And lastly, the “we learn the rules to break them” line is utter nonsense as well. This playful adage translates to “the unsubstantiated heuristic I subscribed to did not work and I don’t know why”.

    Keep art education structured and you keep it in school. :-)

    • I agree that craftsmanship is important but I disagree that it has to equate to conformity. Also, why must work that is different (and not planned by the teacher) be accidental or sloppy? This is certainly not what choice is about, or what I’m advocating for.

      • Ant

        I think you are equating conformity with convention which is a gross misrepresentation. They are not the same thing at all (hence the straw man.) Imagine a child who was “instructed” to invent his or her own alphabet rather than “confirming” to existing convention. Has that student been “creatively empowered” by avoiding conformity or has his or her potential to effectively communicate or express his or her creativity via that modality been significantly diminished?

        And the argument to the validity of efforts that are “not planned by the teacher” is a further jaunt into nebulous ambiguity. Does this mean that observation of the parameters of an assignment or classroom activity is “creatively optional?”. Again, if you continue to downplay the role of convention in foundational art or basic visual communication skill education, you inch it closer to the chopping block from mainstream curricula.

        • kcb_d

          I think the problem here is an “either/or/both” argument. Research actually supports allowing young children–I mean 2, 3, 4 year olds–to invent writing symbols; they are beginning to be aware that marks=symbols=meaning. But of course they also should be exposed to and taught the symbols/letters that will allow them to communicate with others in print.

          I teach elementary art, so I know that my perspective is slanted toward younger people. I think young ones need to have lots and lots of time to try materials, AS WELL AS be presented with instruction. Not “either” experimentation or “follow the directions” but BOTH. I show students how to achieve an effect, how to use materials in the sense of caring for tools properly, and also show students how other artists have used similar materials to a variety of effects. But then I want THEM to apply those ideas in unique ways.

          I’ll admit I struggle with the either/or/both, as I’m defining it as either experimentation or taught technique. I remember how my own drawing as a kid would explode after I was exposed to a new conceptual idea–not a how to, but an understanding shift. So I value giving kids those strategies. But teaching students that there is a specific method that can be used like a formula? If there is a formula, some one will always fail. Some one will always feel like they didn’t do it “right”. I want “right” in art to be about effort, perserverence, and fitting your own ideas within the “container” of the tools, question, project at hand.

          So there’s room in my definition of craftsmanship for “care of your work”, “care of materials” (don’t waste my supplies!!!), and effort. There is not room for a single definition of a successful project.

          • Ant

            Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. You definitely present several points that should be explored. First, we do need to be careful in how we assign meaning to observed behaviors during early childhood development. Critical periods are filled with robust behaviors of exploration and mimicry that reflect impressively complex neural development.

            Early mark making, and the initial steps towards, or precursors to, cognitive associations between such marks and concepts are not necessarily an “invention of writing symbols” in the sense that we are exploring here. We can all-too-easily apply a historian’s fallacy framework to observed early literacy and numeracy precursors and find ourselves arriving at problematic conclusions. To further illustrate this point I recommend taking a drawing done by a two or even a three year old, have them explain what the marks “mean”, put it away and revisit it a year later and inquire as to the meaning of the marks. You may see that, if anything, meaning that may “hold” will coincide with those marks that have more “conventional” leanings. Studies do suggest that while the foundations of literacy and numeracy may seem an “emergent property” of solely self-guided experimentation and play, they are actually the result of considerable adult guidance and instruction (Durkin 1966; Anbar 1986).

            It may also be problematic to configure experimentation and instruction into a conflicting or zero-sum dynamic rather than that of a complementary one. Experimentation and exploration are absolutely crucial to an effective learning experience in this context and I think you do actually touch on what can be garnered from such a complementary dynamic by what you describe as “an understanding shift.”

            We must also be careful not to diminish the conventions of the activity for a fear that “someone will always fail.” I see this more often than I would like–even at the highest academic levels. In a 2013 Nature Magazine article, Freelance writer Philip Ball writes: “For one thing, to suggest that the human brain responds in a particular way to art risks creating criteria of right or wrong, either in the art itself or in individual reactions to it. Although it is a risk that most researchers are likely to recognize, experience suggests that scientists studying art find it hard to resist drawing up rules for critical judgements.”

            (Obviously I do not agree with this for a number of reasons.) While such fears may initially seem to keep a potential audience for this activity as large as possible—as art educators we should not let fear define the parameters of a visual art educational experience any more than we let it define mathematics, history or reading. :-)

  • Trevor Bryan

    I really like this article. I agree with it 100%. I run a completely choice based art room. My rubric is much simpler than a traditional craftsmanship rubric. All I want to know is “are students engaging the creative process or not.” No art students have to learn realism (or any ism for that matter) Teaching realism is an arbitrary choice. Plenty of very successful artists don’t even know how to draw well-they simply make the art they want to. Students have to develop their own sense of craftsmanship. I do this by taking all of my students work seriously and talking with them about their goals, what type of art they like, some choices they could make etc. it’s not my job to judge whether their work is good or bad, well crafted or not. My job is to supprt them so they can make the kind of artwork they want, the kind they are interested in. The Fauves, the impressionists, the post-impressionists, Rembrandt were all criticized for their craftsmanship-they did okay deciding how they wanted their work to look. I don’t know what the great art will look like in the future. Hope one of my students figures it out, it will be fascinating to see. I’ll leave that journey up to them and in the meantime, support them anyway I can.

  • Jackson250

    I don’t use a craftsmanship rubric. I don’t grade work positively based on my own preferences or if a student did something based on correct technique as I see it. I also don’t see craftsmanship as a, “shmorgeshboard of options.” I do use craftsmanship as a part of overall assessment and always will. I think of craftsmanship as neatness of work and command of desired technique and media. Whether that work is abstract, scumbled, realistic, etc. Art is communication. No matter how rough or scribbled the work is, there is still a technique to it that makes it successful. As an analogy, think of when you hear your favorite song played by someone who has little technical skill vocally or with an instrument -it doesn’t have the same impact as when done professionally.

  • Jackson250

    I think this is a good topic, but I am little confused by some of the authors apparent thinking on craftsmanship. For instance, she describes craftsmanship as not “one right way” to do things, and suggests to give a lot of examples of techniques so students have choice. She also describes craftsmanship as a
    “shmorgeshboard of options.”
    I think she’s confusing, “choice,” with craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is about developing knowledge and command, over time, about techniques and media so they can be used in ways that help students achieve their desired results with a level of authority no matter age or grade level. (I teach high school.) Craftsmanship is about paying attention to the nuances of media and technique and how they can be used and expanded in. Yes, this does include overall neatness and obvious attention to detail no matter if that detail is splattered or a realistic work. Ever see a Pollock close up? I have and I have no doubt he paid attention to how he used and applied his media and technique-that’s craftsmanship. Not

    • Dawn Kruger

      Yeh, I’m right there with you. There seem to be pretty divergent views here of what craftmanship is. I think you’re pretty spot on.
      I also think teaching technique and expecting every student to try it does not stifle creativity. In fact, it is expanding their skill base so that they have more options in the future. Also, students need a healthy respect for tools-how to to use them safely, effectively, and with precision. But also, when not to use them. For example, don’t use the scissors to unplug the Elmer’s and don’t use the fabric shears for cutting wire.

  • Lmbc

    I teach HS art, and I always stress neatness! I also show video demonstrations and demonstrate technique myself. Even if a technique isn’t mastered a piece can still be neat and clean. I agree with the comments about some students being lazy, especially with two to three weeks to work on a piece!

  • Annmarie

    I say this respectfully and as a legitimate suggestion: Maybe this should be titled “Why It’s Time to Stop Using Craftsmanship Rubrics in the Choice-Based Classroom” for the sake of clarity. Although I would enjoy teaching art as expression, my classical elementary school doesn’t support that. I also believe that students need a full tool box of learned skills, techniques, and styles so they can make informed choices about how they want to present their own work as they mature as artists. So my little learners will still need to know that craftsmanship is helpful to art as penmanship is helpful to writing. If the writing is too messy to read, the message is lost. :) Thanks as always for the forum to discuss these things! I am the only art teacher in my school and don’t often get an opportunity to talk art ed!

    • I agree that the title could have been different, but this article was not intended for Choice Based Classrooms. “It’s Time to Stop Confusing Neatness with Good Craftsmanship” might have been better. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

    • Kathy Dorn Walker

      Annmarie, I agree with your comments. I also use the “tool box” analogy. In my state, at the high school level, out of 29 or so standards, there are only 2 or 3 that actually mention making art. I still need to teach basic skills to many of my students because they do not have the means of creating the art they attempt by choice. Balance is needed in all things.

  • William Palm

    William Palm
    WOK Middle School
    Hillside, NJ
    http://www.williampalmart.com

    This is a well written article, however I’m tempted to disagree a bit here. I have been teaching for 23 years. I started teaching elementary school and now teach middle school. During this time, I have also been a working artist. This theory seems to minimize the idea that art making does require skill, whether you are an abstract or realist artist. I have found in past years that students seem to come in with less exposure to learning the initial skills and concepts of the Elements and Principles of design. I also have noticed that their developmental growth has seemed to drop as well.
    In middle school, I find students shut down in the creative process when they get frustrated with not knowing how to make specific or “well crafted” imagery. So I teach it to them. They seem to have more respect for artists they deem as highly skilled versus those who look like they wiped their hands on a large sheet of cloth. They want to learn how to “properly” create images of people, places and thing.
    Now I do not expect every one to grow up to be a professional artist, and I completely understand that not all of our youth are going to blossom, so I promote self improvement. I have my students complete a couple of projects at the beginning of the school year, then use this as a means to judge their creative development. I look to see how that improves through the projects and lessons I offer them in class. I also show off series of images to see what motivates them, and give them choices in most lessons, acknowledging the individual skills of each student. It’s a lot of work, but it is well worth it.

    If you would like to see my work, my website is http://www.williampalmart.com
    You can follow me on Facebook and Instagram as well.

  • Rob Griffith

    This article makes you question your teaching style. It is always good to be challenged.

    In a previous post you linked a portrait that had been created with a scribbling technique. I don’t really know any other art educators that would give it poor marks for craftsmanship. It was the artists intent to use that technique, and they did it successfully.

    I think you are right that students need to explore, but I believe in incrementalism.

  • Robin Gianis

    This is an excellent topic for discussion. I agree that craftsmanship is something that can not be successfully taught in absolutes, except perhaps when we are copying a style and technique of another artist- but that is for teaching a specific technique only. I do believe we can use the term to help us with our grading rubrics. I think that grading art is always a fine line and I thank my lucky stars i am rarely challenged with my grading because I often grade on instinct with craftsmanship, care and effort all grouped in with one another in my books.

  • Colleen Hodel

    Craftsmanship in art is a bit like proper grammar and spelling in writing. You can write some pretty fantastic and creative pieces, but sloppy spelling or incorrect grammar can be distracting. Unintentionally messy artwork can detract from the ideas the artist is portraying. In both cases, perhaps the work may not be finished until those issues are remedied?

  • Gretchen Shaw

    I believe in both sides of the use of craftsmanship rubrics. At the elementary level I feel strongly about using a guide to push students who don’t give enough effort into adding color etc. These speed racers need a perseverance guide and the level of skill it takes to use certain media needs to be learned. Not using a guide may be more conducive to an AP class.

  • Johanna Peterson

    This article certainly shakes up some paradigms for sure. I wonder how much research Ms. Purtee has done on concrete and abstract thinking? I see she teaches at the High School Level, which seen through this lens, I can agree with her statements. Another good discussion, if quality art is in the eye of the maker, then why have rubrics at all?
    I teach at a level where frontal lobes aren’t fully developed yet and the ability to think in abstract terms, isn’t available to all students. When we are still working with very concrete learners, too many options can cause disharmony and confusion in learning. What do you do with students who’s solution is to quickly place a line on a piece of paper and say “I like it that way and as a minimalist, I’m done.” One needs to clarify creativity+time/concept vs. creativity+rushing just to get finish. That’s another article. :)

  • ABastien

    These ideas are good, but in my high school classes this gives the lazy students a loophole to just bang something out with the least amount of effort and say “but that’s how I want it to look.” With many of those students, convincing them of the value of failure, perseverance, and success at new techniques requires more than just intrinsic motivation and teacher’s encouragement. They’d much rather take the easier road. If you weigh the rubrics to favor something other than craftsmanship, it takes the pressure off a bit but still holds them accountable.

    • Melissa M Gilbertsen

      Booyah!! I agree big time here!

  • Pam Turcotte

    Fine craftsmanship is so developmental. I teach elementary and I have students who, try as they might, are not yet able to cut, paint, color, or apply glue neatly. Some of these children have special needs, most don’t. Their work appears to be a craftsmanship disaster. Yet, I watch them grow and develop year after year. Most get to the point of acceptable craftsmanship- some never do. I give two “grades”in my class: one is skill, technique, and craftsmanship; the other is creative expression.

  • Thomas Holaday

    I do agree that the focus of students work should not be craftsmanship, but I do believe it is an important part of all art learning. I make sure my students know they are learning and experimenting with something new, but time and effort later on when we are working on a final draft is important. Students must slow down sometimes and not try to get it done as fast as possible, as many want to do. In fact many think that it is important to be fast. I do give students many times to just play with materials, but do tell them in a situation when they may want to have a job in art, it must show time and effort. Learning how to hold a brush, or to color in the same direction is important to improve patience with oneself. Many are very excited about their art when they do know craftsmanship is a part that is important. Great discussion thread, and topic!

  • Jenny Jackson

    Love the chance to discuss~ I have often told my students that Art, like beauty, is going to be found in the eye of the beholder. As a primary school art teacher, I feel my students need a little more guidance on coloring in the lines before I encourage them to go out of them. That being said, I always have a few that are able to express themselves differently and can tell me why they chose to do so. That makes the difference between lazy scribbles and diverse styles. My rubrics also usually provide choices within mediums or elements for students to highlight a skill…. “I used kind of lines or texture plates to decorate my fall pumpkin.” (Using lines require precision, the texture plates allow that freedom of somewhat wild coloring.) I can see both sides of the argument for older students. Especially in systems where art has not been consistently taught throughout all grade levels. They need the experience of procedures of art techniques before they experiment and express themselves. But they do deserve the chance to get that! I feel the same way with my daughter in the kitchen. I like to let her create new recipes… but she has to have some basics too.

  • Suzanne O

    I believe strongly in both craftsmanship and freedom of expression. When I explain craftsmanship to my students I let them know it is the care they put into their work. It doesn’t always have to stay within the lines, etc., but it should be well made.

  • Doug Gaddis

    I do believe that craftsmanship is how well something is done within the parameters of the art form and medium. So there are many variables of solving a problem. But knowing how to work and find solutions is part of the craftiness of an art piece.
    It is much like when we see a work and we think “now that is clever.” But then on the other hand grading is different, as far as rubric points. Those should be used for assessing only when grading an assignment as to it is being done and completed according to the instructions and expectations. This way it is objective and not subjective. Some fantastic new ideas are born from the path not often traveled when dealing with medium and traditional craftsmanship. It seems to me (IMHO) how well done something is, should relate to what is craftsmanship and how it can be defined or assessed.

  • Kelsey Long

    I feel that there needs to be a happy medium in this case. Sometimes I will alternate technique vs. expression… right now I’m balancing an intense photorealism project with a fairly wild guerrilla art project, under the NCCAS standard of “art follows tradition vs. art breaks tradition”. It’s important to teach creative and contemporary projects, particularly for less technically-skilled students who can be more successful when the parameters of the project are not “color neatly.” But at the same time I don’t want to de-skill my students, whose personal passions may be realistic painting, drawing, or sculpture. Besides, students need a certain skill set if they are going to successfully communicate their ideas through their artwork.
    This article really hits home for me, and reminds me to put my own instincts aside sometimes and teach skills and techniques students may need or want to develop. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/f-scott-hess/is-deskilling-killing-you_b_5631214.html

  • Patti Wright

    When I think of craftsmanship and how I want my elementary students to approach the idea, it’s more about neatness and controlling the media. Once they get a handle on that, then it’s about an idea for the subject matter, your viewer, and the intended outcome.

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