Printer Friendly

Art contests & competitions: pro & con.

THIS MONTH'S FOCUS FEATURE LOOKS AT THE ISSUE AS TO WHETHER ART CONTESTS AND COMPETITIONS ARE POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE INFLUENCES ON CHILDREN'S ART EXPRESSION. THE TWO OPINIONS PRESENTED OFFER PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS FOR BOTH VIEWPOINTS. THE EDITOR'S COMMENTS ON PAGE 4 EXTEND THE DISCUSSION.

AS WITH MANY OTHER EDUCATIONAL CONTROVERSIES, HOWEVER, EACH ART TEACHER MUST DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR HER OR HIS STUDENTS BASED ON INDIVIDUAL SITUATIONS AND SETTINGS. HOPEFULLY, THE IDEAS AND COUNSEL PRESENTED ON THESE PAGES WILL PROVIDE A SOUND BASIS FOR DECISION MAKING.

Ever since I began teaching art thirty-three years ago, my colleagues, far and near, have debated the pros and cons of student competitions.

It is my experience to use, rather than be used, by the multitude of art competitions. When I submit student art to select competitions, it becomes a source of inspiration motvation and a means to develop a strong sense of pride in the students' art program.

My first guideline is not to do a specific project for a specific theme-oriented art competition. Second, I dislike competitions that require the students to use a specific item in creating their piece, or to use a specific brand-name art media. Third, I will submit work done only as a result of our art program - I do not encourage my students to create artwork dictated by the whims of a corporate poster scheme. At this point, I must state that the biannual Dream Makers competition is really in a special class of its own. This is an example of a quality program that should fit easily into every worthwhile art program.

First, I make a decision as to whether the piece in question can withstand the scrutiny of a knowledgeable juror's opinion: a juror who knows children's work. Seldom, if ever, do I place any emphasis on the fact that Betsy's or Fred's artwork has been sent to an art competition. I let the students know what has been done and I do not get their hopes up. I've made statements like the following: "I like your art piece and I'm going to gamble my opinion against an unknown art judge's opinion. Maybe he or she will agree with me. If you don't get in or win something, that does not mean you or the work is not good. It means the judge did not agree with me." You see, I've removed the student's fragile feelings from any real damaging side effects.

There are some very positive points to consider that occur as a result of a student or students receiving recognition for their skills. Attention is drawn to the school and art program, and other students develop pride in their own work. The entire school and surrounding communities have become more aware of our school's art program. The students talk positively about their art involvement and the school district's arts education support has acquired a very firm foundation. As these successes multiply each year, that support base becomes one positive force for the maintenance of a quality program. A student with talent may be more willing to be artistically challenged because the judges have recognized that child's talent. The student's success evokes a willingness to become a risk taker, which is a concept and goal of any total education experience. The entire grade, and many times the entire school's level of creativity, reaches new heights.

The success of a student's art work evokes many good questions to be explored in class: "Why is this art piece good? How was it done? What media were used? What were the goals of the activity?"

Benefits may arise from the way in which the art teacher responds to unsuccessful entries. Competitions can often provide a unique way to evaluate the overall art program. I know success or failure depends on the opinions of a select few, but constant failure makes the teacher more aware of what is weak or needs attention; to take a look at more children's work and to evaluate teaching strategies. You see, the pride that students have is also evident in the aware art teacher's pride in teaching.

One item that deserves to be mentioned here is the attitude of the public relations minded administrators as opposed to those who are more artistically aware. The former type of leader tends to judge the art program on awards won and the end product. They tend to negate the processes that have led to the end product, which are statements out of context. In other words, the art competition award becomes more important than the artwork itself. Art educators must do all they can to reverse this thinking.

In the final analysis, each art teacher has to make his or her own decisions about art competitions. In my opinion, the positives far outweigh the negatives as long as one sets some personal guidelines. Maybe tomorrow I'll consider thoughts about the negatives.

Offering prizes of cash and scholarships, invitations to participate in art contests begin arriving in art teachers' mailboxes early in the school year. It is tempting to try to enter them all, provided the art teacher has the budget, the energy and the stamina to critique, select, mat, frame, pack and ship material, and keep track of deadlines, arrange for color slides and fill out countless forms.

The advantages of art contests are apparent: The student receives recognition and so does the teacher. If your students win, you are a superior teacher. The winning students, reassured that their talents may indeed be worthwhile, may be encouraged to develop them and go on to further achievements. The disadvantages are not so clear. It is easier to see what winning does for the winners that it is to see what losing does for the losers.

In evaluating the usefulness of competitions in a public school art program, some questions arise. What are the consequences of competition? Are there good reasons to participate? Are there good reasons not to? What role should competition play in an art program?

The mission of the school is to provide preparation for citizenship, career and life competency. A school's written philosophy does not usually include statements as to how these goals are to be achieved. A close look at the actual structure of a school reveals that much educational practice tends to be of a competitive nature. The idea that life is a highly-competitive matter, and the sooner one learns to compete the better, is rarely questioned. A school tends to prove itself through its winners. it is easier to enumerate specific achievements than it is to evaluate whole groups and to monitor general progress. It requires only a brief consideration, however, to recognize that citizenship, life competency and career success require more cooperative skills than competitive ones. Daily living, and most jobs require that individuals be able to work together satisfactorily.

A review of educational research also shows that: (1) American students demonstrate the most highly-competitive behavior of any country's children; (2) While students see school as primarily competitive, they would prefer that it be cooperative; and (3) Cooperative structures of learning produce equal and higher levels of individual learning in problem-solving activities when compared to competitive structures.

With this general situation in mind, how can the art teacher decide the merits of competition as an educational technique?

The goals of an art program generally involve the learning of skills in performance and apperciation. Specifically, it seeks to teach mastery and understanding of various art forms and techniques, and to give the students opportunities for expression and communication not available by other means. It also seeks to provide preparation for a career in art for a few and leisure activity and consumer competence for many.

What kind of classroom structure provides the best means for achieving these goals? Understanding forms of expression of other people requires the skill of taking another's point of view: of imagining oneself in someone else's place. On the other hand, when the artist gives form to personal feelings and thoughts, the same skill is required of those who will view it - being able to take the artist's perspective. The trust and openness required to develop these skills does not flourish in a competitive atmosphere.

Most children are often highly critical of their own artwork. At the same time, it has a personal connection for them which they feel very strongly. This conflict is resolved by many upper-level students through giving up on art entirely. Creating a learning situation in the artroom that gives such students confidence and increases their skills is best accomplished through cooperative structures.

Studies show that students tend to attribute success in competition to luck or talent. Most of them do not relate their own efforts and what they are learning to the outcome of competition. The results of most art contests are rarely helpful to a class for the judging is done elsewhere, the competing entries are unseen and professional critiques are rarely sent back with the rejected work. Even the teacher is often at a loss to explain why one piece might have been chosen over another.

But what of the few students who have highly-developed skills, an aptitude for art and self-confidence? It is necessary for the art program to include this minority in the educational plan, for their needs must not be limited by the needs of the majority. Have these students something to gain through competition? In a cooperatively structured classroom situation, these gifted students can be perceived as leaders and as resources: persons to observe and learn from. The other students can take pride in their accomplishments. In a competitive situation, the gifted students tend to be admired but resented. They may isolate themselves from class interaction, or may downgrade their own performance in order to win approval and acceptance. It is difficult for them to be helpful and to work with other students under these conditions.

It is necessary to note that a cooperative classroom structure does not happen automatically. If the teacher does not plan and implement a structure, the students will fall into whatever pattern they have learned in previous classroom situations. As we have seen, this is usually a competitive one.

If the uses of competition are limited in learning, then competitive practices must be limited. However, there are some areas where they can be appropriate.

School exhibitions of student artwork can include something from every student without judging, while entries for state or national competition can be selected by the group to represent them. Gifted individuals can be encouraged to enter pieces as special outside assignments beyond their regular classroom activities. The important point is to keep the competitive aspect from dominating the classroom. If the aim of an art activity is to produce something for a contest, the competition interferes with and substitutes itself for the learning process. The process of learning is different from its product. Art must involve openness to exploring, to making mistakes, to trying new approaches. The pressure of competing tends to interfere with rather than to motivate this process.

The apparent success of the competitive mode in stimulating support and enthusiasm for an athletic program often leads us to consider the possibilities of promoting competition for similar purposes in other areas. Before we rush in with plans for art pep rallies and Cubist cheer-leaders, let us consider the impli-cations for learning.

Athletic competition may not be as successful as it appears, at least in education terms. The few students who succeed are outweighed by enormous numbers who fail. It is instructive to look at Little League baseball. The children form teams, learn the skills of the game and enjoy the productivity of working together. They have pride in each other's performance. Then comes the parental push and the pressure to win. Soon these children resent the less able players; they develop a poor attitude toward their peers, rejoicing in the opp-sition's failures and errors; they become less tolerant of their own mistakes. The fun of the game is gone and, more importantly, with it has gone the opportunity to learn new ways of getting along with one another.

Let's not let our art programs go the way of Little League. Learning skills is a different thing from doing a job; competition is not a good motivator in the learning process; and an overdose of stress and pressure is not beneficial to the young artist.

Allan B. Caucutt is Director of Creative Arts at Maple Dale-Indian Hills Schools, Mequon, Wisconsin.

Derlyne Gibson is a teacher at the Berryville High School, Berryville, Arkansas.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gibson, Derlyne
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:2096
Previous Article:Caricature: the critical eye of Honore Daumier.
Next Article:Stencils made simple.
Topics:


Related Articles
Poster contests: in the students' best interest?
The Business of Being an Artist.
Gravimetric feeding plus profile control yields ultimate blown film uniformity.
Ask the experts in a live chat.
CONTEST'S STARS SEE NOTHING BUT NET : YOUNGSTERS VIE IN HOOP SHOOT.
GIRL MASTERS ART OF FREE THROW : 12-YEAR-OLD WINS STATEWIDE ELKS SHOOTING CONTEST.
THE SCREEN : TWO NBC ROOKIES GET `MUST-SEE' BOOST.
Education Extra Achievements.
Measures: Some get big bucks, some don't.
2007-2008 MTNA Student Competitions.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters