you can't grade art..

When I started teaching middle school art in SF, students excitedly came to my class saying, "Just so you know Miss V- I'm not an artist. I'm only in here because I definitely wasn't taking Spanish!" These were my wonderful, full of excitement, ready to learn middle schoolers who were so stoked to be in art... just kidding! BUT they did have things they wanted to create, they just weren't sure how to go about it or where to start.

On my first day, students asked me this very challenging question, "If art is subjective, how can you give me a grade on what I make?" This was tough as a first year art teacher who hadn't figured out what the heck I was doing haha. I was really unsure how to approach leading students in an artistic practice while supporting all forms of expression.

Pretty soon I realized, that grades were the most trivial thing to focus on. If students loved the process of creating, they were going to do what it takes to create meaningful art. If they valued art as a form of expression and personal reflection, they would create powerful art. My approach to helping students love the artistic process then became rooted in what I call the "Confidence Curriculum." If we are confident in what we are doing, we put our all into. I created lesson plans that drew from student's observations and experiences. Feedback was mostly done by students for their own work: What do you like about your piece? What did you do particularly well in your piece? Does your piece communicate the things you are trying to communicate? If not, what would help it to communicate that message? 

I also invited every artist I could (musicians, muralists, spoken word artists, graphic designers, videographers) to come share their work with the class. We had concerts where we all sat on the floor while musicians filled the room with musical waves and energy, students moving and clapping along, ending in a huge round of applause. Spoken word poets made us laugh, pause and reflect on how words can be delivered to let us understand someone else's perspective in powerful ways. We would bring our sketchbooks outside for "Outside Art Day" and spontaneously stood to listen and sketch while two men played soulful saxophone tones on a park bench. 
By experiencing art as a human being, outside of the context of grades, school, or other's opinions, we each developed our own relationship with art. 

This is the focus of my practice now- falling in love with the power of art to ground, uplift, move and transform. Reminding myself of this when I create is important. I can get wrapped up in thinking the same questions my students asked me on the first day of class, ""What kind of grade am I going to get on this? What will people think of it? How will they react?"

One strategy I have found for letting go of judging my art based on what I think others will think (phew that takes a lot of energy just to type, can only imagine how much it takes for me to think it haha) is by creating A LOT OF ART. It seems obvious but doing something a lot when you aren't used to it feels hard. Also, a big reason for not wanted to create too much is I don't want to waste paper. This challenge has kept my practice stifled, over calculated and slow. Recognizing that not wanting to waste paper was blocking me from creating, I started looking at what materials I had in my studio. What do I already have that I could do something with? I had paintings that didn't turn out how I wanted. I realized, instead of buying new paper, I could simply use the back. And just like that, the amount of paper I had doubled! I also found I liked some parts of the paintings but didn't like others. Why not just cut them out and collage them into something? This eagerness to create while not creating waste has led to the pieces that you see in this email. I'm am very excited about these since they fulfill so much of what I want my work to do- reflect the beauty and power of nature without harming nature. 

I am excited to share this process of further discovery as a creative and grateful for all my students and peer artists who have inspired me to let go and remember what is important in creating. To share this developing collection of works, I will be having a SOLO Exhibition at Urban Art Gallery in October (as well as an online release for those in other areas). For sneak peaks of what what I'm working on, follow along on Instagram and take a look at my Patreon. Looking forward to sharing the adventure and glad we're on it together. 


Vessna Scheff