Why I Never Draw a Child's Artwork

Art Teacher, Marvin Bartel, Ed.D © 2006

I am convinced that there are many many ways to teach art that are far better than drawing on the artwork of a child. Teachers have argued with me about this, saying that drawing on the work is the fastest way to show how to do something.

I have found that there are many reasons that my students make what look like mistakes. If I correct them or make a suggestion, it sends a message that I do not care to find out why they did what they did. I have not bothered to learn about them or their motivations. When I make the effort to find out their ideas and motivations, I may find that my instructions were not as clear as I thought (a fairly common learning moment for me). At other times I am blown away by where a student is coming from. The outcome is not what I had envisioned, but when seen in the light of a students perception, it can be something quite insightful. Sometimes, it becomes clear that the student did not pay attention during instructions (so what else is new). While this is frustrating to me, for me to correct the work, can add to student confusion. If I start with a question, the problem can reveal itself and I it gives me a chance to ask another student to help explain the assignment (reinforcement and review).

I have found that it is much safer if I ask an open question before I offer a suggestion or even think of correcting an artwork (Can you tell me more about this? Can you explain a bit more of what you wanted to show here?). Questions like this may help me get on the same teaching/learning page. Sometimes we can find options that are not so difficult, while still challenging the advanced students (some students are good at helping me explain teaching/learning communication problems).

If I correct student artwork (or offer a suggestion), I am admitting that I am a product centered teacher. I would rather be teaching the process of creating art. The process of creation does not originate in the teacher. It grows from within the student. I would rather see art that grows out of practice, out of experience, out of observation, out of student thought and choice, and out of individual student imagination; not from my preconceived notion of how the art product should look (as an artist myself, it is easy for me to solve their problems for them--but that does not give them the practice). As a teacher, I need to help manage the learning experience, provide focus and motivation, but not usurp the creative thought process.

Philosophically, I know it is best to find ways for students to learn seeing, feeling, imagining, interpreting, expressing, and thinking. I do not need to see certain expert predetermined looks in their artwork. I want to exhibit student artwork that shows that each student has had an independent say in something about how the work looks.

One way I do this is to include an "independent criterion variable" in every assignment. The independent criterion variable is like an artistic question or problem every individual must express in a personal and creative way (like individual creative branding) even though the assignment has other rather strict limitations. Cliches are prohibited in advance. If I correct it or touch it up, it tends to put my brand on something that should reflect choices and ideas originating with the the maker--not the teacher.

I hope this makes sense and gives food for thought. Let me know where I am wrong. Contact the author

a response to the above from an art teacher (retired)

(This) . . . has also been a source of debate for me. So I thought I'd like to share my thoughts.

I will say at 59 I can still see with clarity when my art teacher (3rd grade) stopped and drew on my drawing. My drawing was an scene with horses running in it (they looked like animal crackers with spots) but he drew what a "real" horse looked like right next to my pinto pony. I was shocked to "see" the horse be so different from mine, and although I no longer liked my horse something else happened.

For me, it was a real turning point in how I viewed my "art". I'd been happy making drawings from my head, but then I realized there was more to it than that. For me it began a quest to draw better and then finally to see better... so that my drawings improved to my satisfaction.

Process vs. Product:
But then what got my attention in your article was your comment about correcting or offering a suggestion to a student means you are a product centered teacher vs. process.

I taught art for 28 years, all levels ( 3 years to 18) in both public & private settings. My hope was always to promote process & creative thinking. Sometimes I drew on work, sometimes I had scrap paper with me for demo, and I'd like to think more times than not I asked my student how they wanted me to show them or help them. They would always tell me if it would bother them if I were to draw on their work, so I never crossed their wishes.

I also taught in inner city school and I believe sometimes kids just wanted the one on one moments even more. As I look back on my "style" I also see me often explaining to someone, why I did what I did... my thinking to the process. Which is probably another way I felt I was stronger at putting process first and "refrigerator art" a distant second.

So I guess I'm wondering out loud about being a "process" kind of teacher even if one "draws" on artwork. When I look over my career, I see the scales still tipping to process. Here's why, at the heart of my personal art philosophy towards others was always creating a safe environment to take risks, encouraging their individuality and always trying to find something positive in my students & their work.

thanks for listening.
retired Art Teacher from Michigan
- February 13, 2010

a response to the response

Thanks for your perspective and for sharing your experiences.

Clarification on "correcting or offering a suggestion to a student means you are a product centered teacher vs. process."

I should acknowledge that when I correct or offer a suggestion, there could be ways to do it for the sake of changing the learning process. If suggestions guide processes, such as saying, "What angle to you see when you look at ths edge of the drapery? Can you hold out your arm and line up the pencil with this line, what angle do you see?" Such suggestions would be helping the student understand the process of sighting when learning to see a subject better.
  --mb - February 13, 2010

Contact the author and send an email if you would like to respond.  I will not print your name or email address unless you give permission to do so.

© NOTICE 2006, Dr. Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. If you wish to copy or publish any part of this electronically or otherwise, you must get permission to do so.  Contact the author

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