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Do you display student artwork at your school? Are the most technically sound and visually appealing pieces the only ones to go up on display? Have you ever considered putting every student art piece from a given assignment up at once?
Designing units and projects that lead to an all-student school exhibit has tremendous benefits and can be a powerful experience for your students.
When students know in advance every art piece is going on display, it changes the classroom dynamic. Suddenly, all skill and experience levels are on the same playing field. The art room becomes a collaborative community that is vulnerable together. Student work will be on display for all students and staff to see, contemplate, and react to. By putting up all student work for a display, the artistic hierarchy of talent dissolves. Students have an individual assignment that is now part of something bigger and they are all in it together. When students know everyone is putting up their work, the peer dynamic in the room becomes less competitive and more supportive.
When students first hear that all work will be on display, it can be frightening for some. The key is to inform students of the display two or three assignments in advance. Give students time to make mistakes, improve their skill, and work toward a final piece the entire school will get to see.
Urgency and motivation tend to rise to new levels when students know their art is going to be experienced by others. Students will not be content with their second-rate work being a representation of who they are. The amount of feedback, risk, and rigor students take on when they know their work is going to be up for exhibit increases significantly.
I admit, there are times I hang only ten to fifteen student pieces on our school walls. There are reasons for educators only displaying a small percentage of their total student work for others to interact with. The only problem with this is the inherent exclusivity it promotes. If we want our students to believe they are artists, it is important to give them a venue to make them feel that way.
If we want our students to believe that they are artists, it is important to give them a venue to make them feel that way.
Whenever I hang a small percentage of total student work, a message is sent: Your work is not good enough for others to see. Perhaps that is a bit extreme. At the same time, we must reflect upon and evaluate the purpose of our art courses and make a decision about how we want to impact all of our students. Personally, I love competition and there is a place for rewarding the upper-echelons of excellence. My argument here is at least once a year it is important to give all of our students a platform and a challenge to display their work as authentic artists.
How many experiences do students remember throughout their schooling? Often they study, apply, and forget. Some of the memories my former students share with me the most are times they hung up their artwork together. When students see themselves as worthy to put their individual artistic expression in public for others to engage with, it’s empowering! After a successful exhibition, students may wonder what else they can do in the public realm. For students lacking self-esteem, putting up work with peers can boost academic and artistic confidence.
There are many challenges to putting up all student work. First and foremost, you need to have ample space to accommodate the amount of work. If you have the space, try creating an all-student gallery at some point in the year. The earlier you can tell students about it, the better. It helps to have images of past student exhibits of any kind as visual support when introducing this concept. If students are told two or three projects in advance they are working toward an exhibit that everyone is a part of, the purpose, urgency, and motivation will increase.
When it comes time to hang the work, do it during class. Include students in this part of the process, too. Then you will have given all students the opportunity to engage in the entire artistic process, from conception, to creation, to communication with an audience. This experience can have a profound influence on students for years to come.
What is your experience putting all your student work on display?
What questions or concerns arise when thinking about an all-student gallery?