For over a decade, I have been teaching Art at High Point Friends School. During that time, I have seen students transition through levels of skill in an amazing way. Every so often, a former student returns and shares with me the incredible work they are doing. It is hard to describe the satisfaction I get from watching my former students progress along their artistic journey. Their present and future success is the sweetest reward. Unfortunately, I have missed a lot of small victories with my students along the way due to a weakness in my teaching. I had no constructive method for benchmarking their success.
A couple of years ago, my wife, daughter and I began taking Taekwondo. It was a revelation to sit at the feet of Black Belt masters to learn the skills and techniques of Taekwondo. Built into the martial arts curriculum is the most fascinating mixture of confidence and humility. As you progress, you earn belts that symbolize your level of skill within the artform. I can attest to the power of receiving confirmation for my hard work. It is immensely satisfying to attain new levels of success as you progress. It is also incredibly humbling.
The unique mixture of feelings I get when I receive a new belt is sobering. Built into the reward system is a symbol of what you have learned and a reminder of all you have left to learn. With each belt, you attain a new level of maturity and return to a place of infancy. No method I've experienced has such a profound positive internal effect. If I were to describe to you the perfect mindset for learning, it would have an even mixture of confidence and humility. A student should be confident in what they know, capable of passing that information on and humble enough to learn, aware that there is so much still to learn. The belt system in the martial arts provides a consistent pathway for that mindset. It also happens to provide an attractive reward system for today's video game generation that loves to level up.
I took the decade of experience I already had under my belt (pun intended) and redesigned my entire art curriculum to honor and implement the martial art aspect of skill-based learning and leveling up.
Over the past two years I have worked diligently to reconstruct my Art Curriculum to incorporate a reward system that honors the belt system found in the martial arts. As I worked on this project, a beautiful revelation appeared. Art is a skill-based discipline. One skill relies heavily on the one before it to be successful. The irony is evident. Many people consider Art to be subjective and certainly how individuals feel about an artifact will vary with personal taste and experience. But the skills, tools and expertise necessary for visual communication are not subjective. They are as old as time. I am so grateful to have experienced such a powerful example of standards. Just as the tenants of mathematics have standards, an art curriculum should have measurable standards. The more effective an artist is with the tools, the more powerful their manipulation of the materials and more compelling and persuasive their visual communication will be. I love this enhanced version of the Art Curriculum and love encouraging my students to hone in on that perfect learner's mindset of confidence and humility.
If you have questions about the method I am using to teach art, please feel free to comment below.