This question came up on the TAB discussion group and I thought it was a good one to share there.
Since I am in middle school level (6-8) different things come up than elem. probably. AND I have an expectation for a higher level of skill. I have a “no-no” board that lists the things I do not want to see in thier artwork. It includes Stick figures, words and word bubbles, name posters, letter birds, blue clouds, bubble flowers, smile suns. I got the idea from this teacher http://artwithmre.blogspot.com/2009/08/art-room-bulletin-boards-no-no-board.html and pretty much kept it the same. But I have the board labelled “Artists go beyond what is… easy… expected… and ordinary.”
When they ask why they can’t do blue clouds. I tell them to go to the drawing photo reference box and look for pictures of clouds to find a blue cloud, if they can find one then they can draw it. I have some very lovely pictures of storm clouds (grey and black) sunset clouds (purple and red) sunrise clouds (orange and yellow) but nothing that is BLUE! I remind them that on a pretty day the sky is blue and the clouds are white and there are LOTS Of reference pictures showing that. (same with letter birds, smile suns and bubble flowers.)
When they ask why they can’t make stick people. I say that is too easy! and they need to go beyond what is easy. If they are unsure of how to draw people, again off to the drawing center for some how-to books. I do tell them that they can use stick-figure animator on the computer if they really need to work with a stick figure. I have also found some fun how to draw handouts that start with a stick figure but then move beyond it.
Finally the name and word poster… it always happens when the paint center first opens, when I get out the stencils or when they are just running out of ideas, feeling lazy or see a friend do it! I give them ONE. then they have to be more creative. I tell them to create their own font or graffiti lettering and make the whole alphabet. But we talk about what a font is and how each letter needs to be similar in some specific way. Then when they finish the alphabet they can make a name sign using it. (haven’t had anyone make a whole alphabet yet) I have a cool radial symmetry mandala project that I will show them how to do and let them do their name again with that project. I have a cool mirror symmetry bug assignment that they can do with thier name too. But they have to be different and unique each time they do their name again.
Splatter painting is another thing that they go through and can be annoying when they KEEP doing it. But I think I have a plan for that for next trimester. Doing a mini lesson on Jackson Pollack. then having a large group splatter and hand printing session pre-planned… like tell them ahead of time to wear messy clothes that they don’t mind getting paint on. Go outside with a HUGE sheet of butcher paper and just go crazy with it. Have those that don’t want to participate FILM it with my cameras for performance art. Others that want to sit aside could do contour live model quick sketches from those painting. It will have to be approved by my principal and be a sunny day. But it could really be a blast. Then I would be DONE with splatter and could say… nope we did that! But I do also have a splatter BOX that I get out occassionally too. somehow they always seem to splatter paint when I am out with a sub.
As far as the weapons go… I tell them CONTEXT! No one can be NAMED or obviously threatened in the art. It should not be too gory. But like Joyce said “If we’re studying medieval England, knights, and castles, your drawings/paintings/sculptures of swords and armor are appropriate.” We recently received a district document specifically referring to artwork for shows about what is OK and what is not. There were resrtictions on drugs, smoking etc. If in the context of a “don’t do it” PSA, then they are OK. Political/religious views= nothing that could be seen as harrassment or racism. Weapons= no direct threats or bullying. So I just go with these same ideas in the classroom. The pivot stickfigure animation program tends to lend itself to weapons and fighting for some reason, but I tell them they can go download the program at home and do that stuff. In class I want it to be more creative than that and again I give them one. But that can be hard to keep on top of sometimes.
There are a few things that seem to come in waves too that I just see as teachable moments. As soon as I add more popscicle sticks to the sculpture center suddenly everyone wants to make a log cabin. I remind them that the supplies are limited and it wouldn’t be fair for one person to use up all the sticks making one project. Similar things happen with beads and pipecleaners. So the limit on supply rules come into place.