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The Unmotivated Art Student

Thursday 23 September 2021

We all know one... or maybe two. That student who is slow to start and quick to finish, and just doesn't seem to want to give any energy to their art. In this post I'll share some of my own observations on the unmotivated student and try to understand whether the student is seriously suffering a lack of interest, or is it another obstacle. Let's look at some of the main causes...

Low confidence

Lack of confidence in their own ability is a huge de-motivator, probably number one. Many students come into the course feeling doubtful of their own ability, scared or overwhelmed. They may not tell you this however, so look for the signs of evasion. The key to helping these students gain confidence is to establish a trusting, non competitive atmosphere. Playfulness helps break the ice (try Surrealist Games ). Create an atmosphere in which they feel enough freedom to tentatively begin to explore some art making techniques without attaching too much importance to the outcome ( that can come later). They will need a lot of guidance, with demonstrations of techniques, Workshop Style Sessions with specific assignments, not too open ended in the beginning. As they gradually build some confidence they will be able to work more independently. As Leonardo famously said " art lives form constraints and dies from freedom"

Lack of skills

This is directly related to lack of confidence, although it can also be a separate issue. Students who have not had prior art lessons may lack basic  Elements of Drawing and need Teaching Visual Skills. It can be hard for the teacher to manage a class with different skill levels but these students do need much more support than the ones who already have some skills. Another strategy can be after school lessons or peer mentoring, if this is available, a year two student can offer some extra support and one on one tutorials. 

Lack of focus

Latter in the course a lack of focus can be a real drag and creates a kind of creative lethargy.. Some student feel a need to "invent a theme" because they are all over the place and then end up trapping themselves in a prescriptive box. They may need some extra support in Finding a Focus. Starting with their own interests, or tapping into Interdisciplinary Connections can help in Uncovering Bigger Ideas 

Finding a suitable medium

It may be that a student is out of their comfort zone in terms of the group dynamic or the prevalent techniques being used by other students. For example a group of students may be very into painting and this student is just not a painter. That's OK. They need to be exposed to a range of Art Making Forms  so they can find the medium/media most suitable to their own way of working. This student may be much more interested in building a large scale construction outside, another may want to work on pen and ink miniatures! It may also be that a student is more of an abstract thinker and if given encouragement and exposure to artists, may find a more conceptual approach to be exciting.

Seeing Art is exciting!

I do find that most students respond very favorably to seeing live art, the real thing in museums and galleries. Too much time is spent looking at images on small devices and, particularly for art work, this is highly unsatisfactory. If you can get your students out to see something that knocks their socks off they may discover that art is not boring, but quite intellectually and emotionally stimulating. I have seen even the most reticent student light up at an exhibition and say hey this is pretty amazing. Carry that energy forward in the classroom with Studio Response to Exhibitions.This Impromptu Curating Activity is a fun collaborative activity.

If they really don't care...

.. and of course, there is the student who ended up in your art class for the wrong reasons, and genuinely isn't at all interested in art. Although this is not often the case, and you have done all of the above to help motivate and interest them, you also have a class full of interested students to guide and support and you can't to be pouring all your energy into an unresponsive vessel. I remember what a colleague of mine once said to her student " you have the right to fail". Of course we don't want anyone to fail, and most academically minded students can obtain a passing grade even if they are not not particularly "artistic."

I hope that all students, if given a chance and encouraged to discover some aspect of visual art that is interesting to them, may find the desire to create and and the rewarding pleasure of making something.

Tags: motivation, stimulating, weak student, support, low scoring, apathy

Comments 2

Renante Sison 29 September 2021 - 06:59
This is such a good relief to read! I have experienced some challenges like that. Thanks for sharing it!
Angela Maxwell 22 October 2021 - 00:44

Wonderfully useful, not only for unmotivated students, but as activity ideas for a class that has a strange/stagnant sort of "chemistry"; individually they are strong students, but as a group they demotivate and seem hesitant to take risks or play. Thank you. 

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