On any given day in an art class at Advent there will be a flurry of activity. Colors, lines and shapes will be moving across paper, forms will be assembled, and visual representations of ideas will be coming to life. Students might be gathering additional supplies, reviewing directions with a friend, or giving an exclamation of success when something works out in an unexpected way. But, every now and then I’ll hear it….
An exasperated sigh, a groan. I’ll sense students struggling with their artwork and I know that they are approaching the wall – they are right on the edge of trashing the paper, smearing the paint, dissembling the sculpture, and giving up.
Experiencing a learning struggle from the inside and witnessing a learning struggle on the outside can be an uncomfortable thing. It’s hard, it can be messy, it seems unnatural not to swoop in immediately. But, I’ve come to realize that if I am too quick to offer a ‘fix’ for students I’m actually taking something away from their learning process.
At Advent, we seek to develop strong academic skills in our students, we have an advanced curriculum that pushes students towards excellence but still we do not neglect the intangible aspects of an educational community. How can we develop student determination, resilience, creativity and problem solving skills necessary for them to be successful in their later years of life? In other words, how can we encourage students to develop grit?
Learning and working in the visual arts is fertile ground for developing grit –and this is one reason why we value the arts as part of the overall curriculum of Advent.
Grit is normally defined as a type of persistence, an underlying force that keeps one going even when experiencing a setback or failure. Working and creating in the visual arts demands grit from students because of the nature of the creative process. We might begin an art unit with the desire to master a new technique or explore a certain theme but getting from our starting point to our final destination will be a multistep process. Trying to achieve a certain effect with paint, paper, and brush demands grit – there may be a ‘painting out’; there may be a ‘let it dry and try again.’ Manipulating a piece of wire into a desired form will demand grit – there will be unbending, there will be re-twisting. Controlling a lump of wet clay on a swiftly spinning platform will demand grit – there will be sloughing off, there will be reconstituting.
But, finally – when grit is employed and celebrated in the creation of artworks – there will be a satisfaction in the finished product. Will it always be exactly what the artist imagined? Maybe not – sometimes it will be more, and sometimes it will be less. Creating works of art give students the chance to practice the development of their grit – to make multiple attempts at a finished product and come out the other side.
Working in the visual arts requires certain thinking processes and often pushes students beyond what they initially believe they can do – that doesn’t mean we never experience disappointment or frustration when we are creating. On the contrary those elements are often a part of the process. I encourage students to continue working through those frustrations, occasionally we completely restart but more often than not we use our grit to pull us through. We keep creating, adjust our thinking, and attempt a different approach until we see our creation through to completion. The process may bring us some discomfort but when we celebrate our grit at the end it is all worth it!
*To learn more about Advent Episcopal School, please visit our website: http://www.adventepiscopalschool.org.