Robby got it right! Ninety-two years ago, Maurice “Robby” Robinson created the Scholastic Awards to recognize young people for their creative pursuits. In all those years, the criteria for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have not changed. They are Originality, Technical Skill, and the Emergence of a Personal Vision or Voice. It is amazing to me that, in our ever-changing world, these three criteria have remained constant and relevant.
However, these long-standing criteria do not necessarily translate directly into the changing educational environment, and that is what I’m interested in looking at today. But some brief background first!
Robby Robinson’s words have inspired me and countless others through the Awards program so I have borrowed some of them along with a number of quotes (and this sketch of M. R. Robinson) from www.artandwriting.org to share with you here. Go check out the website for more information about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were founded in 1923 by Scholastic’s founder, Maurice R. Robinson.
-M.R. Robinson, 1930
Even though these words were written in a different time, they still ring true. We continue to strive, in our modern world, to seek out “appreciation of the beauty and wonder of existence,” and perhaps more then ever are promoting the power of independent thought.
Just as true today is the sentiment described in this often repeated quote from an early explanation of the goals of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program:
“…To give those high school students who demonstrate superior talent and achievement in things of the spirit and of the mind at least a fraction of the honors and rewards accorded to their athletic classmates for demonstrating their bodily skills.”
Standards for the adjudication process, including the criteria mentioned above, were established from the outset, and we stay true to these when we conduct Scholastic judging today:
– Blind Judging: allows the identity of each participating student to remain anonymous
– Freedom of Expression: No work will be disqualified on the basis of its content.
– The Criteria: Originality, Technical Skill, and the Emergence of a Personal Vision or Voice.
As 92 years of history would suggest, Originality, Technical Skill, and the Emergence of a Personal Vision or Voice are an excellent set of criteria for judging creative work in an awards program. But I want to make a distinction here. There is — and should be — a difference between standards for recognizing excellence in these creative fields and standards used for measuring success in a school setting. I think these are too often confused.
The standard for success in a school setting is for students to meet the learning expectations for the course by developing knowledge, understanding, and skills identified in the curriculum. This may sound obvious, but in practice, it would seem otherwise. Frequently the criteria used in art classes and on student assessment rubrics fall too far to the side of “recognizing excellence” rather than “meeting learning expectations for the course.”
Let’s look at the Scholastic criteria and think about them in this context:
i. Originality: We encourage our jurors to look for works of art and writing that, first and foremost, surprise them and to look for works of paradigm-shifting innovation and originality.
In a school setting, we can — and must — expect our students to create their own work (not copying or plagiarizing others), and art teachers should be teaching processes and skills that students can use to solve problems and come up with original solutions. However, this is not the same thing as expecting each student artwork to be “surprising,” “paradigm-shifting,” or truly “innovative.” Nevertheless, many art rubrics used in classrooms include some notion of originality or creativity that is not otherwise defined. When evaluating student success in a course, we should assess whether the students have learned the processes and skills taught, not judge whether the outcome is truly original.
ii. Technical Skill: Technical skill is judged on how it is used to advance an original perspective or a personal vision or voice. Rather than being evaluated for specific skill proficiencies, students will be evaluated on how they used their skills to create something unique, powerful, and innovative.
There is so much in this description I agree with! Similar to what I said above about originality, in a school setting we should not be judging whether the work is “unique, powerful, and innovative.” It’s wonderful and notable when this is the case, but should not be the expectation in a setting where we serve every child.
We can evaluate the students ability to apply a skill that has been taught, and we should be evaluating this relative to how it is used toward the intended purpose. This also means that we, as teachers and evaluators, need to have the flexibility to accept when students do something outside of what we intended if the choice serves to communicate the ideas of the artist. It also means that we need to be teaching skills to this purpose — to support the communication of ideas — and not for the sake of the skill alone.
iii. Emergence of a Personal Vision or Voice: We are in the business of identifying the self-possessed, idiosyncratic voices and visions of teenage artists and writers.
This brief statement about Personal Vision or Voice does little to elaborate the idea, but is enough to throw into question whether this is (or should be) true for schools. I take two sides on this:
1) For the majority of K-12 education — where we must serve every child — it is not our “business” to identify or recognize only those students with “self-possessed, idiosyncratic voices and visions.” We should certainly allow for and encourage the development of an individual style, but for the vast majority of our students in grades K-10 this is not likely to develop and should not be an expected outcome — for all students — in a given course.
2) That said, the development of a personal style, vision, or voice should be an expected outcome when students move into advanced coursework in grades eleven and twelve. Senior level art courses should be geared toward portfolio preparation, and an artist’s portfolio should show these qualities. We need to begin the process of building students’ capacity for developing a unique voice before the senior year, and indeed the ground work may begin sooner than the junior year. Unfortunately, we often fail to do this work. Too often, it seems, art teachers simply hope that it will magically happen on its own, or simply invest in those students who do find their unique voice — to the detriment of others.
It is sometimes difficult to remember that learning in art class is not necessarily the same as excelling in Art (with a capital A). We should make sure to design our instruction and our assessment for all students, and ensure that students who demonstrate that they are learning the knowledge and skills in our curriculum are considered successful. Then, quite separately from “successful completion of a course,” we can take advantage of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and other recognition opportunities to recognize those student who truly excel at the Art of art.
Check out my post on Art Categories for more related to the Scholastic Awards.