Student Artwork "Smart Awards"

by Marvin Bartel, 2006
Bio of Author

last update: February 3, 2009

Tragic and Wonderful ART CONTESTS

Art contests and awards have good and bad attributes and a terrible reputation. Many students have been disappointed and discouraged not to get an award for something they had been very proud of.  Rejection is painful, resulting in despair and even anger while those who get an award feel wonderful.  It can energize and motivate more work. Art teachers can find ways to use the positive attributes and while avoiding the negative attributes of awards.

Who Should Get the Awards Give many different awards to fit the artworks for which they are given. Give every student the same number and quality of awards as every other student. 

This may not be quite as euphoric for the winners, but it avoids the despair, anger, and tragedy of turning students away from all the benefits of art education.  I know life does not treat us all equal, and I know that some have worked harder than others.  I am not sure what is fair, but I would rather give everybody an award in art than risk loosing a student's mind because they learned to hate art and acquired learned helplessness in art and all the other thinking skills that they loose if they do not participate.

Smart Awards Inform and Motivate

The awards themselves provide education for both the artists and the viewers.  They can be small enough to be displayed with the names and titles.  Perhaps a small gold or blue dot sticker is added to each one to call attention to the award.The awards are labeled to identify something significant about art that is expressed by each work in the exhibit.  Ask for class help identify purposes of art, goals of learning in art, expressive qualities, special effects like depth and motion, innovative uses of materials, creative juxtapositions, and ways of learning in art.  Assign one Smart Award to each work with the special qualities written in the award form.  Post a master list of the all the Smart Award qualities and attributes found in the whole exhibition together with short definitions in your classroom and at various places in the exhibit. 

Who Names Smart Awards?

What if students themselves with the help of their peers assume the task of selecting which qualities and artistic attributes that should be awarded to their own work in the exhibition? The teacher may reserve the right to add additional categories.

Who Gives Smart Awards?

What if the class were to form teams to generate award categories then decide which awards were given to which works until every artwork gets an award that identifies a positive characteristic embodied in each artwork?  What if every award had to be awarded to at least one artwork?  Consider the art learning that would occur. The teacher may reserve the right to make sure the award attributes listed seem reasonable for each work. 

Starter List of Smart Awards

Each art teacher will want to make a lists that relates to their own teaching. Make your own list based on the good things you see happening in your classes.

Your students will learn more about art if they are involved in creating these lists early in the course and periodically during the course and during each project or assignment. If you would like to practice being creative and teaching creativity, ask yourself and your students to create these awards. Stop reading now.

This list has 60 ideas that may have some ideas to get started.

Purposes of Art in Society and Attributes of Art

  1. SmartAward for art that is very creative and innovative
  2. SmartAward for art that helps us know the artist better
  3. SmartAward for art that really uses the materials expressively
  4. SmartAward for appropriate use of the materials
  5. SmartAward for unusual and innovative use of the materials
  6. SmartAward for art that shows a lot of depth
  7. SmartAward for art that looks very flat and eliminates depth
  8. SmartAward for art that shows lots of motion without actually moving
  9. SmartAward for art that is very still and stable
  10. SmartAward for sculpture that is unified no matter which way you look at it
  11. SmartAward for art that helps us Celebrate something
  12. SmartAward for art that helps us Memorialize, Praise, Honor, or Remember a person or special event
  13. SmartAward for art that helps us Identify a thing or group
  14. SmartAward for art that tells a story or myth
  15. SmartAward for art that tries to convince and persuade us about something
  16. SmartAward for art that questions something that needs to be questioned (pollution, hatred, bullies).
  17. Award for art that helps us experience a Feeling (love, anger, tenderness, fear, etc.)
  18. SmartAward for art that helps us value Humor (it makes us smile more)
  19. SmartAward for art that represents features of youth culture
  20. SmartAward for art that helps us gain Tolerance Toward Others and Other Ideas
  21. SmartAward for art that helps us with our Sadness and Times of Grieving
  22. SmartAward for art that shows us dreams and fantasies
  23. SmartAward for art that art that serves utilitarian purposes
  24. SmartAward for art that has healing qualities for the person who made it or the person who sees it (helps us understand ourselves or allows us to express something very important that has happed to us)
  25. SmartAward for art that helps use figure out how to make something else or how something should look
  26. SmartAward for art that is used as a substitute for something else
  27. SmartAward for art that could be used for part of a ritual or ceremony
  28. SmartAward for art that helps us appreciate nature
  29. SmartAward for art that records how something, someplace, an animal, or somebody looks
  30. SmartAward for art that helps us understand our emotions and ourselves
  31. SmartAward for art that inspires school spirit, national spirit, or loyalty to some other group
  32. SmartAward for art that decorates or enriches things around us
  33. SmartAward for art that is intended to work mainly with the formal elements of line, color, shape, texture, form, and/or other visual elements and how they can be arranged

    THE FOLLOWING were added as a general list of awards. They were generated by students in my Teaching Visual Art class, January 27, 2008. Contributors: Jason Brewer, Laura Harnish, Breanna Lange, and Carly Martin.

  34. Smart Award for being very cartoon-like
  35. Smart Award for having a rough style
  36. Smart Award for showing strong emotion
  37. Smart Award for being very dramatic
  38. Smart Award for showing lots of movement
  39. Smart Award for being comical
  40. Smart Award for being believable
  41. Smart Award for being inventive
  42. Smart Award for being expressive
  43. Smart Award for great use of the material
  44. Smart Award for being thought provoking
  45. Smart Award for being economical
  46. Smart Award for being poetic
  47. Smart Award for being narrative
  48. Smart Award for being believable
  49. Smart Award for being loaded
  50. Smart Award for being colorful
  51. Smart Award for use of texture
  52. Smart Award for being frightening
  53. Smart Award for being subtle
  54. Smart Award for being bold
  55. Smart Award for being abstract
  56. Smart Award for being representational
  57. Smart Award for being organic looking
  58. Smart Award for being balanced
  59. Smart Award for use of space
  60. Smart Award for other (write in specific quality)

Bibliography and Sources used:1Herberholz, Donald, and Herberholz, Barbara.  Artwork for Elementary Teachers, Developing Artistic and Perceptual Awareness 7th ed., 1994, WCB Brown & Benchmark, publishers, pages 3 & 4. 
This book includes a list of 19 Purposes of Artworks on pages 3 and 4. Many of the items in the above list come from these 19 purposes.

No good place for an exhibition?
See How to Install an Exhibit when there is not good place to put it.

more links_of interest to art teachers, administrators, and parents

All rights reserved.  Images, text, and design
© Marvin Bartel 200

Parents and teachers may make one copy for personal study so long as they keep the © information with the copy.  

Permission is required to make copies, publish, or to post on another web site.

Please mention the URL or the title of this page in your correspondence with the author.   You may make a link to this page from your page without permission.  


Your correspondence, experiences, ideas, and questions are welcome.

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It takes extra work to make a
nice looking school display of student artwork. So, why should we do it?

1. Children gain self esteem by seeing their work seen by others. Include an artwork from every child.

2. Art is incomplete without an audience.

3. Children work harder on their artwork if they know it will be seen by all.

4. Even as mature adults, we are very discouraged when we fail to get hoped for awards, or acknowledgement for hard work. Many students are devastated when they do not get an award. They loose their joy of creative work. Creativity dries up. Hostility toward school becomes a problem.

5. The display is a great place to post information about the work and the assignment goals.  This is good review and it helps parents and other teachers learn about the ways artistic thinking is learned.

6. Many parents take pride in seeing the work of their children and appreciate even small amounts of information that helps them understand the work.

7. If a student makes a comment about what she or he learned while creating an artwork, ask if it okay to post the comment with the work.
EVEN BETTER: Routinely ask, What things did you learn while working on this?
BETTER YET! Students write artists statements for every work that is selected for an exhibition. Make it easy. Give them a list of questions that artists think about when they write statements about their work. 

8. With Smart Awards and Artist Statements, art teachers gain goodwill and sometimes it becomes easier to keep their jobs and get funds and donations for supplies.

9. These awards statements add intellectual value and information to the exhibition. Students become better writers and better artists.

10. Every child needs to be awarded feedback. If not every child's work gets an award, no awards should be given.

All of this is lots of work. 
I think it is good to make it part of the regular class work.  This is an appropriate part of any art curriculum. 

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awardUsing Art Awards
as Exhibit Labels 

A MASK might also be:
Art to show Identity,
Art to show Feeling,
Art to tells a Story,
Art that is Creative,
Art to show Humor,
Art to show Sadness,
Art to show a Dream,
or one of many other reasons to make and wear a mask.

The particular name of the award depends on how a particular student had decided to create her/his mask and how the mask turned out.

When art student teams work at the process of deciding on the awards for each other (their peers), they are learning that art has many roles to play in our lives.

Readers who find this page helpful,
may also wish to visit these pages.

Exhibit Design explains ways to think about student artwork exhibits, what to add to the exhibition, and who should do the work of installing such an exhibit.
How to install a student show with ordinary masking tape. http://www.goshen.edu/~marvinpb/arted/tape.html


As a youth, Adolph Hitler was rejected from art school.

The young Adolf, . . . fashioned himself as a great artist and perhaps purposely disgraced himself in his school leaving examinations. After his father's death he attended a private art school in Munich, but failed twice to pass into the Vienna Academy. Advised to try architecture, he was debarred for lack of a school leaving certificate. His fanatical hatred of all intellectuals and his later sneers at "gentlemen with diplomas" no doubt originated at this early period of his life.

Quoted from: The History Guide

We cannot say that Hitler should have been admitted to the Vienna Academy instead of another more capable student. However, it is interesting to speculate about the course of history, had he been treated with more care and respect in his encounters with rejection.

What can we assume about the philosophy of an art education if it does not instill empathy and respect for others? In our own practices, how can we conduct our class critiques in ways that are helpful without instilling hate of authority? Simply avoiding critique can bypass over fifty percent of the art learning. It can be done well.

How does what we do in selection of artwork for exhibition effect a student's feeling toward themselves and toward authority figures? -mb


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