Why Are We Grading Art?


When Khalidah was told her art wasn’t the right type of art for A level, it left her wondering why we grade creative endeavours.

‘You do realise we don’t make that kind of art here?’

‘You do realise we don’t make that kind of art here?’ is a phrase that was said to me as I presented my art to an art teacher on the first day of sixth form. I knew very well what to expect from art A level, but I didn’t think that someone who was meant to inspire students could so easily tear down my art and tell me to pursue an art she preferred. The way we teach and grade art has been robbing artists of truly expressing themselves for many years and I’m sure a number of people can attest to the harsh reality of changing their art style in order to get a good grade or to please their art teachers.


Since I can remember, I’ve always loved art and creating something out of nothing, so to be told that my work wasn’t ‘good enough’ because it wasn’t observational was soul crushing. I started to think that my art wasn’t good at all and that the only way I could continue to do art is if I drew in a way that didn’t inspire me.

I started to think that my art wasn’t good at all and that the only way I could continue to do art is if I drew in a way that didn’t inspire me.

Because of this, I dropped the subject after only three weeks, but I came away with a question. Why are we grading art? For decades, grading has been the way we’ve assessed a student’s ability and understanding of a subject. For some subjects, this is very easy seeing as you can’t argue with objective fact, two plus two will always be four. However, when it comes to more creative subjects like art, english and music, it’s much harder to quantify it. In order to combat this, we’ve resorted to standardising the mark scheme.


So, what’s the issue with this? Well, this means people are graded on how well they can follow instructions and tick as many boxes as possible rather than how well they can apply their skills. For example, if someone created and amazing piece of artwork, but didn’t reference ideas of a famous artist, then they lose marks. We actively penalise artists for letting their imagination drive their work. Situations like this also bring about another issue with how we teach art. We often teach young artists to copy the ideas of other artists and get inspiration from what they see. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, however, this doesn’t encourage the artist to create ideas of their own, only to seek inspiration from the work of others. Students aren’t taught to differentiate themselves from other artists. Whilst looking through A Level art sketchbooks, I noticed that hardly any of them are very stylistically different from each other.


When you grade every piece of art by the same criteria, you actively encourage students to adopt a common style. When we look at the work and the history of our favourite artists, we see how they were doing innovative work for their time that was experimental and different from the other artwork being produced. Names like Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso come to mind. We celebrate the work of these artists because they changed the status quo, so why are we teaching young artists to draw and paint in the same way?


What about teaching people the basics and showing them new techniques? People are fully able to learn the basics and still apply them in their own way. Proportion, Colour theory and the basics of shadow and light, can be seen in almost every art piece and in almost every art style. If someone wants to apply these to an art style that isn’t observational drawing, we shouldn’t discourage it and we shouldn’t stagnate the growth of an artist just because we want them to get an A. We aren’t letting artists develop their own unique ways of creating art because we’re so focused on trying to quantify their work in an objective way when the whole point of art is its subjectivity.

Good application of skills should be recognised…

Good application of skills should be recognised and we can do that without giving that person a grade, we can tell what a good piece of art is without a mark scheme and we can show an understanding of the subject without “taking inspiration” from the work of other artists. Being able to create is a skill and if art is subjective, we shouldn’t be presenting its quality as objective fact. The act of trying to quantify art by giving it a grade can discourage artists from showing how creative they actually are. We shouldn’t give students bad grades for good work just because a teacher doesn’t like the way they draw. By continuing to create art in my spare time, I came to realise that a grade didn’t dictate my ability. My art was good enough. I was good enough. Here is my art:Khalida-Art-1

If you are a young creative, then have a look at Rising Arts Agency’s opportunity to receive training and mentoring.

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