Jul 19, 2013

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From Rigor to Vigor! Changing the Way We Talk About the Arts

After some in-depth study of arts leadership at the Turnaround Arts Leadership Conference last week, a few things really stuck out for me: one being the idea of rigor  versus vigor.

As a part of many advocacy pieces, teachers and administrators are told to tout the rigor of their arts programming. Ugh! The thought of a rigorous arts program sounds so painful. My brain goes right to rigor mortis! Rigor, to me and many other art teachers, signals the death of creative freedom. It means tests and data and static standards. All good things, in their own ways, but tricky to apply to the dynamics of a vibrant art classroom. The answer? We should exchange the word rigor for VIGOR! The arts add life! In a vigorous arts classroom, students are full of joy and delight while they delve deep into understanding and climb to the very top of Bloom’s revised pyramid. Rigor is stiff and mechanical, vigor is colorful and exciting! Let’s change the way we talk about the arts to truly reflect both its vitality and its value.

blooming butterfly

Tell us, how do you balance rigor and vigor in your classroom?

What does having a vigorous art classroom mean to you? 

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  • Amanda Heyn

    I love this idea, Sarah!

  • Sanda Di

    I was just talking about this yesterday — I went to observe a music training session, and I was INVIGORATED. I wanted to learn more, do more, be more — and isn’t that just what we want for the kids? Vigor is exciting, rigor is frustrating. Let’s choose vigor!

    • Sarah

      Agreed, Sanda! I think we can have challenging content created around high expectations while remembering the fun and dynamism the arts bring to the student experience. So cool that you were observing a music training!

  • Marilyn Peters

    This is an awesome idea! I like it a lot. I am in the Creativity in Crisis class. This gets at all we are discussing. I make my classes vigorous by 1. having high expectations for all–you may not be gifted with “drawing” ability, but drawing is a small part of the art curriculum these days. 2. we DO art–all of my classes are heavy on hands-on learning and creating. 3. I make sure that students understand that art is communication and expressive. Kids in my classes write at least 1-2 artist statements that are published online through Artsonia. Several of my students voluntarily wrote artist statements for almost all of their pieces. Students writing because they wanted to in my class! You know the funny thing is that my guidance counselor told me that requests for my class were up so much that she could have used another 1/2 me this year to meet the demand. Sad thing is that we lost 4 teachers and a couple of partial positions due to budget cuts. No chance of getting an additional art teacher.

  • Kathryne Marek

    I believe that we can do both. I alternate a focused thoughtful high info art lesson with a freer, happy accident kind of art process. That way both are incorporated, and students learn that while creating is the best and most fun, we have to know some rules and processes in order to change them. It is so much fun to see students carry concepts over from one project to another. This is really learning!

  • Holly

    I had this very conversation with the 7th grade Art Educator this past school year. I teach 8th grade Visual Art and we both cringed at the use of the word ‘rigor’ at one of our department meetings. Our community is very high achieving and our collective Art Dept. (K-12) feels compelled to compete with the other disciplines. Which is silly, really, because each discipline is different and I want my Art classes to remain a welcoming, encouraging place that fosters risk-taking. I have never agreed with ‘rigor’ because I, too, feel like it sounds painful. I always liked the word ‘robust’ because it seemed heartier but still tangible for the student that is an emerging artist. I did just look up robust: Adjective
    (of a person, animal, or plant) Strong and healthy; vigorous.

    Yes! Vigorous! You totally get my endorsement to turn the tide and start using ‘vigor’ to describe healthy and challenging Visual Art programs! Here’s to hoping the movement sticks!!

  • Mrs.C

    I love this! Great idea! Thanks Sarah! :)

  • Shawn White

    I couldn’t agree more; in fact I recently posted Let’s Change R to V: Vigor, not Rigor. (This is sincerely not a plug, but seeking to expand this conversation to challenge this word and what it means in education.)

    I am so glad to see others challenging it as well. Thank you.