These doubts go away when I remember what happened last month. I had a first grader approach me at the store, or church, or some other non-school venue. "Mrs. Dyer," she said, "next art time me and my friends want to do an art show. Well, maybe not next art time, because we still have to make all the art, but probably the art time after that." I told her that sounded like a great idea, and that I would be able to help if she had any questions.
The next art time she showed up with a couple hand drawn pictures (one of them was quite striking, an abstract image filled with lines and angles, juxtaposed against a couple of rather cliched hearts and flowers). "These are the first things for my art show. I'm doing more today, and so are my friends. We want to do the art show today, in class, can we?" I assured her that would work well, and that I was looking forward to it. We discussed the set up time, and together determined that fifteen minutes would be enough time to set things up. "Would you like me to let you know when there are fifteen minutes left?" I asked her. "Sure! That's great!" she responded.
She and the other students (three or four girls, with a couple boys) got right to work. I observed her and her friends grab cardboard from the construction center. The leader pulled a monoprint (something that she discovered on her own) and showed her friends. They squealed and began to make their own monoprints. Another student observed that if you peeled off the first layer of paper, it revealed the corrugated cardboard underneath--she quickly made some prints with this. "Ooooh, look Mrs. Dyer! It's kind of a pattern."
With the deadline approaching, I informed the art show group, "Okay guys, you'll need to clean up your centers and start setting up your art show." They quickly divided the tasks. Two would clean up the paint center, one would help select art pieces, and the others would assist the leader with the art display. "You should get to decide where to put them, it was your idea," they told her. "Can we use the whiteboard, Mrs. Dyer?"
They decided on placement of the pieces (of course at this point many of the other class members decided they wanted things in the art show, too. An argument ensued and I had to force myself to step back--I'm glad I did. The art show kids reminded the others that they had been invited to be in the art show at the beginning of class. "And, we had to clean up early to be ready in time," the art show kids said. "It's not fair for you guys to not clean up early, and still put your stuff up." Most of the students begrudgingly agreed that was true. "Besides," the art show kids continued, "you can share your stuff another time during sharing time anyway.") Finally it was time! The classroom teacher arrived early as promised, in order to see the show.
Each of the students proudly described the media and processes they'd used to create their pieces. Observers asked a few respectful questions, which were thoughtfully answered: "How come you painted just flowers?" "Mostly because flowers have lots of colors, and I like flowers, me and my mommy plant flowers outside, but they died now, so she can have these flowers."
It was over in under ten minutes. I had hoped they would let me borrow some of their art works, but they all went home, "I'm going to my dad's tonight and I want to show him this robot picture, the one that was in a real art show!"
The students hurried up the stairs, and out the door, with tangible evidence that artwork, THEIR ARTWORK, matters. And that is when my self-doubt vanishes.