Quantifying creativity: should Urban grade art classes?


Students in the Drawing/Mixed Media art class in 2021. Photo credit: Kate Randall.

Art is subjective, so naturally, it is difficult to grade. Since its founding, Urban has been well known for the arts and has a wide range of art classes. Therefore, grading art is taken very seriously. In both the visual and performing arts departments, teachers spend time creating a rubric that will best evaluate art classes before each trimester, but to students, it is still unclear whether or not Urban should grade art classes.
“It’s difficult. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about it,” said performing arts student Orrie Rindal ‘22. Although Rindal can see that from a teacher’s perspective that grading a class keeps students motivated, she also sees, “that people don’t want it to be graded because how do you put a grade on art?”
One way to do this would be to not grade art at all. “I think that art classes should be [graded] pass or fail,” said former painting and printmaking student Emily Loyola ‘24. “I think if there’s a [graded] attitude, you’re kind of reaching towards this unreachable goal of making art perfect, which it will never be.”
However, some teachers are opposed to the idea of grading art classes with pass-fail. “Pass-fail is really binary…grades allow us a way to give more nuanced [feedback] to students,” said Visual Arts Chair and Art Teacher Kate Randall. Randall also explained how colleges, “especially the UC system, really [wants] to see grades.”
Additionally, Urban art classes are valued just as much as other core classes. “We emphasize the teaching of the whole student, and art is an essential part of that,” said Academic Dean Jessica Yen. “Art is an integral part of our academic program, just like all of the other disciplines we offer, and that’s reflected in our graduation requirements, our curriculum, and our assessment practices.”
Although there may be different opinions on how art at Urban should be evaluated, students and teachers agree that art students should not be graded on how their art looks. Instead, Urban artists should be evaluated based on criteria like participation, adaptability to setbacks and willingness to take risks. “[We] value creative process over product,” said Randall. Randall explained that grades aren’t reliant on experience or how “good” their art looks, but rather on engagement in a creative exploration.
“Some people might think that assessing art is subjective, but what constitutes good poetry may also be subjective,” said Yen. “There are still techniques that you can assess for, there’s still work habits that you can assess for and to strive in pursuit of…trying things outside of the box.”