Thursday, September 23, 2010

No-No? or Yes-Yes? My controversial post of the moment

This is going to be a controversial blog post, so dear blog readers, if I offend you I apologize. While it's not my intent to offend, I do feel an obligation to be honest to my readers, and you should know I've given this post quite a bit of thought before putting fingers to the keyboard. So here goes. If I lose readers, so be it. But I am discussing the idea of the No-No board, not the quality of the teacher who uses it. I have seen some marvelously creative and original work posted by teachers who also posted No-No's, so what I am expressing is simply a difference of opinion. Here goes, unfortunately at length:

Some of you have posted about the No-No boards in your rooms, to show unacceptable art practices. The No-No's listed on these boards generally included suns with faces, stick figures, "V" shaped birds, lollipop or broccoli style trees, blue clouds, suns in corners, etc. You can see by the image on the window shade in my art room above (which I created with yellow contact paper and some acrylic paint)that I have a little problem being told "no suns with faces". Oops. And then there is the beautiful Klee painting above, with, yes, stick figures! And this morning, driving to school, I saw birds at a distance in the sky that looked like... drumroll.... letter V's!!! And the clouds in the sky were not white, (and the sky was not blue). Both the clouds AND sky were tints and shades of blues, pinks, grays; just lovely. (My childhood name for this cloud color is "sky-blue-pink".)

SO. The No-No was a new concept for me, so I mulled it over for a while, and then sent an email to other teachers in my district to ask if they'd heard of the No-No board and to solicit their thoughts and opinions on the concept. I considered that they would tell me I was totally out in left field, in which case I would have re-considered my own gut instincts. But that's not what happened. I almost immediately received 1/2 dozen email responses and several more verbal responses, all opposed to the concept. None had ever seen or heard of a No-No board, and none approved. Since nobody was familiar with the concept, I wonder if the No-No is a regional practice perhaps? Did it come from education classes or professional development in a certain part of the country? If you know, please tell me!

Anyhow, I tried to copy and paste all their responses here, but I can't figure out a way to do this, so instead I'll just pick a few quotes to re-type here:

  • "please don't censor kids' art."
  • "There's altogether too much negativity in the world already. Don't pollute the art room."
  • "I hope we're beyond the no no philosophy in education as a whole, not just in art."
  • "I think we should encourage children, not discourage them."
  • "I much prefer your (referring to me) developmental and positive approach to art."
  • "I have seen stick figures in published literature illustrations. (This response went on to discuss faces in suns and moons appearing in Native American and other multicultural literature etc.)"
  • And several emails contained comments about developmental growth, and the appropriateness of drawing "circles with sticks" to represent people (as a developmental step), and developmentally appropriate expectations.
  • Finally, people questioned the concept of posting images of what we DON'T want to see, and suggested as a positive alternative: a "YES-YES Board". (YES: use your imagination; try your best; be courageous; try new things, use your time wisely, make mistakes, look, .... you get the idea, right?)


  1. I agree with you. While I acknowledge that a teacher knows his or her classroom better than any other, I know that my students thrive when I encourage them to be creative, without imposing limits on what they can and cannot do.

  2. I've never seen a no no board however, I have had teachers mention these 'pet peeves' to their class. I think that is what they are... pet peeves. I think all art has a place and an age. I agree to always keep things positive in class! Thanks for the post!

  3. I have had many students draw suns with faces and v's for birds. We are lucky as art teachers because we get to see the same kids for much of their childhood development 5 years!!! In my opinion, they grow out of using symbols once they notice alternatives and are ready to move on to the next stage of their development. You can expedite it with a no no board but you are telling rather then showing. It is overwhelming when you have huge class sizes and behavioral issues, and social/emotional issues. In the end though it is totally worth it! It helps them think for themselves and hopefully change how they thing about the world. I actually asked some of my students Why they didn't agree with rules that they were breaking in my room. If they tell me a "good" reason why I always let students break the rules.

  4. I have never heard of the no no board until I saw it on a post last week. I don't know of any teachers in my district who use it....that would be a no no!

  5. This summer I found a copy of "I Can Draw: Ideas for Teachers" by Kate Hart. In a nutshell she suggests that it's important that adults show children that their symbolism is important so that they accept their own imagery. She suggests using children's own symbolism as much as possible. I love her idea of using an overhead projector to enlarge children's drawings to mural size and using them as the basis for collage, printing, or painting projects. She also collected children's symbols on charts to post on the wall....("This is how we draw trees..." "This is how we draw elephants") To show the many different ways children symbolize trees, elephants, etc.
    I think you have to be careful with the no no board not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Maybe better to establish with the children a criteria for the work at hand than to ban things altogether.

  6. This will sound a little wishy washy, but I don't have a problem with the idea of a No NO Board if its used with the older students. But I do not think it should be used with any student under 4th grade. If a kindergartner wants to draw a lollipop tree, I am certainly not going to tell them that they are wrong. If a fifth grader does it, and they have had me for art before, they have learned the correct way to draw a tree, and I will therefore be upset if they draw a tree like a lolipop. (Unless of course, the student has a good reason too.) So basically, I think a NO NO Board is alright for the older kids.

    I do not choose to use a NO NO Board in my class. I teach too many of the little ones. However, I usually tell students what is and is not allowed for each project. If we are doing a realistic landscape painting, then I might tell the kids that for this project, smiley faces are not allowed in the sun.

  7. Oh dear me - thank goodness we homeschool if this sort of practice is becoming the norm. What if Picasso had had a 'No-No' board in his life - I mean really! Good grief! This is an idea from someone with absolutely NO imagination.

    When I first started reading I thought the no-no board was something like "no painting your neighbors" "No mistreating art materials" you know - helpful stuff like that! I am appalled that anyone would try to censor art let alone children's art! UGH!!!

  8. Hmmm. Never heard of a no-no board. I get the purpose of it though, but it's lazy teaching. I think what teachers mean to do is to open up kids perceptions of how things appear. Good teachers do that naturally. Lollypop trees can be considered folk art if you really think about it. V's for birds can be a stylized approach. Interesting post but honestly, I've never seen/heard of this method.

  9. I've seen it on a couple posts and I actually had seen it years ago as well. I agree with Holly V, pretty much all she said. I don't think it is a terrible thing, but I don't have one in my room. I think it's not that art teachers are trying to censor the kids artwork, but they are trying to encourage the kids to move beyond the "easy" way out. I have said to kids before, "no stick figures" in a particular artwork. Adding more details, such as the clothing, skin, etc. makes it more interesting. I do think for those who think there should be no limits in art class, what if a student only wanted to splatter paint everything? Well, Jackson Pollack did that, right? So is it appropriate in elementary art class so choose to splatter paint everything? What if the project is learning to draw people? Then splatter paint wouldn't be allowed, right? I always believed that creativity thrives within limits and when there are no limits or limited choices at all, kids revert to a safety net (such as lollipop trees).

  10. Well, as you probably saw on my post last week, I have a big poster that says: "Artists Go Beyond What is Easy. . .Expected. . .Ordinary." And, underneath that, I have examples of what I expect them to avoid: bubble flowers, blue clouds, sunshines with faces, string hair, stick figures etc.

    What I didn't say in my post, is that this poster is used for students in 2nd grade and up. And, 98% of the students in my school qualify as "gifted," so my 2nd graders may be more like 3rd graders (in some cases).

    I don't have this poster because I want to say "no" or because I want to limit my student's creativity. I have this board because I want them to grow beyond a their schema of a stick figure equals a person etc.

    My teaching philosophy relies heavily upon the experience of building creativity through imaginative play. So, naturally, I am not into limiting students. I find that during their assigned art projects, my students have no problem avoiding things like stick figures, mostly because I clearly outline expectations and most of our projects are much more complex than something that could be summed up with a stick figure. However, I did find, during free-time activities that my students would revert back to old schemas and draw in a way that I would expect a MUCH younger student to draw. And, I want them to avoid this.

    I want them to avoid it not because I'm interested in limiting them, but because I am interested in transference of creativity to other disciplines. If my students can carry over what they learn in a project to free-draw time, then I feel they can also carry-over that skill to the poster they need to make for Social Studies project etc.

    So, while my "Artists go beyond . . ." poster shows examples of "no" work, I don't say "no" to the students. I say something more like: "Ohhh Hmm. I wonder, is there another way you can show a sun shining? Does the sun always have to be in a picture for us to know it is daytime etc.?" And, I also leave room for students to defend themselves. For example, one student was able to give me an example of when he saw a blue cloud AND brought in a picture. So, he gets to make blue clouds!

    But, we all have our own ways, and I respect other artists' ways of teaching. . .I did just want to put in my reasoning behind my board.

  11. Wow. I checked my blog at lunch and there are already 11 comments. Yikes. But a couple of people suggested that whose use the NoNo are lazy teachers or lacking in creativity. I did not intend for that to happen, and I apologize to anyone who feels hurt by these comments. After all, Mr. E has a NoNo, and if you've been following the progress of his AMAZING Chihuly projects, you sure can't call him either lazy or non-creative. The stuff is totally cool!! I'm a big fan.
    But I do wonder about the origin of the NoNo, since nobody had ever heard of it in my school. Is it a trend in certain places perhaps? Where did it originate?
    Here's my take on the NoNo process: I will gladly FOR SPECIFIC ASSIGNMENTS discuss what is expected, and define clearly also what is not. So sometimes you don't want that sun in the sky (like when doing realistic landscapes). But I wouldn't post "no faces in suns" in my room all the time, because there are definitely times (as in my window screen) when it is appropriate. And then I would encourage growth. Today my first graders are doing family portraits. I might say "that person has no arms - how are they going to hug you?" or "gee your dad's hair is short. Should you show his ears?" You get the idea. I much prefer this to a universal posting of rules that I will have to break sooner or later.
    Thanks again for the many thoughtful comments.

  12. I had never heard of it until I saw it on a blog, so I decided to try it. It has been very controversial with the kids and has sparked a lot of great discussions. I let them know that these rules are for realistic drawings/paintings only, and that they are very good starting places to improve their work. Just today I showed 2 students how to take a stick figure and add bulk to make a complete form. I love the discussions it has garnered, but I probably won't keep it up too long.

  13. In my opinion, a no-no board limits the creativity of the child as an artist and, well, a child. I first saw one of these in a classroom I was visiting and was pretty shocked at the idea of "no-no's" besides obvious ones, such as violent artwork. Who cares if they draw blue clouds? Sometimes clouds appear blue! And if you prefer they do not, then take the opportunity when it arises to gently steer them in the other direction, pointing out that clouds are not always blue and have many tints and shades in them at different times of the day.

  14. I believe No No Boards have good intentions. I don't use one. I believe it could make some students feel inferior to others. Stick figures are a part of children's preschematic development stage. Children have to go through their developmental stages to grow. Should we cut one out?
    I like the quote in the book "The Dot"

    "Make a mark and see where it takes you"

  15. I *think* that I found a happy in between with the bulletin board that I created. I made a "Enhance Your Art" board. On it, I included examples of very basic drawings and wrote "Instead of this..." then made a drawing of the same thing, but spiced it up with lots of details etc.. and wrote "TRY THIS!" So for example with the trees, I first drew 4 "lollipop trees" all with squirrel holes in the middle and all evenly spaced on the horizon line...that was the "instead of this" and then I drew trees that showed depth by varying size & placement, added more textures etc..etc... and wrote "Try this!" I did this for many of my pet peeves, ie: box houses, always making the sky solid blue, stick people etc.. (which I agree has it's place in art, but in elementary I do find that the REASON students draw stick figures is b/c they tell me "but Im not good at drawing bodies", not b/c they make an artistic choice to create a stick figure over a real body) Anyhow, like I said I think it will HELP because instead of just telling them what they can't do, it shows them some alternatives, and how to make it more detailed and "spicier"!

  16. I was JUST talking to a friend about this concept... I had never heard of it, until I started exploring the blog world and came across some 'no-no boards'. I personally believe that educators need to focus on giving their students POSSIBILITIES and less restrictions! It may seem like a little thing, saying no blue clouds, no stick figures, but if a student had come up with an idea they were really excited about that used one of those 'no-no's', it would completely discourage them from thinking of their own ideas and solutions in the future. I always tell my kids that in art, rules are meant to be broken and if they have a plan, to go for it! Often, those rule-broken ideas are so inventive and amazing! I agree with the others' opinions, in that instead of giving limitations, we could find opportunities to have conversations about how artist's experience the world around them. I thought about it as well, but I don't think we need a 'yes-yes' board either, it still feels judgmental. The art room walls should be inspirational and exciting- there's much more important ideas and knowledge that we can display on our walls- how about the things that kid's teach us!!! :)

  17. Well said, ladies. Becca Ruth, you've really hit the nail on the head, and put it simply. Developmental stages!!! And Christina, I really like your suggestions of "try this" or "enhance your art" - both of which are definitely less threatening approaches than simply saying no-no.
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    For another thoughful spin on the topic of the no-no, check out Artful Artsy Amy at her blog at

  18. I am from Tx. I have never seen or heard of a "No No" board until recently with the blogs. I have to agree with you. I feel there is a time and place for those things. There are times when we are working that I will tell my kids that we are going for a realistic look and that the sun should not have faces etc.

  19. Hello again Phyl,
    I'm kinda responding to your comment on Amy's blog.
    I too am from the South and trained in the South. From my education, I was never taught to use a No-No of any kind. What my curriculum stressed was a Discipline Based Art Education Program. Pretty sure most Art Programs have heard of it. Here is a good site to define it
    Recently I have had huge success with an after school program that is Choice Based.
    Hope this helps :)

  20. Funny, I just posted a full line of questions on this topic over at on the art chat board. Seems crazy to think that this is a concern other places as well...

  21. Thanks everyone. I've got lots to think about. I'm curious about the school where Amy teaches, with 98 percent gifted. Wow! I would definitely have to re-think how I teach! That's so different from my rural public school, where I have a very broad spectrum of students, in terms of ability, background, and experience, but a limited spectrum in terms of ethnic diversity.

    With all this no-no conversation, I guess I need to remember we teach in very different places, from home-schools, to private schools, to public schools, to after-school programs. There's no way we would all have the same expectations or approaches. I hope at least we've all gotten something out of the dialogue, to make us think about the way we approach teaching in our own particular situation.

    Teeny-tiny, I went over to the chat board you mentioned to take a look, but it was another whole big world out there and I think it will take me sometime to wade through it all.

    And Becca Ruth, I hope you didn't see my comment as any kind of slam on the south - it wasn't intended that way - rather I was just noting that's where I had seen the no-no's first posted. As for my own education, I'll admit I was a college student in the early '70's, so I had a rather hippie-dippie college education.

  22. I just recently made a No-No board and am very happy to say so. I told my children that we will be allowed, at times, to break the rules of the no-no board. I explained that in most of our projects, stick figures and faces on the sun are not allowed. Drawing a face on a sun is not being creative, it is copying something they have seen someone else do that they thought was cute. This is fine, Im all for copying ideas and making them your own, but there are other ways in art to be creative other than drawing a face on the sun. I also discourage stick figures unless we are covering symbolism. In that case, a "symbol" of a person is ok. This picture above is Paul Klee, who is known for using symbols in his artwork. This is different than drawing a self portrait when we are learning about how to draw people and drawing a stick figure. Everyone who has seen my board loves it, parents and educators alike. I am simply encouraging them to be creative and not lazy and not drawing something the way everyone else does.

  23. Thank you, scarolina, for your thoughtful coments. I think we all need to do what works best for us, and I'm glad we had the opportunity to have so many opinions expressed here on my blog. I welcome differences of opinion. I think it's wonderful that you have the support of the parents in your district - that shows they respect what you do.

    I must say, however, that the kids absolutely adore the sun on my window shade, face and all. It might not be an original concept, but I do feel the application was certainly creative. No matter the weather outside, my art room is always a warm,sunny,positive place.

  24. Thanks Phyl for inviting different opinions and being open to them! love your blog and congrats on being listed as top 20!

  25. Not sure if I never saw this...or just decided not to respond at the time. As one that started the no-no board "issue" is interesting to hear everyones reasoning for not having a no-no board. I'm fine for people to go a "positive"
    direction with it...good for you! :) However, I do not feel it is negative to tell a child no. I'm a job is to teach. No & Yes are part of teaching. When you say no to one can say yes to a million other things and open their would to so many possiblities. And in regards to developmental levels and such....are we not suppose to instruct children? What do you do when they come in your room?? Oh...that's where they are and I'm just going to let them stay there and not intruduce any other idea until they move out of that stage. I think not. You teach them. You show them how to do things the right way. So are you damaging their developmental level??!?!?!?! are teaching them. We are art teachers...and we teach. No & Yes do not damage a child.....after 14 yrs of teaching...I've had many kids come back and tell me they valued so much the time in my classroom. I've never had a child come back and tell me.....YOU TO TOLD ME NOT TO MAKE A BLUE CLOUD AND IT RUINED MY LIFE!!!!!! :) hee hee

  26. Wow, 5 months after my post, the discussion has been re-opened... Mr. E, I can't quite tell if you are angry at my opinions?

    Either way - In response - I've been teaching 34 years, currently have many students who are the children of former students, and in response, I ALSO have not have anyone come back to tell me "You ALLOWED me to MAKE a face in my sun and it ruined MY life". So we're even. Fact is, the art room is usually kids' favorite place (along with the gym and playground), and art time is their favorite time of the day, no matter our teaching philosophy or style.

    However, re: a part of your comment, "You show them how to do things the right way", actually, NO, I don't always "show them how to do things the right way" - often what I do is provide the tools and the information and the independence and the opportunity and the security to figure things out and make decisions for themselves. (Fostering independence is a big thing in my room.)

  27. not angry silly goose... :)