I have found a personal balance to this by asking my students to complete one "art journal page" in their sketchbook each month. This is an independent work of art that gives students an opportunity to work with subject matters and materials that are interesting to them. They can be collages, drawings or paintings and I ask that they spend a minimum of 30 minutes on the assignment. I provide a list of topics in case students needs help in thinking of an idea, but I like to give them the freedom to do anything, just like an artist would. I think it’s important at the middle school level for students to start developing some skills working independently in their sketchbook, yet I also don’t want them to be completely overwhelmed.
In general, the works of art that students turn in for homework are very impressive! Some students tell me how much they enjoy working on their journal pages and clearly spend more than the required 30 minutes. Here are some examples from grades 6,7 and 8.