Removing Boundaries and Creating Joy in Art
Posted 09/19/2019 07:00AM

Like a pneumatic device, Lower School art teacher Jamie Hartzell organizes her classes by words that students can connect concepts to. 

"Shape," for example, makes them think of Cubism, which leads to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and then negative space - the idea of using what's in between and around an object to define it. Those concepts are reinforced through drawing, sculpting, and painting exercises that become more developed at each level. 

For Lower Schoolers, this method helps solidify the basics (line, shape, color, texture, space, form, and pattern) so that when they transition to sixth grade, they will only have to add one or two new skills for projects like Pop Art, which Middle School art teacher Diane Holmberg uses to demonstrate scaling and measurement.

"And for the older students, this helps them to see that art isn't just about making things pretty," Jamie added. "There's hundreds of years of history, and making anything today requires drawing on everything that has been done before - and hopefully, it's that understanding that helps them to create something new and interesting."

Removing boundaries and bringing joy to the creation process is also important, says Jamie and Early Learning Center art teacher Leslie Penther. Sure, learning the concepts means you have to play by some rules - but one of them isn't having to make something that may be considered conventionally beautiful. 

"With pre-kindergarten and kindergarteners, it's carefree. There's no pressure, they are uninhibited - and they're just starting to process the idea of shapes, colors, and spaces. That's why it's easy to use things like dots and dabs to teach them about the artists that use those techniques. But once they get older, students begin to think more about the grade than what they are creating, so we are actively working together as a team to keep that joy alive across the board."

For Jamie, that means finding different ways to grab her students' attention. Younger learners tend to associate free time with play, and Jamie said redirecting them toward something creative they enjoy doing - like building - is often times the answer.

For Diane, it's more about showing students that everything, in some way, can be repurposed - taking on new life and shape. In her class, bottle tops are flattened to make the scales on a mermaid, plastic water jugs cut into pieces to make flowers, and sea glass filed down to fill the "negative space" in the setting for a mirror. 

"With opportunities to be hands-on, students get to not only take ownership of their piece, they can apply any or all of the concepts we're learning about," Diane said. "It also sets them up to be more independent in selecting and executing their projects, which is what they will fully have to do at the next level in Upper School."

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