Monday, May 10, 2010

Art Is So Much More

This past weekend I was asked to participate in a Chalk Festival being put on by the Simi Valley Public Library and a local Girl Scout troop. Hosting and running a community event would help the scouts earn their Bronze Award. I was proud to help them toward reaching that goal. I got down to Simi Valley around 7:45 a.m., packed in my street painting stuff and waited until just before 8:00 when the Troop Leader and other Chalk Artists arrived. It was a lovely day and I found a nice shady spot under a tree to set up my initial grid and sketch. As Mother’s Day was the following day, I decided to recreate a cropped version (for modesty’s sake) of Gustav Klimt’s Mother and Child, c. 1905.

What I did not know as I set up for the day was that this experience was going to change the way I look at street painting.

As usual, I sketched out the piece and went through the process of choosing which pastels were going to make up the flesh tones of this particular portrait. The earphones went on and I began to draw the mother’s face. A few hours into it, I was ready to do the last minute shading and highlights and move on to drawing the child. At this point a large number of girl scouts, troop leaders, and families were crowded around at my piece and trying to figure out my technique. I ended up turning of my trusty iPod and giving an impromptu lesson on shading and highlights. The children had lots of questions and I was happy to answer them. I am no art teacher, but as a mother and a person truly passionate about the arts, I very much enjoyed the interaction.

I spoke with a local public school teacher about how the schools have had to reduce their art programs. It’s becoming a widespread phenomenon as California searches for ways to reduce its budget. How heartbreaking it is that music and art is being cut from curriculum when there is so much interest in it. Not to mention the incredible benefits of an arts education. No one has summarized it more fully than education advocate, Eliott Eisner:


1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.

7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

10. The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications.

I feel that all the artists who participated were actively advocating Arts education, and giving the community the opportunity to see art being created. All of the painters indulged the children (and some adults too!) about our process: creating grids, using proportions, discussing the history of the artworks, allowing them to experiment with some of our pastels, and allowing them to draw along side us.

President Barack Obama once stated, "The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create." I hope that by making public art, I have been able to spark that kind of creativity in the minds and hearts of future leaders.