In a small elementary art classroom, tables are strewn with wire mesh, duct tape, and blank, staring white mask forms. A group of twelve 4th graders are working busily, sharing ideas about additive sculpture techniques and giving one another constructive feedback. The conversation is lively, to say the least. About half of these students are neuro-typical learners while the other half have special needs. This afternoon, they are sculpting the armatures for what will become paper-mache masks, inspired by the carnival masks of Venice, Italy. Eventually, these masks will bear several layers of paper-mache. They will then be painstakingly decoupaged with printed tissue paper, and finished with rhinestones, and tempera paint. These students will feel a sense of pride as their projects, completed over several weeks, hang in a local museum, representing their school and themselves as individual artists. Each artwork will be a reflection of the interests and visual aesthetics of the child who created it. Today, the classroom is a riot of cooperative problem-solving as Pedro tries to figure out how to build a “cyborg” eye and Ryan rolls cylindrical alien antennae from wire mesh. Meanwhile, Caroline affixes a cone-shaped projection to the forehead of her mask form. She isn’t sure whether it should be a princess hat or a unicorn horn. Later, she will decide it should be both.
Art education benefits all students, not just those who are the “class artists” or who have expressed an unusual interest or aptitude for the visual arts. In addition to giving a student a means to express him or herself, studying art enhances all aspects of development, from critical thinking and abstract problem solving, to eye-hand coordination and fine motor skill development, to verbal expression and vocabulary. When art is integrated across the curriculum in a standards-based, student-centered model, learning is enhanced and all these necessary skills are honed. Art is a crucial part of a child's education and should be studied sequentially from the time a child enters school in kindergarten until she or he graduates from high school in the 12th grade. This benefits the community and society by shaping healthier, more expressive adults with excellent communicative skills and sound intrapersonal knowledge.
My overarching goal as an art educator is to use the visual arts to help all students to express themselves and develop positive self-esteem in the visual arts, whatever their abilities. Concurrently, I will guide those learners who have a greater interest and talent level; helping them to sharpen their skills, while further developing their personal styles and artwork, giving them feedback on careers in the arts and helping them to develop portfolios that will be an asset during applications to art school.
Developing visual literacy is a major element of my visual arts program. By introducing students to a wide range of artists from various cultures and historical periods, I seek to broaden students' ideas of what constitutes “good” art. The traditional view of art, especially among non-artists, equates “good” art with realism. As students are introduced to a variety of different styles, they begin to recognize numerous paths to visual problem-solving and self-expression. While not every student has the ability or the inclination to make art that is traditionally realistic or representational in nature, every child can be an artist, and every child has something unique to express in a visual format. As students become acquainted with a wide range of artists, styles and aesthetic traditions, they begin to develop a large visual vocabulary, and to feel encouraged to be more experimental in the ways they choose to create work. Eventually, these young artists will begin to develop their own personal, unique artistic styles.
It is of utmost importance to expose children to different periods and artists of art history…beyond the masters. In my classroom, I strive to create a venue to introduce students to lesser known artists, contemporary work, and female artists, who are usually so under-represented in the standard parade of the European masters. Not only does this broaden their perceptions of what it means to create “good” art, it can show them ways to create and excel that they may not have been exposed to before. My curriculum also includes projects that take inspiration from different countries and cultures, and introduces students to non-Western ideas of design and aesthetics, always framing these types of projects in contexts meaningful to student’s lives and experiences.
I have enjoyed a varied professional career in the arts. I received my undergraduate Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in 2002, and my Master of Science in Education from Hofstra University in 2011. Before coming to the field of education, I worked as a commercial illustrator for a number of years, and my published work includes projects for editorial magazines, fashion companies, toy and book publishing and many other industries. I have had the opportunity to exhibit my oil and watercolor paintings and mixed-media work at venues throughout New York State, and art making continues to be a vital part of my life. I believe my varied professional experiences give me a unique perspective to bring to my students, from the youngest elementary learners, beginning their earliest explorations of the visual arts to students at the secondary level who may be considering a career or higher education in the arts.