Walters' Exhibit Celebrates Art Education

Imagine having your artwork on display in a world-renowned art museum. For 27 of McDonogh’s young emerging artists, this is not a dream, but a reality. The work, created by lower schoolers during the 2014-2015 school year, is on display at the Walters Art Museum through December 20. The exhibit, coordinated by McDonogh Lower School art teacher Joan Newcomer and Susan Dorsey of the Walters Art Museum, features the work of students from 13 Association of Independent Maryland Schools (AIMS).

Speaking at the opening reception on Saturday, December 5 was former Head of the Lower School Noreen Lidston. Her remarks on the importance of art education for all children follow:

I would like to share with you a quote from an artist you may have heard of: Pablo Picasso.

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

The ability to paint like a child is a fleeting gift, and we are privileged today to be surrounded by dozens of colorful, creative expressions of that gift. I think you will agree with me when I say that very few of us grown-ups in this room would be able to create the kind of artwork that is on display here, and even fewer of us would have the courage to try. What we see in this artwork is the fearless flight of young imaginations and the triumph of confidence over self-doubt.

In today’s exhibit, we admire the talent and the effort of our young artists, but I would like to take just a moment or two to reflect on five of the many reasons why art education is important for ALL children in our schools, not just the ones whose artistic ability sets them apart from others.

First, art develops creativity and self-expression -- all without having to rely on spoken or written language. Therefore art is one of the first outlets open to children who think that grass should be purple or that a cloud should smile. No language is necessary. No speech is required to create art, especially the kind of art that leaves us speechless.

Secondly, art teaches the value of work. Maybe that is why we call it artwork! It takes time and effort to finish a work of art, and, in the process, the artist can learn a lot about the joy that comes from work done for its own sake and to the best of one’s ability.

Third, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers in art...or there shouldn’t be. For those children whose school experience is designed to prepare them for standardized testing, this ambiguity can be a bit uncomfortable. But it can also be wonderfully freeing. Nowhere else are boundaries so limitless, judgment so blind, and possibilities painted with so broad a brush!

Fourth, art is all about problem-solving. Artists must constantly ask and answer questions. “How do I a draw a dog with the proper proportions?” “What does anger look like?” “How can I show where the light is coming from?” “How much art must I make before I trust myself to figure these things out?” Nothing develops problem-solving skills faster than being left alone with an assignment and a blank piece of paper!

Fifth and last, art is a powerful and potent venue for examining both human values and cultural differences. Themes such as “home and family, work and play, nature and the environment, beauty and ugliness, violence and love” (NAEA) recur in artwork from around the world and remind us of our shared humanity. Art’s visual images teach us about the values that make us human and the cultural differences that make us unique.

There is much talk in education today about preparing our students for a future that seems largely unknowable. Children who are in kindergarten today will retire in the year 2075...maybe. Who can hazard a guess as to what their world will be like then, and what schools should be doing right now to ready them for what is to come? Perhaps art education can provide some of the answers.

What if we did this?

  • Gave our students more opportunities to develop their creativity and use their imaginations to confront the challenges coming their way,
  • Empowered them to express themselves more often in deep and thoughtful ways,
  • Taught them the value of hard work and the importance of self-reliance,
  • Prepared them for a world in which there will not always be a “right” or a “wrong” answer,
  • Strengthened their abilities to solve problems, to experiment, and to dare,
  • Taught them to appreciate all that makes us human and to recognize our shared humanity in others despite our outward differences.

Maybe, after all, it is art education, which so many are trying to save, which will ultimately save us.

I opened with a quote from Pablo Picasso and now I would like to close with a quote from my son Colin Lidston who was a student of Joan Newcomer’s in his early years! Colin got his BA from Rhode Island School of Design and his MFA in painting from Indiana University in Bloomington. He is now teaching art to young children in a charter school in Brooklyn, New York. I asked him one day about the projects he was doing with his students, the concepts he was trying to teach, and what his students’ artwork looked like. Surprised at the last question, he replied, “Mom! It is children’s artwork! It is beautiful!”

And so it is!

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