Kids learn there are no rules and no failures when creating art.
Kaitlin is pretty impressed with the owl print she created in class. She did it by carving a picture of the owl onto a rubber block, spreading a thin layer of ink on it and then pressing handmade paper over it. The technique was taught to her by visiting professional artist Christine Benson-Woods, who was invited to share her knowledge with the Grade 7 class by Kaitlin’s teacher, Stephanie Stone.
“I like owls, they’re pretty kooky-looking. I drew the rough copy free hand – I’m really happy with the finished print, which I’ve framed,” says Kaitlin. “Art is so much fun. You really get to use your imagination.”
“Each art class is about two hours long,” says Stone, “so the students can start and finish a project in that time. I ask Christine to come in two or three times a year.”
Many schools have visiting artist programs that benefit school and child alike. “Professional artists are able to bring with them their experience in different media and use different materials than the school usually provides,” says Stone.
The projects that Benson-Woods does with the kids correspond to the art curriculum, and range from watercolour painting, to relief printmaking, and paintings in the style of Emily Carr. She says that with each project, students use their imagination to create something unique.
Professional artist John Climenhage also visits schools, teaching students from kindergarten to Grade 8. “With the youngest students we draw from our imaginations creatures with multi-animal appendages, such as lion’s heads with lizard legs or lobster claws, and create abstract compositions,” says Climenhage. “With students in Grades 7-8, we have been working outside making sketches of the school, painting apple blossoms in the spring and the changing leaves in the fall.”
Climenhage says art is a way to excite young people about the world, and that they can create art about whatever interests them, be it animals, people or houses, and to build on that interest to see where it takes them. He is amazed at what the students can do with hard work and direction, and how fast they develop the skills they need to improve their art. “Even the kids who at first are too afraid to try, quickly realize there are no rules and no failures in the creation of art – only more art to be made, more observations and sensations to refine, and more reasons to continue with their individual interests and practices,” he says.
Benson-Woods says students who are not strong in English or Math often discover that they have talent in the visual arts. She enjoys seeing them gain confidence by trying something new and learning about their strengths.
Many other benefits too
Exposure to the arts improves the quality of the lives of young people, increasing their self-esteem and participation in society, and helping them to avoid drug abuse and other illegal activities, according to research.
“We’ve noticed increased attendance in our at-risk students on the days when the art program is going on – it’s a huge benefit in keeping them connected to school,” says one local principal. In addition to visits from Climenhage, her school also invites other creative professionals to work with students in fields such as pottery, painting, photography, dance, weaving, and culinary arts.
Funding artists’ visits can be a challenge. Stone says that she gets half of the funding for the program from the school and half from parents, while in other schools, funding might come from the school council, school board or a sponsor such as a local service club.
Discovering art as a career
After their in-class experiences, some students are inspired to become professional artists themselves. “Students don’t often see creative endeavours as a way to make a living,” says Stone, “but when they come into contact with living, breathing artists in their own community, they see that art can open up a possible career path for them.”
After one of the art sessions, Kaitlin knew what she wanted to do in her life. “We made caricatures of ourselves, by exaggerating one of our features and making our bodies small.” She laughs, “I like to talk, so I drew a great big mouth.” Her talent at caricature, plus her love of doodling, convinces her that, “when I grow up I want to be an animator at Disney Studios!”