Monday, February 1, 2016

STEM? STEAM? Where does ART fit in?

A rare blog post without pictures?  Well - that sounds like a bad idea, so, since in my post title I mentioned STEM and STEAM, here's a pic of a stem, and one of some steam (well actually fog, but it will have to do).
 But now I'm going to get on to what this post is REALLY about, and it will not include any more photos until the end.  Instead, I am going to discuss something that might turn out to be a controversial topic.  Well, it won't be the first time, will it?

I want to begin this blog post with a link to a Commentary column that was in the local newspaper (the Glens Falls Post Star) a couple of days ago.  The columnist is Will Doolittle, and he put into words something that I've thought about but never dared vocalize or share.  Until now.  Here.  Today.

The article is titled "Art is an unmatched subject".   The author is very supportive of art education.  I happen to know that the columnist's daughters are both college students, and while I have no idea what they are studying in college, it might well be art in some form for at least one of them.  I recall seeing their artwork in a prestigious juried high school art show, so I know that art was a large part of their high school life, and that they were very original and capable young artists.  So he, as a parent, certainly recognizes the value that art education has held for his own children.  And I thank him for that.

Anyhow - the article mentions a visit to our lovely little local art museum, the Hyde Collection, made by NY Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.  She and the museum director "made a point to endorse art as a subject for study in high school and college".  But, the article goes on to say, "They couldn't support art on its own, however.  To get art top billing, they've had to hook it to a curriculum superstar... STEM."  (Which of course then becomes STEAM, as he goes on to say.)

Doolittle defends the teaching of art as a stand-alone discipline, rather than a part of this STEM initiative.  He says "Art ...should be the foundation of public education.  Studio art and music should be compulsory subjects along with reading and math, from kindergarten through high school graduation."  What a powerful statement!  He further says "It's too bad that art's advocates feel they have to hitch it to math and technology to promote its importance.  Art came first.  Art is more universal and more useful."  And that, my friends, is the heart of the matter that I've thought but been too timid to admit out loud. 

I could quote the whole article here, but I will share Mr. Doolittle's closing lines: "Art doesn't need to get shoehorned in with the latest academic fad.  Art stands alone, and our students' time cannot be used better than in the study and practice of it."  To this I say, Hurrah, hurrah!!  I should note that he also makes some points about math and such that I don't necessarily agree with completely.  But I do like his statement that "we have gone overboard in our embrace of ...STEM".  Though not necessarily for the reasons he states.

I have been cautious in my endorsement of the concept of STEM and even of STEAM, even as I have sat at state art education association board meetings and listened to STEAM initiatives and so on.  But some of my reasoning is a touch different than his.  Don't get me wrong - I am not anti science and math.  As a matter of fact, I was, along with being an artsy kid, also a kid who excelled in math and loved science.  If my portfolio hadn't gotten me accepted into my chosen college program, I was prepared to instead choose a science-oriented education and career path.  Science is what makes the world tick, and with discoveries being made every day, and still to be made, to me science seems like the most creative of the "academic" disciplines.

But I am concerned about what is left out of STEM besides the arts. The humanities are ignored completely.   How about literature and poetry?  How about social studies/history classes?  Multicultural awareness?

Economics?  Global Studies?  Ancient civilizations?  (I could go on.)  These seem to be getting tossed to the side.  How can we expect today's kids to make our world a better place if we take away the importance of learning about our world works, and what has happened in it in the past that has made it the way it is?  Or if we take away the enjoyment of reading for pleasure?

I am worried that the intense focus on technology/engineering/math, whether through STEM or STEAM, is sucking the humanity out of education.  We need our children to become all sorts of adults, not just engineers and designers, and STEM is only a tiny part of what they need.  We need education to build compassionate adults.

While I agree that it is important to mention the critical roll that art and design play in science/engineering/technology/math, the arts are so much more than simply design.  We are not all interested/involved in art to be designers.  We teach and learn art for so many more reasons - to learn ways to express our humanity - to learn critical thinking and independent decision making - to make social statements - to simply make us happy! Again, to build engaging, compassionate adults, with a joy of the beauty of our world  The arts are the soul of education.  Do they have to be tied to STEM to have value?  Is the focus of education on STEM or even STEAM even a good thing?  What do you think?

I think I've made my point.  I'll close with a few of my old photos, randomly selected to hopefully remind us that sometimes art (and photography can be art, of course) need exist for nothing more than to bring peace and joy.  And isn't that sometimes enough?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Good Day

Cool mask-in-progress, no?  But it wasn't made by one of my students.  On Friday, I spent the day at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, a little Adirondack school district, attending a Professional Development Day for North Country art teachers.  The art room in these pictures belongs to K-12 art teacher Terry Crowningshield, and the work in these photos is the work of her students.  Each time I'm in her classrooms, I feel like I'm home. Terry is a kindred spirit as an art teacher!
 The papier-mache masks in the pictures above are made on an armature of a plastic bag stuffed with newspaper.  Regular readers of this blog have likely seen plastic bag armatures for papier-mache before!  Here's the back of the mask shown at the top of this post, with the plastic bag still inside.  Below it is a picture of the insides of a mask once the bag has been removed.
 Here's the mask viewed from another angle, so that you can better see the facial features.
Another grade of Terry's students have been making goofy aliens from papier-mache, using the plastic air-filled "pillows" that you find in packages you've received in the mail.  Instead of popping them to remove the air, students taped them together to form their aliens and papier-mache'ed over them. Aren't they adorable?
 Here's some close-ups!
 This cutie-pie alien is even wearing earrings and carrying a purse!
On top of the cabinets, I noticed some plaster bandage people-in-motion sculptures, totally reminiscent of ones that my 6th graders made and that I've blogged about several times before  One of those posts can be found HERE.  Here's a couple of the sculptures that really interested me.
Part of our day was the opportunity to work hands-on using the media of our choice.  Terry, like me, likes to create large still life arrangements, with something different to offer from every side and angle.  I chose to do an 18"x 24" drawing with a large graphite stick, and then paint with some gouache paints that I own but haven't used in years.  The first photo below is of the still life view from where I was working.  The second photo is of my unfinished painting.  Looking at them both I notice a lot of mistakes in my artwork - though I guess my viewpoint while drawing was slightly lower than from where I took the photo.  Anyhow, it was great to have this opportunity!
 Hanging in the hallway were these adorable seahorses.  It's hard to tell from the photos, but they seahorses were glued on the paper with a little twist so that the bodies curved out three-dimensionally.  They were so adorable!
  There's so much more I could show you... but I'll close with this - a giant light bulb and a large candy package.  These again are projects I've done before!  Giant pop sculptures, including gridded enlarged candy bars!  Like I said before, I feel like I'm home in this art room! 
Thanks, Terry, for allowing all 29 of us into your classrooms for the day, and for taking the time to put together a great agenda, prepare the materials, and even make sure we were provided with morning muffins and beverages and a lunch so fabulous and large that I took half of it home and ate it for dinner tonight!