Encircled by Imagination
March is Youth Arts Month, across the state and the nation. One event in Vermont features student art in the State House from March 6 to March 31, sponsored by the Vermont Art Teachers Association (VATA). Rebbie Carleton is an art teacher at Randolph Elementary School. She is organizing the exhibit and answered a few questions about it.
Q: The project begins by encircling the State House with student work. What does that look like?
A: This will be a thought-provoking exhibit of student artwork, but not a replica of Christo’s fabric building wraps…that would give the State House curators David Schütz and Tracy Martin nightmares! The student work will be in the State House cafeteria exhibit space with work from dozens of Vermont schools; but our hope is that on multiple levels legislators and the public will be encircled by the powerful visual expressions created by our students as they interact with them.
Q: How did the project start?
A: This project was started by the Vermont Art Teachers Association (VATA) to celebrate the national observance of Youth Art Month about 20 years ago. We now hold biennial statewide exhibits of student art at the State House with a different theme each year. It is open to all schools and students in Vermont and we usually have about 25 schools and hundreds of students exhibiting.
Since this year we are also discussing the important impact of the Vermont Arts Council, I wanted to note VATA has used Council themes in the past like the Palettes of Vermont and Art Fits Vermont as inspiration for this exhibit and in our classrooms.
One of the projects that will be displayed was influenced by one of the Council’s teaching artists, Gowri Savoor, during a residency she did in January at Georgia Elementary and Middle School with art educator Dorsey Hogg. Students worked with Gowri to learn about the Indian traditions of Rangoli Art which involves creating designs with colored sand or rice for special occasions. Dorsey then imaginatively took this a step further with her students to create a Vermont Rangoli using natural Vermont materials. I love the way she and her students really used art to build bridges between cultures and show that “imagination encircles the world.”
Q: You said the work in the show “clearly shows the importance of art education in developing our next generation creative and expressive citizens.” Say more about that.
A: We used a quote by Einstein as the inspiration for this year’s exhibit, “Imagination Encircles the World.” In 1929 he said, “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” We thought that had special resonance for art education and as we become more fully immersed in the digital age. In an unprecedented way, students have almost unlimited access to knowledge and facts but as Einstein suggested students need to use their imaginations to synthesize that information, becoming creative and expressive world citizens in whatever field they choose. The arts are essential in teaching our students to embrace multiple perspectives and understand that there can be numerous approaches in every type of problem solving situation.
You will see that in this exhibit of work by PreK-12th grade Vermont student artists. Each piece of art has allowed students to make and communicate judgments about how they will use materials to express an idea or solve a visual problem. Art education is about much more than creating something to put on the refrigerator and VATA believes that interacting with student art is a powerful way to communicate that message.
Here’s a specific example of a project that might show how art education contributes to the development of a fully engaged student who can contribute creatively to the future. His work in creating a dinner plate for the artist Renee Magritte reflects the new National Visual Art Standards for fifth and sixth graders. First the student began his creative process by identifying objects of personal significance and describing his personal choices in selecting this surreal artist from the entire spectrum of artists and art movements. Other students selected inspiration as diverse as prehistoric cave art and work by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. The student made those connections by investigating this artist and how this famous work of art reflected his current interests. Then this fifth grader compared his interpretation in this clay piece with the original work created by Magritte in 1946 creating a work imbued with personal meaning that solves a open ended art assignment in a creative and expressive way.
Q: If only one message is projected, what would you like that message to be?
A: We need to seriously consider that teaching our students to use their imaginations is a priority in shaping the next generation of citizens who will be able to stimulate progress and solve the world’s problems.
VATA has been working with The Vermont Arts Council’s Education Program Manager Ben Doyle on the Envisioning Arts Education in Vermont initiative that is considering that Vermont adopt the new art standards reflected in this project for Vermont schools.
Visit the Vermont State House to see the student work.
This exhibit is a Vermont Arts 2015 event.