“Art changed my life,” Xingtao Liu ’18 said. “Art is a mindset. It’s about creative thinking and critical thinking. It’s my passion.”
It is a passion that our students have boundless opportunities to pursue. As STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — become increasingly important beginning as early as preschool, Barstow adds an “A” to the acronym. It’s based on our belief that arts education is necessary to the development of a well-rounded student.
“We talk about the philosophy of process versus product, and that they are both equally important,” Department Chair Mallory Hilvitz said. “Art is not an elective for us as teachers. This is what makes us tick. There is an expectation that we set that this class is as important as all the others.”
Students get that. Brady Legler ’07, a nationally known artist and jewelry designer, learned to paint as a Barstow student and turned daily doodling into a successful career. Hilvitz was one of his earliest supporters.
"She always made me feel I had something in me and that it was special,” he said. “She believed in me. She believes in all her students.”
Finding A Visual Voice
Barstow students dive into the visual arts from their first day in preschool. The Early Childhood art program builds motor skills, vocabulary and self-confidence as students explore how art is related to what they are learning in math, science and language arts. We start with the knowledge of concepts and color, layout and balance. Those foundation skills support learning in all other areas. Some compositions involve spatial planning, geometry and early math. Others require language and vocabulary to describe their work. Barstow students learn to hear their own voice in each project.
Research shows that arts experiences provide students with 21st century skills like problem solving, creative thinking and collaboration. Middle and upper school art teacher Lilli Lackey sees that daily, especially when working with ceramics.
“I love the moment when students are first learning the pottery wheel and it clicks after several, sometimes many, attempts,” she said. “Art helps students become more observant of their surroundings, it helps them become risk takers, to think creatively about a problem. One thing that is lost sometimes today is students don’t work with their hands as much with the constant use of technology. There is a value in learning to craft things through the touch of one’s hands.”
Cultivating Cultural Perspective
Barstow hallways look like art galleries, with projects from preschool through grade 12 on rotating display. Within each individual piece, art teachers say, there are lessons about history, culture and self-expression.
To begin the 2018-2019 school year, every student in Bridget Kukuk’s first through fifth grade art classes contributed to a series of Jackson Pollock-inspired splatter paintings. They learned about the artist and his style, abstract expressionism, and then created their own interpretation. Kukuk uses a similar process to introduce students to Vincent Van Gogh, Charley Harper, Miriam Shapiro, Georgia O’Keefe and dozens of other classic and contemporary artists.
“We introduce an artist and art history with each project. Students then use their critical thinking and analysis to take their own work in different directions. They figure out what they are interested in creating and develop their personal expression. They start to learn how to form opinions and defend their judgments and that is important not just in visual art, but in life. It helps them become well rounded,” Kukuk said.
Part of that well-rounded education is a global perspective infused into every art course from lower through middle and upper school.
“Art can help shape a child’s worldview and understanding of cultures. This is how we learn about people, their similarities, their differences, their clothing, their ceremonies and the things that were important to them. We paint Japanese koi fish, we explore Mexican art. Students understand cultures in a different and sometimes deeper way through art,” Kukuk said. “Art is an opportunity to be inclusive and Barstow really values that.”
Art and Technology Intersect
In an age of technology, visual art education is evolving. At Barstow, it still begins with foundational skills, but it also incorporates computers, iPads, 3D printers and digital cameras. Lackey says students are surrounded by art in technology, even if they don’t immediately recognize it.
“I let students use images and characters from pop culture, video games, even from their phones, to start them thinking about their own creations. They can’t replicate someone else’s design idea, but they can use them for inspiration,” she said. Using the technology at their fingertips, art concepts can be translated into their everyday lives.”
Barstow’s visual arts educators hope that their students complete each class with a new appreciation not only for color and composition, but also for their own capabilities. Kukuk and Lackey want lower and middle school students to realize that art is everywhere around them, and to use it to express themselves. And Hilvitz hopes art teaches her students to look at life with a fresh eye every day.
“In art, there is always more than one answer and everybody in the room can be correct,” she said. “Art is the way we create our story.”