Every student feels like an artist

By May 3, 2019

“My goal is that every student feels like an artist,” says Catherine Karp, the teacher in Oak Meadow’s Fine Arts Studio. The impressive student art show running all this week at the Rizzi Center on campus gives strong evidence of this journey.

“In society today, kids get turned off of art,” explains Catherine. “So one of my goals is to help students learn to be more confident. I explain that miracles don’t just happen. You don’t get good at something unless you practice. You have to learn a skill or technique and then practice it over and over.”

“Another goal of mine is to encourage choice. Students don’t always feel comfortable knowing how to make choices. So I help with this in ways that are not obvious to the students. For instance, I arrange specific art materials within easy reach. Most everything is self-serve. In one class, students can easily reach materials like oil pastels, pencils, crayons, markers, construction materials, wood, and stencils. Then I work closely with them, helping them with demonstrations, showing them techniques and methods, and offering suggestions. It’s similar to the prepared environment in the Montessori classroom. I provide a framework and I meet the children where they are. I am ready to jump in when it looks like they are ready to learn the next new thing in order to progress.”

The art show this week is the culmination of weeks of work by the students across the program levels. The students learned about eight studio habits of mind for this project, and some of the work in the show this year was arranged to illustrate what these habits might look like through the finished product. The studio habits of mind are a lens through which to look at creativity, practice, and thinking in the art studio. Catherine developed these habits in partnership with a group of artist colleagues, and in connection with a workshop at Harvard’s Project Zero. The eight habits are develop craft, stretch and explore, express, engage and persist, envision, observe, reflect, and understand art worlds. In addition to creating a work of art, the students were also required to write a description of their work and explain the process they went through.

One of the pictures in the show, created by a middle school student, was inspired by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education. She wears a headcovering known as a hijab. “Her life is so inspiring,” says the student. “This art project helped me to better understand another culture and the story of Malala and others who are making a courageous stand despite the danger involved.”

Speaking about the process she went through, the student explained, “Previously, I had mostly worked with pencils as my medium. For this picture, I learned techniques for ghosting using a charcoal pencil and gum eraser. It enabled me to show the intricacy of the folds in the hijab and make it look more realistic. I learned a lot techniques for shading. I also became very interested in drawing eyes for the first time. My first attempts were really unrealistic, but I continued to draw and practice, looking at different people to learn more about eyes. I discovered how important it is to determine what you fill in, and what you don’t, and how you shade, to make the eyes look more realistic. Over time, my skill in drawing eyes really improved. In the end, I was really proud of the final product.”