A quote widely attributed to legendary artist Pablo Picasso reads, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
The source of that quote may actually trace back to an old German novel, but it doesn’t matter who said it — with COVID-19, wildfires, and political crises dominating the headlines, it’s clear that quote is more relevant today than ever.
Art is needed, as is getting opportunities to make art to the youngest students on Bainbridge Island.
Specialized subjects that rely upon in-person instructions are particularly difficult to teach as Bainbridge Island School District students remain remote through at least early October, and art is no exception to that.
But where would art be without inventiveness and imagination in the first place? Who better than the art teacher to find new ways to explore creating masterpieces without the benefit of being side-by-side in a classroom.
Jill Queen, art teacher at Wilkes Elementary, said that she spent much of the prior semester last spring using anything students and their families had lying around their homes.
One successful project called “Your Life is Like Art” had students re-create famous paintings, including Grant Woods’ “American Gothic,” Norman Rockwell’s “Boy with String,” Edvard Munch’s “Scream” and Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace.”
She also had students create art with everyday items found outside the home as a way to get them off their computers and into the fresh air.
“Part of what I’m trying to do is get them off the screen and touch the materials,” Queen said. “They really need to be diving into the materials, so it was important to get the materials to them.”
This year, Queen was able to put together packets of materials for students, including spare brushes, paint and crayons from her art room. “It’s like they have a gift they can open up and have these things to touch,” Queen said.
That, along with technology the district has in place, has made it remarkably easier to teach a hands-on subject. But it’s still not the same for Queen, who has to observe her kindergartners madly cutting and pasting through a computer screen.
“They can hold it up to the screen, but it’s not the same as seeing it live,” Queen said.
There are also some things that simply can’t be replicated. In a normal classroom setting, if a young student was having trouble holding scissors properly, it would be easy for Queen to walk over and correct it. If she saw a student making progress on a piece, she could encourage him or her to continue down that path.
But at the same time, students still have the freedom to explore and investigate the materials they have. They can come up with their own ideas within the parameters set by the teacher.
Queen is able to supplement the curriculum with videos on her Google Classroom, where in addition to lessons she provides resources for seeing other artists discuss their work. This includes local artists, such as David Franklin, who is one of two people creating a sculpture for the Seattle Kraken hockey team.
And while students can’t be in-person to talk about and show off their art to one another, technology does allow them to attend small, short breakout sessions where they can interact.
Queen said she has also been able to focus on teaching creativity and allowing students room to see themselves as artists, and help them understand how they view the world.