Friday, March 26, 2010

"Celebration in Art" at the MassMu is a do.

Often times as artists and those interested in art, we get caught up in the significance and self importance of what we do and why. The occasional kick in the pants is good for all of us now and then. I had one of those blows yesterday by accident or circumstance, take your pick. The show I saw was refreshing, genuine and just plain fun. No gimmicks, no set ups, no trying too hard, no “making a piece for the show”, (guilty as charged just like the rest of you out there…..), this display was a bright spot in an otherwise cold and dismal day. The exhibition is called “Celebration in Art” at the MassMu, works from area students in grades K-12. Before I say more, first of all I have to comment on this shortening of names to appear more “hip with the kids” as the saying goes. MassMu is an excellent example. It works. The shorter version of “Massillon Museum” does make the venue more inviting by image. Where such things don’t work for example is with National Geographic now going by “NatGeo” which sounds more like a Japanese energy drink. The other one is the SciFi channel now spelled as SyFy to be phonetically friendly. Sorry guys, but in my house, we now call it “See Fee”, more appropriate for some celebrity’s little poodle pal.

Okay, on with show. Art by youth, especially K – 12 is near and dear to my heart. My masters degree in Art Ed with a K-12 certification (the one that says I am not qualified to each people over the age of 18 – hence college art classes- because I lack and “F”) gives me good street cred to judge the works on display and the projects used by the classroom teachers to get such results. Walking around the gallery brought back memories of my own lesson plans and the joy that comes from watching children make new discoveries about materials, images and themselves.

My overall impression is that even with limited budgets and supplies, ideas are always free flowing. Let’s get the negative out of the way first. I don’t know who selected works or how, if there were any parameters set or if any schools declined to participate. There is a show going on at our other big museum for high school art students and one recently for elementary students at a smaller venue nearby which puts a lot of pressure on classroom teachers to get stuff done and out. What I found lacking were works in pencil or graphite drawing which could be because they are not very bold and exciting in a setting full of tempera colors. Also, landscapes and still life seem to have gone by the wayside as a source of inspiration. The old standbys of abstractions, principles of composition studies and collage are still alive and well however. Photography is creeping in more and more, much of it not very successful as the concepts are still basic 101 projects. Abstract canvases in my opinion should be left for more advanced students as the results offered are more messy than masterpiece. Without good bones, abstract works fall apart very easily. And my all time biggest complaint and least favorite technique used far too often as a crutch to avoid developing the “eye”, is the process of grid enlargement. Taking a photo of any kind, drawing a grid over it, and then attempting to enlarge or reproduce that image block by block, fails every time I see it done by students. The one time I substituted for an honors art class in a local HS, the students were doing this process even though the still life was directly in front of them. They were not looking at it. They were using photos of it, with grids drawn over it and reproducing the subject. I sat down and drew it by hand with only my eye to direct it, and the poor kids were amazed. It was like a foreign language… mean I am supposed to look at what I draw? Geeze… wonder there is such a dependency to use photographs as the foundation of work upon which professionals are just filling in the blanks so to speak. But that is another essay on another day.

The highlights are gems for sure. Best in Show goes to “Messy Mice”, paintings by Kindergartners from Bowers Elementary. Somebody ought to see if the designs can be licensed for wallpaper. The sophisticated simplicity blew me way. First Prize goes to a Matisse inspired cut paper piece by Amelia in grade 2 at Redeemer Elementary. She shows natural talent and instinct for color and composition. Similar pieces from the same classroom project don’t show nearly the inspiration found in her work. Second place is to Jacob in grade 9 at Summit Academy for his “Fight in the Forest” watercolor. He has a knack for humor and composition. Watercolor is not easy and he did a good job with the media. Honorable mentions to Tayveonce in grade 10 WHS for his portrait collage and Brittney in grade 8 for her “Tree Top” ceramic. I hated ceramics both as a student and as a teacher. Somehow, the school year ended before I made it to that part of my curriculum….hmmmm wonder how that happened year after year…..? To see a well done ceramic work is wonderful. I can appreciate the effort put into it.

The best part of the show however (and for me, the diehard Republican) was a slam dunk accident of installation. The project was to make a parody of “American Gothic”. This student used Hillary Clinton and Barry Obama, I am making an assumption based on the blonde and blue combo of the female figure and the choice of crayons and ears on the other figure. It was cute for sure. But the best part was that right above (the show is hung salon style) is a collage of a clown with a huge green tissue paper bowtie that sits right on Barry’s head. Put 2 and 2 together and you will see that I personally find it a most appropriate use of imagery. The house depicted in the parody is white, so perhaps the image above the parody depicts those who currently live there. And with that, I am off to make myself some tea.

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