Facilitating Visual Art in the Classroom… Can it be Taught?
What is the value of teaching art in school? Is it simply to check off a box for a college transcript, to claim that a credit has to be fulfilled? Is it even possible to teach art? When asked, Packer’s student artists agree that art at Packer is not simply a class; rather, it is a necessary outlet for creative expression.
Since the abolition of Fresh Arts, where students would test out four of the arts (dance, visual arts, digital video, and theater) in their freshman year, there is no requirement for students to test out each art, but some students are already certain of their passion for a specific one. For those Packer students who have demonstrated talent and interest in visual arts, the class is a place for them to build upon their talents, explore their capabilities and take themselves seriously as artists.
Genesis Andrade (‘19) came to Packer in the seventh grade. While we all have our own hobbies, Genesis’s has always been drawing and painting. When I met with Genesis, she was spending her community time in the fifth-floor art studio painting Lucian Freud inspired watercolors. “I’ll draw if I’m bored or if I’m super stressed or if I’m on the train and my phone is dead.” Initially, she concentrated her artistic talents in drawing cartoons.
“I guess it evolved from there. Over time I developed a more distinct style, and learned about more artists that I could get influence from,” she said. Over the last four years, that talent has manifested itself as the doodles on the pages of her math notebook as well portraits on the glossier pages of Packer Current Items, Packer’s literary and art magazine. But it wasn’t Genesis’s talent alone that got her to where she is now. It was her drive and desire to get better that has enabled her to paint the sophisticated portraits that we know and love.
Like Genesis, Alex Molestina (‘18) has always been passionate about art and draws and paints in his spare time.
“I have a sketchbook that I really go crazy in and I always have that with me. I do some painting at home but not a lot. I come a lot to the art studio to paint. Whenever the feeling drives me I do it,” he said.
Both Genesis and Alex have worked their way up to Mr. Baylin’s AT Studio Art class, which gives them a chance to further explore their artistic interests, as Genesis has come to notice while working on her self-portrait project.
“For my self-portrait, I used a palette knife just because I wanted to experiment because I had never done that before,” says Genesis.
When I met with Alex, he referred to Mr. Baylin as his “spiritual guide,” and it is perfectly clear why.
“I seek a kind of harmony through art,” said Mr. Baylin, when asked why he enjoys it. “I unfold my eternal life through physical materials. That journey has never ended. It is one that keeps evolving as I grow and change as a person.”
“[Mr. Baylin] has really pushed me,” said Alex, “I would not be at the place I am today without his constant guidance and encouragement to keep trying new things and to trust my instincts. He is a gem and I will always be thankful for him for the support that he had given me.”
Mr. Baylin’s wisdom is evidently clear in his approach to teaching. However, he admits there are certain skills that a teacher can pass on to his or her students.
“There are some things in art that I simply cannot teach,” he said. “Some students come to art class with an urgency to give voice to things. I can’t teach that passion but I can create conditions that will help to foster it, encourage it, and validate it. I often tell the story of my brother who could draw as realistically and beautifully as anyone I have seen in my career. But he didn’t need to be an artist; he is now an expert in brain science. What I can’t teach is that need to make art.”
Both Alex and Genesis possess not only natural talent, but the drive and passion to advance on that talent, which makes them, in a sense, self-taught students.
After years of hard work and focus and experimentation and exploration, and through encouragement and guidance from teachers, Genesis and Alex are well poised to pursue their talents after graduation.