Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Let's Go See the Art!"

As I approached the crowded Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I heard two comments, within seconds of each other.  A kindergarten-aged girl, pulling her grandmother by the hand, said, "Hurry up, Gramma, let's go see the art!"  Passing in the opposite direction were two teenage girls.  One turned to the other and said, "The only way I'll go see those paintings is if I get extra credit."

How sad, I thought. What had happened to that child-like enthusiasm, interest, curiosity about art? Perhaps the teenager had never been much of an art lover,  had rarely been exposed to art, thought that her comment was cool, in a (stereotypical) teenage "let's-put-down-everything" sort of way.  Or, or. . .

The question resurfaced last week when I attended Léman Manhattan's Upper School Art Show (where Drew is Head of School.)  The hallways and café were lined with creativity. Students, family members, teachers, and a hodgepodge of art supporters (like me) walked and stopped, gazed and commented, took pictures, celebrated. Children/ young adults, grades 5-12, had created it all.  It was stunning, joyful!  How had that happened?

Enjoy a few of the pieces on display.

Tristin Brown, Aisha Nelson, and Emiliano Begne


Olivia Montalto
Alex Reilly

Elizabeth Serge-Lawrence

Emily Finnerty

Eason Xu
Sadie McClelland


Erin Pacholke


Collective Tribute to John Lennon

From across the room, I saw Gary Schwartz, Head of the Visual Arts Department, and teacher of all the students whose work was so proudly displayed.  

No time for a philosophical discussion that evening, I caught up with him a few days later to tell him my  kindergarten/teenage art story. "What do you make of that?" I asked.

"We're born with an innate creativity," he began.  "We go for the crayon before we learn penmanship. We're using color; we're using design before we learn our alphabet. There's such a beautiful uninhibitedness about  children as they do art, no societal pressures, no peer pressures.  But I've pinpointed it, around age 12 or 13 - we lose it.  It's when society gets in the way and says it's not as important as something that will make us a lot of money or popularity. Art is not necessarily a cool thing at that age."  

"I've been very blessed here at Léman," Gary continued, "because my middle school students are willing to go back to that place, that safe place of. .  it's OK to draw a purple tree. My job is to be an excavator, to get at the core of that innate creativity.  By the time the students are in high school, they're coming to the table with their creativity rising to the surface.  I guide it along - their tour guide, so to speak." 

Pointing toward the exhibit, he added, "In this exhibit, I want people to see the endless possibilities of a young person's creativity, their individuality, the joy in the creative process."

I wish I'd had an art teacher like Gary.  I wish I'd had one art class in school. I came to art later in life, on my own, one museum at a time.    

As I reflect on the story at the Met, I realize that there was another character besides the girls. . . the grandmother.  I may never have experienced art like the eager 5-year-old, or the indifferent 13-year-old, but neither am I the grandmother who needs to be pulled along to the art exhibit.  I'm a grandmother who is trying to "excavate" her own innate creativity, and appreciate it in others.

Gary and his students bring me one step closer, as they continue their own lifelong love of art. 




  1. I was just waiting for you to come back around to the grandmother. ;>

    It's not just art, is it? If you asked my second graders who was a good artist, a fast runner, a super reader and most would claim themselves in every category. Most, but not all like they would in kindergarten or even first grade. Then, by the time they get to upper elementary, each child has his or her niche, and they feel compelled to stay there. Selin asks questions, Matthew is good at science, Yoon Seo is the artist, Soo Min sings well.

    I hope that Lexi can embrace a more Renaissance approach to life--enjoying it ALL even if she's not THE best at it.

    1. Yes, and sometimes it's not until adulthood, even middle age, that we begin to explore different aspects of ourselves. I wonder how we can foster a more global view of who we are, when we're younger.

  2. Twylla, you captured what Gary does, believes, thinks so correctly. I liked reading the conversation you two had. I am so lucky to be working next to him, get to see the creations as they develop, walk in and watch it happen, learn, observe, marvel; be there when he brings over a piece that is "exquisite", "amazing".....or whatever the exclamation is at that moment. He really is providing a place for students to explore in a supportive, creative, safe, knowledgeable environment. Thanks for sharing and hi-lighting this.

    1. As an artist yourself, I know you doubly appreciate the work Gary does with his students. Thank you for pointing out to me the details in many of the pieces in the art show. It's easy to pass by, without looking more deeply at the students' creativity. You teach me to stop and take the time. :-)


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