Education column: Art applies skills from other subjects

Gazing up at clouds in the sky and imagining shapes or animals: That’s what drew Alexa Pickel to art. An art teacher at Clovis High School for the last seventeen years, she teaches upper division two-dimensional fine arts, such as drawing, painting, and calligraphy.

Brain research has shown that arts education contributes to strengthening problem-solving and critical thinking skills in students. A common current trend in education is a projects-based approach.

“Art has always been projects-based,” Pickel said. “We are all about projects because we are always about creating a product.”

Arts education covers a range of skills, supporting other subject areas. For example, math skills are required for measurement perspective, especially for grid drawing.

History and writing skills come into play when students research topics and write critiques of a piece of art. Critical thinking is required as students learn to develop insightful assessment of a piece, whether their own or another’s.

Being critiqued does not necessarily mean students have to change anything, since it’s their own work. Pickel never wants students to be ashamed of anything they create.

She suggests students think in terms of “if this were my masterpiece, what would I change?” A couple of weeks ago, high school students showed their work at the Pintores Art Show at Clovis Community College, with CHS students sweeping all the highest honors.

Destiny Carpenter teaches arts and crafts, ceramics, and photography at CHS, covering everything from basic drawing to sculpture using different media, such as wire forms and clay. As I spoke with her, several of her students had come in to work on their current projects. I teased them about coming to “work” when they didn’t have to.

“This is the highlight of my day; it’s so relaxing…a good way to get away from all the junk you have to deal with, with other kids,” said one student. Another shared, “you can come in and be all mad about something, but when you start working, it calms you down, and it’s fun.”

I actually did a double take when I glanced at the current project of one student. It was a three-dimensional project using clay; she’d recreated her tennis shoe, and the only difference in the actual shoe and her clay sculpture next to it was when I got close enough to see the other side of the sculpture that had yet to be painted. Amazing.

Carpenter said this student’s project was headed for the Texas Panhandle Invitational Student Art Show from April 12 to Friday in Amarillo.

At CHS Freshman Academy, art teacher Amy Urbanczyk just finished a pop art project after the style of Claes Oldenburg. A few of these remarkable oversized food sculptures can still be seen in the school library. She bubbled with enthusiasm as she showed me project after project her students had created, from pointillism to tessellation.

All teachers said the only thing missing was not enough exposure of student art, too few opportunities locally to showcase students art. Elliot Eisner noted, “Art is literacy of the heart.”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at: