Reflections — Jeffrey Dollinger, Executive Director
One of the things I love most about Art in Action is the way that it allows the entire school community to reflect on what is important to them in education. Art makes the deepest impact in a school where the teachers, parents and students collaborate to provide space for creativity and expression.
Space isn’t just physical space. Although by design Art in Action creates a physical space wherever it is taught…in a classroom, in the lunchroom, in the courtyard. Perhaps more importantly, the program creates a temporal and intellectual space where critical time for reflection is set-aside during the school day. Where students (and their parents and teachers) can hold up a mirror and see themselves, their potential, their value.
In our 7th grade curriculum, students learn about one of the most famous mirrors in art history – the one at the center of Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini. The students discuss important art concepts that this painting demonstrates beautifully – placement, emphasis, convex and concave shapes and incredibly deliberate composition and symbolism (many notice the dog at the bottom of the painting who is there to represent marital fidelity and I love that the fact that dogs are often called Fido is because of this common trope in art history). But it is that convex mirror at the center that invites the viewer to look deeply into the painting and its story.
Most believe that van Eyck himself is a witness to the marriage as well as its portraitist and so he has placed himself reflected in the mirror. Directly or indirectly, this is something that all young Art in Action students do in their projects. When they are in their art space, they can’t help but reflect their own personality, history and emotion into their work. Ensuring that time for reflection is an incredibly important product of having art in a school. It is why we work so hard to help schools build a community of art that endures year after year.
At the end of this lesson, students paint candles, creating 3-D effects using highlights, shading and cast shadows. I like to think that in each of those candles is a reflection of its young painter, burning bright with knowledge and creativity.