I spent time on Friday and Saturday setting up and attending a student art show sponsored by one of the art clubs I belong to. It was exciting to see a variety of artworks entered from students at various grade levels. We had entries from elementary schools, middle grade schools, and high school. There is definitely a lot of talent represented in this show.
In many respects, though, the show was a bit of a disappointment. Information on the show was given out to all schools in the district, yet out of seven elementary schools, only two had students participating. There are two middle schools in the district and we received entries from both, yet the contest was not widely publicized. We have a grand-daughter attending one of the middle schools in the district. She was unaware of the student contest until I mentioned it. Why? She has no art classes this semester. Art, you see, is one of those “now and then” sort of classes, obviously not one deemed important enough to be on the schedule for the complete academic year.
As we were setting up the display for the entries, I noticed a couple other things that bothered me a bit. It wasn’t just the low number of entries — a total of about 50 pieces — but also other little indications that maybe art doesn’t really matter.
As you can see, our venue was more than large enough for the few entries we received.
As I was helping to hang work on the display racks, I thought back to the recent HFAA Art Show and the talk given by our judge, Phil Schmitt. In discussing the criteria by which he judges, he talked about the importance of presentation. If we’re going to enter an exhibit in an art show, we should be sure to present our work in the best possible way, he pointed out. Our art is an investment of time, and we should also invest in good matting and framing. If we don’t care enough about our art to present it properly, why should anyone else care?
That’s an important consideration, to be sure, although it wasn’t really applicable to the work in the student art show. The show information was very specific on how art was to be presented. All art was to be mounted on black poster board. Simple enough, but how few students followed that directive. Some students brought in framed paintings. Nicely done, but that’s not how the work was supposed to be submitted. We had some unframed canvases. Again, nice art, but aren’t show rules regarding presentation important?
All art submitted was accepted, of course, and maybe I shouldn’t fuss about those young artists who took “artistic license” and didn’t follow the rules. Were they aware of the requirement to mount their art on black poster board? Or was this something their art teachers forgot to mention?
Even more bothersome to me — although maybe this is an insignificant little thing — was that so few artworks were titled. Each entry form had a place for student name, grade, type of artwork, size, and title. Most of the submissions simply listed N/A as the title. At least someone wrote something in! Others were just left blank.
For me, giving a title to a drawing or painting is something I’ve always loved doing. It’s my opportunity to be fanciful, imaginative, creative — yes, all of those things should also be part of my art itself, but even if my art is lacking, I can always bestow a magnificent title upon it, one that reflects what might have been.
This might have been quality is actually quite important. In his discussion at our HFAA reception, Phil Schmitt pointed out that the title of a piece gives the judge an indication of what the artist hoped to convey, it helps him understand the thoughts of the artist, and it reflects what the artist considers most meaningful and significant about the work.
In judging, Schmitt went on to explain, if he’s looking at two equally well-composed and well-executed paintings, both highly original and moving, yet one is titled and the other isn’t… well, guess which one is going to win that coveted “Best in Show” award.
Now, I’ll admit, maybe I’m asking too much to expect second-graders to worry about naming a piece of art they’ve created. Or middle-grade students. Even high-school art students might not realize the importance of giving a title to their work. But they should.
That’s my opinion, anyway. It’s my opinion that creativity should be celebrated in every way possible, that students of all ages and all skill levels should be encouraged to take part in art events, that art teachers should be delighted to share these events in their classes — and outside their classes, as well. Instructors should be happy to help their young artists learn not only the basic elements of drawing and painting, but the other essential elements that go along with it — like giving their art a name and presenting it properly.
The student art show experience was, for me, a little sad. I saw so much talent and so many opportunities, and I wish there had been more support and encouragement for the young artists in our community.
Art does matter. I’m grateful that I’ve become a part of our local art community, and I now want to do all that I can to promote art — not only as an individual experience, but as an activity that can be appreciated, enjoyed, and shared by groups, classes, families, and organizations.
Yes, art does matter.