Field Trip

By David Higgins, March 1, 2010

Every semester, I take my drawing class to West End Gallery. It’s a bit of a treat for the students to get out of the classroom; more importantly, it’s a chance for students to see good art in the flesh.

Alas, it snowed quite a bit that morning, so only half the class made it; really, school should have been canceled. Market Street was totally deserted– yet Linda was gracious enough to brave the snow and be on hand to open the gallery.

My modus operandi is to let the students wander around a bit and decide which piece they would take home with them if they had unlimited cash. Then, each student has to explain in turn what appealed to them about each piece; it helps them learn how to articulate about art, which is a huge part of the game. Students will open up much more readily on a field trip than they will in the confines of the classroom. And their observations are always insightful and interesting! I thought I’d share them with you.

Olivia P. went first; she chose a series of five small portrait studies by Marty Poole, done in a sketchy style with dash and verve. Olivia picked up on the background textures right away, and remarked on how their color and texture contributed a lot to the mood of each piece. Perhaps because she’s also an actress, she noted the poses and how we as viewers pick up on and read those gestures. Every semester, Marty teaches one or two of our students on an independent-study basis, and the students love both his work and his teaching method.

Whitney P. went immediately to a group of tiny fantasy landscapes by Mark Reep. Mark’s work is truly jaw-dropping in its creativity and detail, and students are typically astounded, commonly asking, “are they actual drawings?” This time, Mark had a small sign describing his materials and working methods; it’s hard to believe it, folks, but Mark weaves his magic with simple, ordinary pencils and charcoal (and cotton balls for shading). Whitney wondered if he was inspired by real places like Watkins Glen in addition to fantasy landscapes like those in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The class seemed to like the fact (as I told them) that Mark is just a regular, humble guy from Lawrenceville who likes Metallica and Led Zeppelin.

Katya P., who grew up in Tomsk, Siberia and came to the USA as a teenager, chose some exquisite and exuberant jewelry by Leah Corey of Bath. In explaining her attraction to them, Katya used a metaphor about a European bird called a magpie, which collects sparkly things for no obvious purpose other than the sheer enjoyment of their gleam. Leah is new to West End, and Linda was on hand to explain that the brooch and pin, though large and complex, are meant to be worn. These pieces have a very dynamic and organic style—good stuff.

Stacy W. selected a small gestural still life done by Sheila Ortiz. Stacy picked up on its “Japanese style,” perhaps because she’s a manga fan; she liked its playfulness. Though the ink drawing, presumably done with a bamboo brush, was only about five inches square, Sheila created a tiny dynamo, giving it the motion and vitality of a much bigger piece. She really is a master of calligraphic gesture; I had her visit my class once to guest-teach gesture drawing, and the students got some great portfolio pieces from the experience.

Bryon B. chose a colorful cityscape by Bob Ivers, a one-point perspective scene of tall buildings as a backdrop for people, busses, and cars, all done in Bob’s glorious primary colors. Bryon described the buildings as cliffs and the road as “a river going through a gorge.”

Kevin C. chose a longitudinal red tree painting by Gary Myers. Kevin described it as having a “stained-glass” quality, which speaks to Gary’s skill with light and color. I’ve taken about 30 different classes to West End over the years, and Gary is probably at the top of the student hit parade; his work has an irresistible combination of accessibility and personal vision. I love telling students the (true) story of how Gary took a drawing class at CCC as an 18-year-old freshman, and his teacher (not me!) essentially told him that he had no talent and should give up his artistic ambitions… and how Gary persevered after many years and achieved well-deserved success. One of the most powerful messages that students receive at the gallery is that the owner and the artists are “regular” people with no special training or pretensions—and that indeed, many are former CCC students, like Gary.

Bradan J. went last. He asked if it was OK to choose a piece that had no nametag. I was puzzled until he explained that his choice was the sculpture of a lion that sits in the back window. Aha! We all know that lion, but how many of us actually pay attention to it? That’s the great privilege of being a teacher; I’m constantly amazed at the insights and interests of our students. I’ll never overlook that lion again!

Due to the snow, the other venues on our field trip—the ARTS and 171 Cedar—were closed, so I dismissed the students from there. I was very gratified when they continued to hang around and talk and look at art; you know your students are motivated when they don’t make a beeline for the door at the end of class. And that also speaks about their comfort level in non-artsy-fartsy West End and the beautiful work on display, and Linda’s generous spirit in accommodating a two-hour tour on a day that would see no commerce. Thanks again, Lin!


5 Responses to Field Trip

  1. redtreetimes says:

    Thanks for the post, Dave. It’s always interesting to hear totally unbiased opinions of the work, especially from students who are simply stating what they like. I wish every artist had the opportunity to anonymously observe and listen to what people say about and respond to in their work. It might give them a true gauge of how they are communicating with their work, something they can’t get most times from friends and family.—Gary

  2. Bridget says:

    Thanks Dave- it’s always so refreshing to hear what art students think

  3. Parnilla Carpenter says:

    Wonderful post Dave! It’s always a fun time to watch kids enjoying art in a gallery. Interesting as well to see what they are drawn to and why. Maybe they will be inspired and create some awesome pieces from this visit.

  4. Mark Reep says:

    Thanks much for the kind words, Dave. And yes, I’m continually inspired by Fingerlakes area gorges, especially Watkins Glen and those in the Ithaca area as well. Looking forward to spring and walking all those paths again.

  5. Sheila Ortiz says:

    Dear Dave,
    You inspire me in so many ways, your work, your insight on both students and art, and your articulate means of communication. Thank you.

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