Expeditions course reveals itself to be more than simply a Visual Arts class
By Carlos Cortez
Art, whether you partake in the creation process or not, is a part of everyone’s life in some form or another. During the Expeditions time frame at Summit Public School: Tahoma, a small room separated from the standard classrooms is home to a group of students learning the skills needed to adequately create art.
Headed by one Mathew Scicluna, the class features constant communication and collaboration between students and their teacher. Creating a healthy environment for creative thought to thrive via low-level, mellow music allows for a relaxed ambiance, aided by the helpful attitude of the teacher.
I was curious about this class. As an artist myself and a general practitioner of curiosity, it was enticing to see the effects that this class has had on its students. I wanted to answer the question, “What effect does art have on a community?”
I entered the building to find, much to my surprise, a class of split papers and glued materials rather than furious sketching.
“Make sure to get all the juicy stuff.” – Mr. Scicluna
I was told this information while viewing a landscape of students communicating, collaborating and, much to my slight horror, laughing. It was almost a surreal experience to see so many students openly collaborating in a casual yet productive matter. This is not to say that their projects were collaborative in nature. From what I witnessed, the current projects the students were working on were of paper cut out art and were focused on individual freedom and expression.
They worked diligently on their artworks while syncing to the beat of their own drum, whether that was the ambiance of the room, their own personal music or casual conversations with fellow classmates.
Despite the apparent chaos that one might assume from such a relaxed environment, the class was a pseudo microcosm of the artistic process: Controlled chaos. It was an enticing environment to be in. It might just be the artist within myself saying such things, but the class had such an inviting and simply relaxed tone that it was hard not to feel a creative drive.
That sort of reaches the core question I came to this class to answer: “What effect does art have on a community?” It was clear to me that this class, the environment it curated but the activities themselves more so, has had an effect on the students. They were relaxed, joyful and yet working hard. I had to confirm if this class was one of pre-existing artists or ones who became so.
Before asking the students, it was important to understand the one responsible, Mr. Scicluna. I asked him some simple questions, such as his driving motivation for teaching art. The answer was rather simple, yet important to know: He loves art and wishes to teach it. But one of my following questions garnered valuable information. It was simple, among the other questions I would ask, there would be: “How has your personal perception of art changed through time and what were the catalyst for said changes, if any?” I know, a master of concise questions I am.
“Starting art was more of a way to express myself, being kind of muted through society, not knowing how to say what I wanted to say. And then it evolved into wanting to speak about things that I saw, and art was the perfect medium to do so.”
– Mr. Scicluna
As an artist myself, I could relate to the statement all too well. Context is important to understand when discussing any matter. With this information I learned how the students’ instructor understood art: A positive outlet for emotion.
A few students were willing to offer their time for an interview: Bryan Arias, Eric Tran, Sean Coleman and Jordan Fierro. For my lager question to be answered, I first had to understand their perspective of art before the meddling of this class. Thus, I simply asked them, “What was your personal perception of art before partaking in this class?” The responses were rather standard, all possibilities considered, but gave understanding into how the class had affected them.
“Uh, at first I didn’t like art that much, but now, since I’ve had this class, I’ve gotten a little better at it, and I like it more than I used to.” – Bryan Arias
“I really didn’t have a specific opinion on art; I have appreciation for some forms of art, but I wasn’t really into it at the time.” – Eric Tran
“I really didn’t think of— I didn’t think much of it. I just really liked to draw.” – Sean Coleman
“I was always an artist; I would like to draw on my free time, so I’ve always liked art.” – Jordan Fierro
The selected students displayed a healthy variety of pre-visual art class opinions. Some felt lukewarm on the subject, while others quite enjoyed producing art. But this was not the final result, as I continued to question (rather bluntly, I might add).
“On a community, like, probably, you know how some people do graffiti, which is like the opposite of what I’m thinking right now, like maybe, people could contribute and do, like, some big art at some wall, where everyone can see while they’re driving and say, ‘Oh look, that’s beautiful’ or something like that, you know?” – Bryan Arias
“I think that art can be a way to show people something without using your words.” – Sean Coleman
Although only two of the examples, the sentiment was rather clear. These students believe that the effect art can have on a community is ultimately a positive one. One that might possibly bring cheer to a person simply passing by or be used as a means to spread a message. Case closed, correct? No. Because the question I had a desire to answer was “What effect does art have on a community?” These students are the community. What effect has it had on them?
“It affects them because then it empowers them by them realizing they have an alternative way to express themselves that doesn’t necessarily hurt anybody because they can just say what they want to say through a drawing, or through film, or through music.” – Mr. Scicluna
From the outside, the Tahoma Visual Arts class might seem to be a time for students to indulge in creative activities, being taught techniques that will be tools for art and art alone. Although the meaning of art is subjective, dependent on the viewer’s own mind to interpret, I cannot see it as simply an art class devoted to teaching how to “draw better” or “learn about colors”. It teaches its students well on the creation of art, as evident by the (in my personal opinion, mind you) quality works. That is all certain, but it would be a surface-level understatement because the development of critical thinking skills and the spirit of persistence is the core of this class.
Anyone can create a work of art. It is as simple as picking up a pencil and beginning to scribble. But the analytical skills required to understand the intricacies of art creation, and more so art interpretation, are not so easily learned.
That is no better illustrated than in a quote from my interviewee, Eric Tran:
“Well, art is kind of like an outlet of communication with others in a community. It helps people connect much better because it doesn’t drive from logic; it doesn’t drive from language – it’s just, it’s either emotion or provoking provocation.” – Eric Tran
Although his statement might sound contradictory to mine, saying that art isn’t driven by logic, there is truth to both of our stances. Logic controls emotion, channeling it with the skills known by the creator and thus, art. However, I digress, as the point here is the development of this idea through this class. To be truthful, this statement is quite eloquent – one that indicates a deeper understanding of art. With the statement from Mr. Scicluna earlier about the effect art can have on a community and Eric Tran’s view of art before this class, it is possible to presume that this is a result of the class.
Now, about persistence:
Whether or not a student chooses to continue the pursuit of art within their own lives is irrelevant. The idea of one “not being good at art” is one Mr. Scicluna has to eviscerate for his class.
“The most difficult thing to teach in an art class is getting people who think they can’t do art good inspired to know that they’ll get better over time. And the easiest thing for me is to relate to each student individually and pull out their strongest elements to inspire them.” – Mr. Scicluna
What this creates is the strengthening of spirit – the knowledge, proof, to the student that limitations are only held within themselves.
Art conveys ideas and affects emotions.
This class might be seen as casual fun by an everyday student. That is fine. But what lies beneath the seams, the subtext per say, of the class is a message of improvement: Improvement of critical thinking and persistence, two skills that not only aid in the creation and subsequent improvement of art, but in life.
This might all sound awfully pretentious, but isn’t that the point?
Graphic credit for Featured Image (at the top of this post): Eric Tran