Sparta High School students in Christy Graham's (rear, in yellow) Intro to Photography class work on manual time-lapse photograpy, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
By Mandy Coriston Sparta - The faculty of the Sparta High School Art Department have been busy getting their students ready for Sussex County Teen Arts, the annual festival which kicked off on March 19 at Sussex County Community College. The five instructors recently sat down, along with Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi, to discuss the benefits of keeping art alive in schools, the challenges of teaching art in the digital age, and what art can mean for students in the classroom and beyond. Kristin Lindsley, who teaches Intro and Intermediate Sculpture, as well as Intro to Drawing and Painting, said student interest seems to be trending towards more 3-dimensional art. But that doesn't mean they don't appreciate the more traditional media, she says. “I think kids want to go back to the simpler art forms,” said Spencer Davis, who teaches all levels of Drawing and Painting, “These kids are having fun, but working hard to create something.” Jennifer Kucher-Csatlos, who teaches Intro to Sculpture, Advanced Sculpture and who co-teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art, said it’s important for the students to get messy. “These kids need hands-on activities,” she said, “They always have their phones on them, it’s constant stimulus. They can put their phones away and focus on their task.” Photography instructor Christy Graham said she doesn’t have a darkroom to teach traditional film techniques, but has a state-of-the-art computer lab. “That’s the trade-off,” she said, “We’re fully transitioned away from darkroom to digital, but now I have a dozen new computers. I’d love to teach film, but the digital technology allowed me to upgrade my whole curriculum.” Graham said the technology doesn’t stop her from teaching time-honored techniques, and she’s currently working with students on manual time-lapse photography and shutter speed adjustments. Christine Mase, who teaches Intermediate Drawing and Painting, Intro to Photography, and who co-teaches the AP Studio Art class with Kucher-Csatlos, said that students who wish to become “working artists” are looking more digitally focused. She emphasized trying different mediums though. “It will make you a better artist," she said. Mase said that when students with talents for drawing take photography classes, or vice versa, she sees an improvement from those students in both areas. “It really makes a difference,” she said, “They begin to see things with fresh eyes and perspectives.” Not all students take to art, but Lindsley and Davis both say they see determination from kids who may not have the most talent, but take well to challenges. “I have kids who say they can’t do it, because art is subjective,” Lindsley said, “But we grade on a rubric that accounts for their knowledge of the concepts, their efforts, and their creativity, so it helps them be accountable for their work.” Peer review is another vital component of the art program at Sparta. “Using peer critique is a great way to give the kids leeway inside the curriculum,” Mace said, “and it helps them spark each other’s creativity. Creativity is like an ocean, it comes in waves- sometimes a student will feel stuck, and it helps to hear input from others.” Kucher-Csatlos agreed, saying, “It’s awesome to see the students encourage each other’s work. They just feed off each other’s energy.” Art education, the instructors concur, is perhaps now as more crucial than ever. In the AP Studio Art course taught by Mase and Kucher-Csatlos, the students are pushing the boundaries of their talents and creativity, being prepared for collegiate level art programs and, according to Mase, even the boardroom. “Major corporate employers are hiring MFA graduates these days,” she said, “They are looking for people who can think creatively. The art skills we teach are also life skills.” Lindsley echoed Mace. “Sometimes kids DON’T have a creative breakthrough when they are working on something, but we can teach them how to power through and finish a project they don’t love. That’s an important skill.” “We are, especially at the AP level,” Kucher-Csatlos said, “teaching divergent thinking. We encourage the kids to be thought-provoking and take risks. And if something doesn’t work, because life doesn’t always work, we can guide them through and teach them how to find solutions.” Dr. Rossi is thrilled with the work that comes out of the art department, and was looking forward to the Sparta students’ displays at the Teen Arts Festival. “These teachers have created an art department as good as any you’ll ever find,” Rossi said, “I’m proud to call them my colleagues.” The 2019 Sussex County Teen Arts Festival opened on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Information on gallery locations and public viewing opportunities can be found at www.sussex.edu/community/sussex-county-teen-arts.