Levine Arts Program Emphasizes National Standards, Major Artists, and the Creative Process
Wendy Cramer

Kindergarten through eighth grade students enjoy weekly art classes in a magnificent, spacious, and welcoming studio.  As students pass through the door, they enter a world of endless possibility, unlimited variation, and joyful participation in learning.  This is a place where confidence grows as students begin to envision new and exciting possibilities for themselves.  The strategy of trial and error is applauded, mistakes and innovation are celebrated, and obstacles become opportunities.

Grounded in the National Core Arts Standards of Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting, our program develops art-making skills, broadens exposure to important artists, and encourages experimentation.  Additionally, students learn about the development of artistic expression throughout history and compare art styles of different cultures.

Producing art should be a meaningful activity.  The process itself helps students realize that art is not only fun to make and look at, but also illustrates the artist’s thinking and understanding.  The art room presents opportunities for children to recognize which topics and activities interest them.  They become increasingly aware of what it feels like to be engaged in their work, strengthening their willingness to persist when challenges arise. 

Students are encouraged to approach art with a playful spirit of inquisitiveness ad exploration.  Kindergartners are introduced to the concept of texture as they marvel over the dense, squiggly, imperfect lines of Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook.  Experimenting with a variety of fabrics and fibers, children learn the value of using textured items to produce art.  Later, they learn how to use pencils to suggest textural qualities in their drawings.  Inspired by Lynette Cook’s artwork, first graders learn printmaking techniques by dipping circular objects into bright paints and pressing them onto black paper.  Proud of their planet-filled backgrounds and ready to add rocket ships, they now apply previously learned skills in drawing and collage.

In preparation for a mixed-media project, second graders compare the floral paintings of Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse.  Using their observational skills, second graders can better identify characteristics of the artists’ styles and explain how to determine which paintings each artist made.  These students understand that art has meaning and artists express feelings and ideas in their work. 

Third graders are learning to push themselves beyond familiar ways of making art.  As an extension to a general studies unit involving Jewish heroes and leaders, Ms. Tasciotti, Mrs. Karpel, and Ms. Cramer are co-teaching a project based on the found object portraits of Jewish artist Hanoch Piven.  Their goal is to produce a piece of narrative art.   Like Piven, students must use only recycled or re-purposed items to create a likeness and highlight the accomplishments of the individual portrayed.  Third graders use problem-solving strategies by trying out multiple ideas before making final decisions.  Group discussions enable students to brainstorm, exchange ideas, and support one another in managing challenges. 

Students also enjoy projects that allow them to think in imaginative ways.  After examining Sarah Hennessey’s whimsical Tree Town drawings, for example, third, fourth, and fifth graders design their own imaginary treetop communities.  With multiple grade levels working on this assignment, the children are able to see an endless variety of ideas that come from a single inspiration.  Making art requires students to learn how to think in images and envision what their finished work will look like; middle school art elective students apply this skill as they develop ideas for a mixed media project.  Rather than relying on what they have seen before, students are required to explore alternate ideas that present a fresh perspective.

Students in an advanced fine arts class are currently working on a collaborative installation.  Early in the school year, these young artists discovered the breathtaking installations of Jacob Hashimoto and decided to model a project after his kite sculptures.  Students exchange ideas, compare and critique each other’s work, and monitor overall progress.  As they make important decisions regarding materials, design, and assembly tasks, they are learning about artistic practices that involve working with peers.

Finished artwork is exhibited on campus throughout the school year, giving students opportunities to share their accomplishments and receive valuable feedback.  A sampling of student art is also highlighted in Visions, our annual literary magazine.  Additionally, students participate in local and national art exhibits when possible, and many have received awards for their entries. 

Each year Levine students also engage in projects that extend beyond the school campus.  This year, our students joined another Jewish day school in producing ancestral portraits to decorate a community sukkah at the Biblical Arts Museum in Dallas.  Later in the year, students collaborated with classmates in making high quality artwork to donate to the 2019 Gala.  Through these group-oriented projects, Levine students gain a sense of belonging and take pride in giving back to their community.

The Levine art program not only enables children to develop art production skills, but also encourages them to explore the meaning of art. Students discover that their ideas and talents have value.  They enjoy taking an active role in pursuing curiosities.   They also learn how to use art experiences to reflect on themselves and empathize with others.  Community involvement builds confidence in their ability to make satisfying contributions to the world around them.