Made possible by generous SIGHTS funding, I had the opportunity this past summer to immerse myself in my artistic practice as an artist-in-residence at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts in Greece. I spent several weeks creating alongside other artists from the U.S. and Europe. Like years prior, I was immediately inspired and rejuvenated by the landscape of the island. However, as I've come to know this very special place over the past three years, I've begun to question what actually defines an experience in a place, and how this understanding changes as the experience lengthens and deepens. As I strive to visually capture a narrative of my time in Skopelos, I have come to realize that I cannot tell the story of my experience solely through imagery derived from the architecture and flora, but more fully through works that convey the energy of my daily interactions with Skopeliti people. Over the course of the next year, I am eager to explore this new direction.
Exchanging ideas, inspiring, supporting, and learning from one another enabled me to push my artistic development and think more deeply about what I was striving to communicate through my work.
The opportunity to return to an environment where I could create alongside other artists allowed for this evolution in my thinking about the imagery in my work. Exchanging ideas, inspiring, supporting, and learning from one another enabled me to push my artistic development and think more deeply about what I was striving to communicate through my work. Since returning from the residency, I have been thinking about how our studio spaces at Haverford model this professional shared studio environment and experience, and how we can be even more effective in teaching adolescent boys. Through our existing curriculum that focuses on developing each student's creative process, research and assessment are placed in the hands of the learners, and students use both virtual tools and collaborative processes to share ideas and create new understanding together. Art Department Chair Chris Fox and I move back and forth between studios, engaging in our own artistic practices and modeling the self-monitoring process in a collaborative workspace: the balance between individual focus and social collaboration, between sharing ideas/supporting students and focusing in to quietly ponder conversations.
To me, preparing students to function productively in such spaces in the future is one of the most important benefits of visual arts courses in secondary education.
The professional shared studio is similar to the model that many businesses are using today: open floor plans, modular furniture, a non-hierarchical space, and an emphasis on collaboration. Many of our students will be expected to work in such an environment in both college (like the Harvard iLab or Lehigh Creativity and Innovation Lab) and potential places of employment (such as Google or Pixar). It is essential that students develop the ability to navigate this social workspace in ways that allow for productivity and effective collaboration. For many people, this fluid process does not come naturally and could lead to major distraction. However, with experience in this type of space, students can become more familiar with how they best operate and produce. They can learn when an exchange of ideas with classmates would be fruitful, and develop the ability to read the work habits of their peers.
To me, preparing students to function productively in such spaces in the future is one of the most important benefits of visual arts courses in secondary education. Flexible, creative, and social workspaces, similar to professional shared artist studios, facilitate incredible teaching and learning opportunities for our entire community.
Zoë Blatt is an Upper School art teacher at The Haverford School, as well as faculty adviser to the Haligoluk, Haverford's yearbook. She has traditional training in painting, drawing, and printmaking from her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She completed her B.F.A. in fine arts and art history at the University of Pennsylvania and her master's degree in education at Harvard University. In graduate school, she focused on applying educational neuroscience to high school visual arts curriculum design. In her courses at Haverford, she emphasizes a deep understanding of the visual language alongside the development of the creative process, project management skills, and metacognitive thinking.
Pictured: The view from Skopelos Foundation for the Arts in Greece next to the studio marker for the Foundation; Zoë's painting, Oil on Mylar; Zoë teaching photography in her classroom.
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