by Professor Suzanne BarnesThis month, I had the unexpected pleasure of being invited to exhibit in “Kingdom Animalia: Illustrations from New England” at the art gallery at Eastern Connecticut University, August 31, 2017 – October 12, 2017. Included in the exhibit were two of my former students, Skarlett Prittie and Liveta Lapinskaite, as well as my colleague Prof. Scott Bakal. The FAIC gallery is brand new, impressively designed, and spacious, with high ceilings and lots of floor to ceiling glass.
Emily Handlin, coordinator for gallery & museum operations at Eastern, beautifully curated the exhibit. “The motivation for the exhibition was Eastern’s new illustration concentration, which began last year,” said Handlin. “I hope that the exhibition would introduce illustration students to the wide range of media, techniques, styles and markets within the field. New England is home to so many wonderful illustrators, many of whom are dedicated educators themselves – I also wanted to showcase their work.”Here’s something about art education. I could lock a student in a room, throw away the key, and keep slipping sandwiches under the door until they’d made one hundred drawings or paintings. By then, they’d be pretty good, even though I’d never said a word. Who among us would want to do that though?
What happens instead is that we spend several hundred hours together over the span of three years. A student listens to me talk about art in general and their work specifically, while I poke them to try a particular thing that they might not want to try or think they can’t do. Then maybe they try it and maybe it turns out great, or maybe it doesn’t, and we pick up from there. While I am talking, listening, poking, my colleagues are doing the same, and by the time we have passed a student along our line, they’ve produced a body of work they could not have made on the day they entered MassArt. That is a teacher’s real pay.
Consequently, I felt exceptionally rich and extraordinarily proud at this exhibit. My twig sharing green herons hung to the left of Prof. Bakal’s fat red and tiny blue birds, both of our birds beneath Liveta Lapinskaite’s colorful toucan tunnel book.
My series of small books about claws and snouts was displayed in a plexiglas vitrine directly in front of Skarlett Prittie’s monumental passenger pigeon, a piece I’d watched Skarlett work on in the ninth floor studio hallway for two months. Now here we were.Decades ago, my teacher Barney Rubenstein, who studied with Oskar Kokoschka, taught me things that Oskar taught him. I teach these same things to my students, and some who are now teachers pass Oskar’s knowledge to their students, along with their own accumulated wisdom. This is how artists have taught one another for centuries, in a long chain that stretches back to French caves. As artists, we make art in part to leave something of ourselves behind. As teachers, we leave something equally important behind in our students, who become working artists and links in the chain, and continue to pass us all forward. It’s a pretty noble profession.