Encourage a hobby, inspire a passion

Students need teachers to help them develop their interests. Sometimes, what begins as merely a hobby can turn into a passion. The teacher is the one who fans the flames and turns that burning ember into a forest fire!

We can inspire students to pursue their interests with more gusto:

Tutor: Ask open-ended questions that help students to identify their interests.

Teacher: Assign work that helps students make connections between schoolwork and their extra-curricular activities.

Mentor: Give students an idea of the careers that are available in their field.

Coach: Challenge students to try for the next level of achievement, testing their commitment – and perhaps fueling a passion!


College Applications for Artistic Students

College counselors aren’t only looking for straight-A students and star athletes.  A background in the arts can also recommend a candidate.  Use your application to highlight some of the wonderful virtues that artists have to offer:


Artists learn to motivate themselves, and to track their progress independently. Dancers have to train on their own for many hours. Even when part of a class, they are constantly monitoring their own work and improving. This is exactly the kind of self-direction that college admissions counselors are looking for!


When studying music, students learn a melody or beat pattern and have to repeat it.  They learn how to store information quickly – and repeat it back under pressure. Musical training can be very useful in those freshman survey courses with stacks of textbooks and grueling final exams.


Marguerite Gerard, Artist Painting a Portrait of a Musician (The Hermitage)


Whether actors on stage, dancers in a company or musicians in an orchestra, art students learn how to work together. They must watch each other, follow along, and lead among their peers. At times, they must even make up the difference when a peer forgets their lines. As group projects become more central to university courses, a student’s ability to work as part of a group becomes more important.


Let’s not forget the most important characteristic that an artist offers their university: heart. Artists do what they do for the love of it. They follow their intuition down paths unknown, searching for new means of self expression and connection. This quality has driven discovery for centuries, and it is at the center of what learning is all about.

Develop Characters with Renoir

The Luncheon of the Boating Party (TPC) is a dynamic work that possesses every possible social interaction. Pastoral dwellers pass the time with Parisians while politicians parley with poets. This picture affords wonderful opportunities to discuss character types.

Imagine that this picture represents a scene in a novel. Who is the main character, and what is their story?


Luncheon of the Boating Party, Auguste Renoir, The Phillips Collection
[Image: http://www.phillipscollection.org]

Try to identify the dynamic and static characters.  Who would the main character’s foil be? 

You might also draw inspiration from the true identities of those pictured.  Each person represents someone in Renoir’s circle.  Visit this page at The Phillips Collection website to learn more.

Japonisme de Portugal


I was at The Phillips Collection last weekend to visit the new Braque exhibition, and I stepped into the café for a very tasty espresso.  There I encountered this work filling the walls of the little coffee shop, One Day After the Rain (2010) by Sandra Cinto, A Brazilian artist.  

Immediately, I noticed the influence of Japonisme, the Japanese style often characterized by fine lines that depict the ferocity and grandeur of nature.  Indeed, this picture would make anyone sitting in the café feel as if they were floating away!

I was immediately reminded of a picture I encountered from an exhibition in Boston College called Portugal, Jesuits, and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods.  The pictures reflect Japanese impressions of Portuguese sailors in the Descobrimentos, or the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.  


The pictures display a Japanese fascination with Portuguese vessels.  As a sea-faring people, they must have been inspired by Portuguese ingenuity.  This work is a trade screen (1600-50) at McMullen Museum of Art in Boston.

It seems that this artistic brokering was not one-sided, as the Brazilian artists’ work in the ImagePhillips Collection seems to display.  In fact, much of her work carries this Japanese style, even making reference to it in a public art piece in SESC, São Paulo, a public center for health, art and education.  This work, entitled Sky and Sea to Present [Japonisme] (Silk on Tile), employs Japanese lines and grandeur, with that ever-present obsession with the sea.

Oksana Baiul becomes the swan from Camille Saint-Seans’ Carnival of the Animals.

Art Museum Day!

To celebrate International Art Museum Day, I visited one of those galleries in the D.C. region that is not usually free: the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  The last time I was there was for rehearsals of the Viva Vivaldi! All Girls orchestra, back in 1995.  That was a powerful reminder of female prowess, and this was no different.

A centerpiece of the collection is a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937).  (I like Diego Rivera far too much to comment further on this dedication.)  Image

The picture itself is wonderful.  It bears Kahlo’s typical proud style: the perfect symmetry of her figure poised between the open curtains, her beautiful peach skirt lying almost triangular – without a wrinkle – and the long, flowing shawl draped elegantly over her shoulders.

But then there are the eyebrows.  Why, Frida?  Perhaps they draw attention to the intense gaze in her eyes.  Perhaps, like Coco Chanel, Kahlo knew she needed a look.  As Mademoiselle Chanel put it in a 1990 interview with Douglas Kirkland, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

There could also be something more meaningful in Frida Kahlo’s signature brow line.  Maybe she wants us to remember, to have to remember, that art is not pretty.  The beauty that lives in art is borne of suffering, death, destruction.  Without those eyebrows, perhaps we could accidentally believe that this is a “nice” picture by a pretty girl.  Instead, we must remember that this powerful piece only draws us in with the perfection of the dress and the impeccable posture of its subject to contrast those sharply with the intense fire that rages in her eyes.

Artful Writing

In the film, Starting Out in the Evening, a writer in his sunset years looks slowly through a box of old photographs, examining each one with great care and feeling.  He puts one down in front of him, rests his head on his hand and gazes out the window.  After a moment or two he pushes back from the table, resets his typewriter, and begins to write.

As a student of art history, I find that looking at works of art fosters my own writing creativity.  Some of the same elements of plot, character development, tone, and mood are present in visual art which are also present in the written word.  Writing about works of art is an ancient practice; in ancient Greek it is known as Ekphrasis.  Many famous writers and artists throughout the centuries have engaged in this practice, and it is alive and well now in art journalism, art history, and even more pragmatic fields such as architecture and city planning.

Take a look at the work of art above (Giorgione’s Tempesta. Photo: shafe.co.uk) and come up with a story about it.  Can you identify character traits in the people?  What happened just before the picture, and what is about to happen?  What is the tone of the picture?  If it had a soundtrack, what would it be?  If this picture were a still from a movie, what would the title of the film be?  These questions can go on and on as you open up your imagination to the work.

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