September 2002
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Working with "ART" and Soul
By Meaghan Pugh, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Located in downtown Fredericton is the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, the only post-secondary institution in the province that focuses on the creative development of individuals through the arts. Various art studios and craft stores are also located throughout the city, as well as the nationally renowned Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Move uptown and you will find the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, two very prominent schools that attract students from every corner of the globe on an annual basis, but offer no courses or options to students seeking a career in the arts.

Move even further uptown and you will find Fredericton High School, where sports and sciences are encouraged and embraced, while the arts and music are left on the back-burner.

When students enter their first year at F.H.S., they must decide between an art or music course, while phys. ed, science and math are mandatory. But what about the students who want to take art and music?

"The art department is a mess," says Pete Diamond, an F.H.S. graduate, class of 1999, currently attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. While he expressed concern regarding the art department and the funding and resources available to it, like many other students who attended the art courses at F.H.S., Pete found the teachers to be very supportive and resourceful.

But how adequately does the course itself prepare high school students for art school? According to Steph Loukes, another F.H.S. graduate currently attending the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, the art courses at F.H.S. are very similar to those in the first year program at N.B.C.C.D., minus art history and more technical studios such as photography and metal work. Other studios at the college include fashion design, graphic design, clay, surface design, textiles, painting and drawing; all of which are offered in the F.H.S. art department or other departments throughout the school.

Steve McDougall, an art teacher at F.H.S., also agrees that the programs offered there are extremely beneficial, a great opportunity for students who are genuinely interested in pursuing their artistic endeavors.

"We know what they're looking for," says Mr. McDougall of the art schools and how they select their students. "They're looking for strong, creative, receptive minds." Unfortunately, the majority of students enrolled in high school art classes aren't there to take it seriously, which is why the teachers are so supportive and encouraging when a student seems genuinely interested.

"Most people in high school aren't really into art", says Pete, who considered art class to be a welcome break from his regular monotonous school day schedule. Steph Loukes agrees with this, "students are so fixated on homework and taking notes that art class has become a place to unwind and be yourself," she says.

For those who are only there to get an "easy" credit, art class is just a place for students to socialize and doodle. For those who take it more seriously, art class still remains a relaxed, less rigid environment where students can enjoy themselves by doing something that they'd be doing on their own time anyway – creating art.

Despite admirable efforts from the art teachers at F.H.S. to prepare potential art students for their possible futures in artistic institutions, they really aren't going to appreciate how demanding and time consuming art school is until they experience it first hand.

"Sometimes high school gives the impression that art school is going to be easy", says Pete, who found out, through experience, that this really isn't the case.

Classes at schools like N.A.S.C.A.D. and N.B.C.C.D. aren't like your regular high school art classes. Students must be committed and willing to work hard in longer classes which might not even be of their particular interest.

By the end of Steph's first year in art school, 8 of the some 40 students in her class had either dropped out or failed because they had found the classes to be overly demanding and the deadlines too severe.

When kids attend any kind of post-secondary institution, whether it be to study math, science, history or whatever, they expect to spend a lot of time studying and committing themselves to working hard. Why then is art school regarded as an institution where hard work doesn't apply, and art itself as simply a hobby that doesn't require any real commitment?

These attitudes which remain fiercely present in the educational system only enforce the assumption that although art is prevalent in every part of society, it is still greatly unappreciated and underestimated in the west.

During the school year of 1998-99, Pete was privileged to be a part of an art show which exhibited the work of students from F.H.S., as well as the work of students from Osaka, Japan.

According to Pete, the work of the Japanese students was "light years beyond" that of F.H.S. students, and much more beautiful. This might be contributed to the fashion in which children with artistic potential in Japan are handled. When a child in Japan expresses an interest in the arts, they are immediately separated from their peers and put in special schools that will foster their artistic abilities. As a result, their talents and abilities are developed at a much faster pace.

Although, there was one thing lacking in the work of the Japanese students – creativity. In Japanese art, students are taught to focus on the technicalities, and making everything look as real as possible. There's nothing original, or abstract.

To many artists and art critics, creativity and self-expression are the essential elements of art. So while the Japanese culture embraces art and takes it much more seriously, our culture allows artists to reflect on their own personal experiences and opinions, and express them as abstractly as they desire. "A kid can love art", says Pete, "and never learn anything about it".

At F.H.S., the technicalities are taught to a certain degree; how to use watercolor correctly, which colors to mix to make another color,etc., but the main focus is on creativity and self-expression. The teachers are there not to dictate, but to guide students in manifesting their own creations.

Mr. McDougall mentioned how the Beaverbrook Art Gallery would never have come into existence had it not been for two wealthy patrons with a keen interest in the arts. Lord Beaverbrook donated money to the construction of the gallery, while Mrs. Vaugn, a millionairess from Montreal residing in a summer home in St. Andrews, donated her immense collection of art to the gallery.

But it isn't just the wealthy who strive to keep art alive. Steve McDougall and Mike Mesheau, for example, have taken their passion for the arts and used it to educate and encourage kids who wish to pursue their artistic interests. "You do the best you can with what you can", says Mr. McDougall.

Recently, Dr. Brian McKinnon, a family doctor in Fredericton, organized an exhibit of the artwork of students at Leo Hayes High (where his son attends school) and awarded cash prizes to the students whose work impressed him the most. He hopes to make this an annual event, to keep the arts alive and well among high school students.

Without these people and others like them, art might very well be dust and bones in our society, and at Fredericton High as well. The world of art is a solitary one,and the "starving artist" stereotype remains alive and well today. Despite her passion for the arts, Steph Loukes admits that she and other students at the art school often worry about finding employment after graduation. "Unless you're into graphic design, which I'm not, it's very difficult to find a job out there if all you have is an art degree".

Unfortunately, the government places no real value on the arts, and so the schools feel no need to do so either. As horrible as it is to imagine, it is extremely possible that someday soon the arts in schools will have disappeared completely. Even today, if you talk to students involved in the arts, they'll tell you that their encouragement, ambition and perseverence came entirely from themselves.

"I always assumed that I was going to do it (art) myself, and I didn't need school to teach me how to do it," says Pete, who tried taking a course at U.N.B. a couple of years ago before he surrendered to his true calling and signed up for art school. "I think that if you really have a strong interest in art, and you really want to pursue it, don't count on high school."

Fredericton High School

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

New Brunswick Collegiate of Craft and Design

Beaverbrook Art Gallery (presently under construction)

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