Back in Studio Art, Dickinson agrees with all that but begins with slightly less lofty goals—he says it is important to lay a foundation in the basics, and he advocates teaching drawing as science, a kind of crash course in the grammar of visual art.
“Just as you wouldn’t try to write a book without a basic knowledge of grammar or sentence structure, you don’t expect students to jump into drawing without having laid a foundation for learning, for seeing, and for translating what they observe into something tangible,” he explains. “First you want them to be visually literate. I tell them the pencil is the extension of the brain. It makes visible what they see, something that is immediately tangible.”
Then Dickinson’s mustached face breaks into a grin: “I want them to learn the joys of drawing before it’s too late!” he says. “Turn their two-dimensional existence into something with depth . . . ”
Sometimes an art class has an immediate effect on a student—providing them with an opportunity to slow down and turn their thoughts inward. Senior Marina Hansen comments, “(For me) art represents getting away, escaping, de-stressing . . . and then there’s the sense of satisfaction when I finish a piece. The process is just so calming—I love interpreting what I see in creative ways.” Or as Chloe So, a sophomore from Hong Kong whose art experience at Deerfield is her first, explains: The focus required by learning to draw accurately has refined her powers of observation, increased her perspective, and helped her in classes she wouldn’t have imagined. “I’m learning to look at things differently in all my classes, including math and science,” she says. “I’ve realized that a lot in visual arts is like solving a puzzle . . . that helps me in other classes, too.”
Sometimes the outcome isn’t as immediate or direct, but it can be significant, nevertheless.
Yao Yao Kelly ’06 took full advantage of Deerfield’s visual arts classes, but didn’t pursue the arts in college; she went on to earn a degree in International Relations from Tufts. However, after internships at JP Morgan and NBC, all that was clear to her was that she “wasn’t going to be happy as a cog in a mega corporation.” Thinking back to her art classes, Kelly realized that they marked some of her happiest hours at Deerfield, and after some soul searching, she decided to follow her heart. Nowadays Kelly isn’t delivering the news or parlaying funds but she is working as a product development manager in Tiffany and Company’s jewelry division while pursuing an advanced degree at the Gemology Institute in New York.
“I wanted something I was passionate about,” Kelly says. “At Deerfield I developed the fundamental tools and skills of an artist. I gained confidence.”