Trelease and his colleagues not only want their students to observe the beauty in the world, they want them to be able to analyze it—to see beneath surface appearances. This is evident in Trelease’s advanced placement photography class. Students present projects based on the theme “unconventional beauty.” They compose triptychs and diptychs from photographs taken on a fieldtrip that are striking—juxtaposing man-made, industrial landscapes with images of the natural world. Students present their projects individually, then work as a team to deconstruct, critique, and refine the images—pushing beyond cement and rusted metal and decay to recognize subtle colors, graceful arcs, and rebirth among ashes.
Many Deerfield students also cite a deepened understanding of the social, cultural, and political contexts in their traditional history classes as a direct result of art history classes.
“Art history gives students a sense of context for history, for culture, and informs their knowledge in many other disciplines. Sometimes it dovetails with their class on European history, a particularly nice overlap,” says Lydia Hemphill, who teaches Advanced Placement Art History. “Art is so important as a complement to other disciplines—it often provides a contemplative aspect that kids might not feel in other classes.”
A longtime member of the Fine Arts Department team, Robert Moorhead is serving as chair of the department this year. Moorhead arrived at Deerfield during what might be described as the Academy’s arts renaissance. “When Deerfield was founded in 1797, the original curriculum included neither the visual nor performing arts,” Moorhead says. “It wasn’t until 1969, when the school recruited Dan Hodermarsky to spearhead an art program, that the Fine Arts—which encompassed both the visual and performing—became official classes,” he explains. These days there are nine fulltime teachers in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, several part-time instructors, and specialists who assist on an as-needed basis. Margarita Curtis would like to see an even greater emphasis on the arts curriculum. She says that as Deerfield considers the skills and dispositions students will need to thrive in the years ahead, it is clear that the left-brain functions that were prized in the marketplace of the past century will no longer suffice.
However a past or current Deerfield student chooses to integrate art into his or her life, it is bound to stretch the perimeters of how they look at and interact with the world. Jeff Hoerle ’86, took what might be considered the opposite path from alumna Yao Yao Kelly. Hoerle loves to paint but his day job is managing Stone Run Capitol, an investment firm he founded a few years ago. In front of his easel or behind his desk, he can see a direct correlation between the skills required in art and finance.
One of Hoerle’s recent paintings, “Sandy Approaches,” depicts a landscape lit by an eerily pastel sky, trees tumbling in the wind. He likens the energy and volatility of the storm to the uncertainty of the economy. The analytic skills, the ability to step back from the large picture, then zoom in to the details again and interpret what he sees, he says, are precisely the same whether he’s painting or analyzing the future performance of a potential investment.
“When I’m looking at a business to invest in, I recognize up front that the market is fraught with risk—like a hurricane, if you will. So I look at what one company has as opposed to another that will make it successful even through fluctuations. I ask myself, ‘What is it about this business that will do well, even if the economy tanks?’ The ability to visualize, imagine, and interpret is the same.”
Margarita Curtis concurs. “It is becoming quite clear that the growth of the economy and the success of our students in a technologically-driven, globally connected world will depend to a much greater degree on their ability to innovate, to come up with novel ideas, practices, and services that address real-world problems or challenges. The focus will shift from ‘what is’ to ‘what can be.”
Back in David Dickinson’s classroom, Chloe So is absorbed in getting the femur of her cat skeleton exactly right—she’s focused on the work directly in front of her, and isn’t thinking about “what can be” at the moment. She’s got a chem test next period, and immersing herself in her art helps alleviate the jitters as she works out this particular puzzle. There will be different puzzles to solve on the chemistry test, but Chloe holds the key to answering those, too. ••