Painting with Purpose and Passion

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

These words, by the distinguished writer and theologian Thomas Merton, wonderfully describe the recent activity in Studio 6B. In this quiet space on the sixth floor, a group of Upper School students discovered their artistic selves by experimenting with all manner of color, texture and style.

Marianne Brand’s Painting class – one of the Upper School’s diverse selection of FOCUS electives – centers on the individual and her unique abilities and interests. Of the 13 students, a few were accomplished artists with years of experience. Others were relative novices. Regardless of their skill level, they all find something valuable and engaging about this class.

“It’s fun to mix colors,” remarked one student, as she swirled blobs of blue, red and yellow acrylic paint in an effort to find the perfect hue for her abstract study in pastel shades.

“I like that we’re not doing academics the entire day,” said a second student, whose painting, still in progress, was modeled after the artists Chagall and Modigliani.

Seated around a large worktable with tubes of paint, cups of water and thin brushes close by, the Class 10-12 students were happy to talk about their paintings, which ranged from an arresting portrait inspired by street art to a landscape scene with caramel-colored mountains and a luminous lake to a realistic depiction of a bright urban storefront. After a moment or two of sharing, they eagerly returned to their work and became engrossed again in the artistic process. As they dipped their brushes in paint and applied it to their paper – dabbing gingerly or smearing in bold strokes – they seemed to revel in the methodic rhythm of creating art. The room was peaceful, save for a few instances of chatter and Ms. Brand’s unobtrusive feedback.  
Although the students’ initial paintings were the results of more structured assignments, the majority of the lessons were self-directed in nature. For example, the class was instructed to research painters and their works online, using a list of artists and websites provided by Ms. Brand as a starting point. After finding an artist they liked, the students used this person’s work to inform their own paintings. 

The students were encouraged to work at their own pace and to take artistic risks. While some were on their third or fourth painting, others were finishing up their very first pieces. And that is precisely the objective of this class. “It is not how many paintings they finish but how involved they get with each one,” explained Ms. Brand. “They have to own it,” she added.

During a recent morning class, a student struggled with a part of her painting, unsure how best to proceed. Ms. Brand engaged her in a thoughtful conversation about her intended vision and suggested she consider a more nuanced blue. “I try to encourage them to see a little more,” she said.

She also teaches her students to begin their paintings by first deciding on the background color scheme, then building from there. Ms. Brand compared the process of painting to writing a story: Just as stories are often written from beginning to end, paintings can be thought of as a series of ordered steps. For the students, especially beginning painters, this was indeed valuable advice.

Soon, it was time to wrap up for the day. “Five more minutes!” Ms. Brand announced. Lost in their paintings, the students slowly eased out of focused postures, as if waking from dreams. They secured the tops to the paint, rinsed brushes in the sink and placed their finished and unfinished work on racks to dry. Before leaving Studio 6B to continue with their days, several students lingered in the space, soaking up a few more moments of artistic tranquility.

Browse photos from the class below: