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The City Journals

Great Artist program nurtures young artists’ confidence

Jun 23, 2017 08:51AM ● By Jet Burnham

First-graders learned about the concepts of depth, lighting, shading, shadowing, texture and background/foreground from Paul Cezanne’s “Apples and Oranges.” (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Students at Fox Hills Elementary gain confidence in their art skills from teachers such as Matisse, daVinci and Pollock. Each month, students learn about a famous artist and their techniques as part of the school’s yearlong Great Artist program. Then students create a piece inspired by the artist’s famous work.

“The program uses a guided drawing method that focuses more on art, skills and technique rather than art history. It tips the scales in the other direction than typical art programs by creating confidence, success and joy in students,” said Great Artist Spokesperson Aaron White.

Sixth-grade teacher Marcia Craven said the program allows her students the opportunity to create quality art projects that she wouldn’t be able to provide on her own.

“I love art, but I'm just not very good at it,” Craven said.

Program Coordinator Diane Gilmore said it is common for adults to downplay their own artistic skills.  Through the training for the Great Artist program, she learned that people lose confidence in their art skills as they get older. That’s why most adults are stuck with the drawing ability of a 10-year-old, she said. Craven has seen it happen in her classes.

“I have found that in sixth grade, some of the kids start feeling inadequate as they see what others can do, instead of just enjoying the process of creating something,” said Craven.  

The Great Artist program enables students to appreciate that everyone has a different artistic style. Gilmore pointed out to second-graders that some of Picasso’s critics said his work looked like it was done by a child.

“Yours looks just like it, and his is famous,” she told them.

One of the program’s parent volunteers, Amy Rudolph, said that students were more willing to try new techniques when she showed them the steps because they realized she was on about the same level as they were. She said when they were shown there was no “right” way, the kids were less intimidated. 

“I tell them it doesn’t have to be beautiful,” Rudolph said. “We are all different. We are all artists.” 

  Third-grade teacher Laura Zimmerman said the greatest benefit of the program is when kids realize they can create something that is beautiful and personal to them. 

“They see themselves as artists and creators,” she said. 

First-grade teacher Anne Yates said the program influences students to overcome self-doubt in other areas of their lives, as well.

“Students gain confidence in their ability to do something difficult and accomplish a task they didn't think they could do,” she said.

Yates said one struggling student applied what she had learned about the attention to detail required in art to learning to pay attention to details in reading.

Gilmore campaigned for the PTA to purchase the artist kits for the school because of the far-reaching benefits of the program. 

  “Children who participate in art education improve in problem-solving and critical thinking, judging qualitative relationships, appreciating how small differences can have large effects and celebrating multiple perspectives,” said Gilmore.

Fox Hills’ PTA has purchased all available kits—five Great Artists for each grade—so that by sixth grade, students have studied 25 famous artists and learned such concepts as pointillism, cubism, impressionism, and realism and have explored various mediums like oil pastels, wax, chalk and watercolors.

Each artist introduces a concept or technique. 

Students explored the relationships in the color wheel as they re-created “Concentric Circles” by Wassily Kandinsky. While studying Paul Cezanne’s “Apples and Oranges,” students decided how to apply the concepts of depth, lighting, shading, shadowing, texture and background/foreground to their pieces.

“We teach techniques, but the students make it their own,” said Laurie Stringham, who volunteers in her son’s fourth-grade class.

Students chose their favorite art piece and confidently displayed it at the school’s Art Show held in April.

Fox Hills is one of 100 schools using the Great Artist Program, which was developed by Laurie White of Sandy. Great Artist tutorials are available at