For the last 17 years I’ve spent nearly every day teaching art classes to teenagers either at Little Rock Central High School or at Arkansas Governor’s School. Dual careers as artist and art teacher at times can be very similar and at other times seem completely unrelated. Over the last few years, however, I’ve begun to have a better understanding of how these two sides of my life are connected. My interactions and experiences with these students have had a huge impact on the things I do in my artwork. As I remind them about compositional balance or the correct way to handle color and value to create emphasis, I’m reminded to do it in my own work. As I teach them the importance of the concept or the story they wish to tell in their work, it makes me think about what I’m communicating in my paintings and drawings. In short, these students are as much an influence on me as I am on them.
Recently, there has been a great deal of debate over how our children should be educated with traditional public schools coming under fire. In some cases, school systems have folded due to funding being distributed to charter systems or tax waivers for private schools. The only way I’ve found to deal with my frustration with this situation is to focus on what I can directly affect: the students I see on a daily basis. I simply work with the kids assigned to my classes and give to them as much as I can. These drawings and paintings are intended to remind us who these kids are in a way that is not idealized or over dramatized. Meanwhile, the technique of mixing wet and dry media creates a surface that is somewhat chaotic, unpredictable, and perhaps out of control which serves as visual representation of the political and social upheaval surrounding the institutions they attend. These students, who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, special needs and gifted, are the ones who are most deeply affected by these debates and legislative decisions. I’ve shown them in an ordinary classroom during what is a regular day. In this setting and in these images, their standardized test scores or where their families fall on the median income line are forgotten; they are just kids in class that deserve to have their educational needs fulfilled, no matter their zip-code.
– Jason McCann
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