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Exchanging Ideas at the Frick

Today, on the quick bus ride back to school after a morning session at the Frick Collection, the sixth graders expressed how much they had enjoyed their visit.

 "I loved it! I wish that we could have stayed longer," said more than a few.

As many a parent who has visited a fine art museum with their children can attest, this is a response one can only dream of.

However, taking the boys out of the classroom and into a place where they are free to express and exchange their views and insights with peers, and then having them go back, take what they learn and create something, is a game changer.

This morning I accompanied art teachers Jenna Boccella and Hannah Frassinelli and their sixth grade students on a session at the Frick Collection. In this new collaboration between Saint David's and the Frick, the boys participate in a guided tour provided by museum docent and current Saint David's parent Olivia Birkelund Gerard, of portraits that relate to the boys' portraiture unit in art class.

The works we viewed included Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert, Holbein's portraits of St. Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, and Lawrence's Lady Peel, and we ended with an arresting self portrait of Rembrandt. As we gathered in front of each painting, Mrs. Gerard elicited impressions and observations from the boys, who eagerly participated, offering their ideas about symbolism, use of  light and color, and the intent of the artist.  When the boys were prompted to compare and contrast the two Thomases painted by Holbein, which flank the fireplace in one room, a boy opined of the Cromwell: "This guy looks fake, so evil, like he wants to kill the other guy."

The session also included discussion surrounding the significance of certain elements of portraiture painting, including props, setting, expression, angle and placement, and how the boys might incorporate these in the self portraits they are currently creating in art class.

I was impressed with the depth of the boys' engagement throughout the session and their animated discussion. It was refreshing to see how each idea or thought expressed by one boy could spark the engine of ideas in another boy, and how a painting, such as Lady Peel that at first glance might seem "happy," after a generative exchange of observations reveals a more nuanced and somber character.

I believe that in order for our boys to appreciate art they have to both see the original in person as well as create art of their own. Exposure and communication with the work in situ is vital, as are partnerships between and among cultural institutions that provide experiences with experts in a field.

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