January 25, 2020

Memory and Truism Projects expand artists’ perspectives

Matthew Tom '16 works on a piece for the Memory Project. (Photo by Rachel Landau '16)

For artists, inspiration can stem from the life of a small child in need, to their own cultural heritage, and the means through which they express that can range equally diversely, from accuracy to abstraction.

Drawing and Painting’s joint Memory and Truisms projects give student artists the structure they need to explore their skills and inspirations in these respects: either technically or abstractly.

In its third year at the high school, the non-profit The Memory Project connects a Drawing and Painting student with a child, this year from Ethiopia, for the artist to draw or paint. While it is required for the new elective Drawing and Painting 2, The Memory Project is optional for Intensive students. Its alternative in the Intensive class is the Truism project, which challenges students to explore post-modernist art inspired by Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, postmodernist art that challenges commonly held truths and slogans or promotes forward thinking, such as one Truism that reads “everyone’s work is equally important” across a movie theatre marquee.  

Drawing and Painting instructor Mr. Brian Reddy created this project because he enjoys confronting students with a new and different artist every year. “The intensive classes are so capable that it’s really interesting to confront them with weird or significant artwork and art ideas from history that they might not have seen before,” he said. “I doubt a lot of students have seen Holzer’s Truisms before my class and I find the work very inspiring and thought provoking.”

For Intensive student Mariana Perez ’17, the Truism project enhances the Drawing and Painting curriculum with the freedom it gives her to explore her own inspiration for creating art and the symbols she likes to use to portray her own message. “I really like [painting] the human body, and people, and faces,” she said, adding she depicts her own Latin-American heritage in the art. “All the struggles in Hispanic culture- I want to show in my art,” she said.

For students participating in The Memory Project, the project presents opportunities to grow in a different form. Artist Matthew Tom ’16 explained this saying, “What makes the Memory Project so unique is its ability to transcend the four walls of the classroom, and affect people around the world. My favorite thing about the project is that I can use my passions and talents to brighten the lives of kids in way more personal than any monetary donation could.”

Tom added that the project allows for growth as it asks students to practice their technical skills. “The project is a great way for students to hone in skills of balancing technique and personal voice,” said Tom. ”While a photo realistic image of the reference photo is impeccable, it would be no different than printing out an image of the child and sending it back. Therefore, the artist has to learn to inject some of their personal style and voice into their work to give back to the child a piece of themselves, a little signature to send back to the child.”

Reddy saw the same application of skills as Tom did in The Memory project as he described the different opportunities he sees for student growth in both the projects. “The Memory Project and the Truism project are like equal opposites. The Memory Project challenges artists to focus on their art making methods and techniques to make something purely visual, while the Truism project is cerebral and forces them to analyze the world around them to create a totally original idea,” he said.

The learning implications the project has for students go beyond the skills they pick up in the classroom — it creates a gateway for students to have an impact on the lives of others. “I think the project offers the opportunity to really create a significant project while doing something you like doing,” said Varsha Iyer ’17. “Personally, I have always wanted to do something impactful. Having seen poverty when I visit India, I feel especially driven to create a piece where I can raise awareness while making a kid feel happier.”

The biggest complaint with the project is a testament to its impact on not only the children who are drawn, but the students who are drawing. Reddy, Tom, and Iyer all shared the same sentiment that they wished the project allowed for more of a connection with the children. Iyer added that this year they were told the child’s favorite color with their photograph. For her “this is a step, [but] I would really like to know more about the person I’m drawing to make a piece I know they would like,” as Iyer said.

Tom reflected this sentiment in that he wishes in the future there is more of an exchange between artists as he described the possibilities a deeper connection could entail. “The essence of the project could create lifelong connections between the students if there were somehow a pen-pal program included, or an art trade,” he said. “For kids to know that there are people halfway around the world that continue to care for them after the portraits are sent would be more influential for both parties.”

(Olivia Gieger ’17, Associate Editor)

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