Opinion | Art of our soul

painting by Marc Chagall
“The Cemetery Gates” by Marc Chagall (The Cemetery Gates by Marc Chagall, via Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Alli Fisher

As Jewish individuals, it is our mission in this world to act in the way of Hashem. Hashem is the ultimate artist as he continues to create our world into existence each moment — from the breathtaking nature around us, to the souls that meet and to niggunim (songs) sung. As individuals, we strive to walk in the ways of Hashem and also find our inner voice to create our own works of art. When we create something that otherwise did not exist in our world before, it is quite magical, and can be a pathway to tefillah (prayer) and to being divinely inspired to listen inward and create art that reflects our personal soul.

At Ohr Chadash Academy, I facilitate art making among many young developing souls. It is my mission and passion to encourage my students to think about and make their own artistic choices about what art pieces they want to create. I aim to inspire and teach them how to manipulate materials to create something uniquely their own, something that reflects their own personal voice, feelings and ideas. Students enter our art studio ready to freely express themselves and follow their creative visions to make their own masterpieces.

This is the power of choice-based art education: a methodology where students are encouraged to choose their own way of self-expression through artistic mediums. As the arts educator, I am there as a guide to help them navigate material usage, teach and expose them to a plethora of art mediums and techniques and encourage them to think deeply about what and why they want to create their envisioned piece of artwork.

This framework of art education is also highly focused on the creation process over the product. It encourages students to experiment and try out different mediums. Art has no limitation, and I teach my students that anyone can create, and the artistic possibilities are endless. In a choice-based environment, the student is making the decisions about their own creations. This studio atmosphere also encourages a lot of collaboration amongst the students, where students enjoy working together on art pieces and helping each other out to provide feedback and technique teaching.

This year during COVID-19, the students were unfortunately unable to create in our studio. So we packed up our materials on art carts, one for each building, and brought the supplies to them. We start many classes with a sketchbook prompt or an artistic technique lesson and then students excitedly move on to their Choice Projects. The students have been faced with various limitations this year in order to stay safe in so many of their environments. Therefore, it continues to be essential that art time remains a place where they can freely express and create their own artistic visions. Living in a world of restriction during COVID-19 times, art provides a gateway to expression and exploration, which enables the students to thrive.

Another passion of mine is exploring the power of art making through integrating art into Judaic classrooms. A stand-out Judaic art collaboration is working with the fifth grade girls to create an arts-infused Haggadah. For several months, I worked with the girls to use their words of Torah as a springboard for creatively expressing their ideas through art. The Judaics teacher and I compiled all the art pieces and then we published a complete Haggadah interwoven with art pieces. Further discussing the girls’ d’var Torah and thinking how to depict their thoughts visually really enriches the experience and is an added dimension to the learning process.

Whether the students are making art through a choice lens, or a Judaic framework, they truly shine when being able to express their ideas through a colorful array of materials. What a joy it is to facilitate this process, enabling and empowering young minds to create their own art from their soul.

Alli Fisher is art director and educator at Ohr Chadash Academy. This is part of a series on topics in education facilitated by The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, with the partnership of local schools and educators. CJE promotes and facilitates lifelong learning that nurtures Jewish identity and strengthens Jewish community.

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