Don’t forget to play: Art class unites special-needs students and retirees
Here there are no essays or multiple choice tests. This class is about exploration and expression.
In Mark Greenwalt’s classes at College of the Mainland, students range from 18 to 72, from hopeful art majors to retired chemical analysts to students on the autism spectrum.
Constantly buzzing with the swoop of brushes on paper or commentary on neo-classical works, Greenwalt’s studio art courses invite credit and continuing education students to explore their creativity together.
Greg Webb, of Clear Lake, a retired chemical analyst for Dupont, has signed up for continuing education classes for 15 years.
“I’m constantly progressing. Mark changes things up from semester to semester,” said Greg. “He’s the best art instructor I’ve had, and I’ve had several.”
In a three-hour, twice-weekly studio class, Greenwalt first explains art history, philosophy and principles, usually while sketching or painting his concepts. Then students craft their art.
“Today we learned about making lines poetic,” said student Okie Anderson. “He’ll ask, ‘Can I try something?’”
If a student gives permission, Greenwalt will slowly take his pen to a student’s paper, deftly demonstrating a new technique or shading to make a figure leap from the page.
“He thinks everybody can draw. He doesn’t give upon them,” said Anderson.
“I was a teacher. What we emphasize in public education is getting everything ‘right.’ Creativity is what makes the world go round. Mark came in here one day and said, ‘Okie, don’t forget to play.’”
The possibilities are limitless – students may draw the skeleton in the studio, research an image to reinterpret, or analyze figures.
“Live models who come in say he’s the best instructor they’ve modeled for,” said Peter Janecke, of Seabrook, retired from ExxonMobil. “He brings in the context for what we’re doing. He relates it to art history and the masters. He encourages you not to throw a single sketch away. You can make a good drawing out of anything.”
Participants often jump from conversations about shading to arguments over idealism versus realism.
“There’s a lot of options for in-class discussion including moving into the realm of philosophy, history, and aesthetic theory,” said Greenwalt.
“Continuing education students participate in student shows and critiques. The only thing they don’t get are grades at the end of the semester.”
While many taking the continuing education class are retirees, others are special-needs students who thrive on being creative in a structured environment.
Adam Cline often draws superheroes, some modeled after movie characters, others modeled after friends.
“I’m the iron boy,” he said, pointing to one drawing. “My friend Shelby is the space flyer.”
Pointing to others he explained: “I call them Team Metro Needs. These are all my special-needs supporters.”
Greenwalt described the vividly colored paintings of another special-needs student.
“It shows you don’t need a high IQ to explore harmony. It helps with self-esteem and validates her, and she is producing something that is valuable and even intimidating to some of the beginning art majors,” said Greenwalt. “When it comes to creativity, all students have special needs particular to the individual. You have to give students space and resources to create, gradually gain their trust and guide them. When students learn it’s a safe place to ask questions, it encourages intellectual risk taking.”
For more information on COM continuing education art classes, email Greenwalt at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.com.edu/ce.