Artists in the Making
by Matt Bynum
Program developed by the Master's Academy is training artists of the next generation
Art Appreciation is usually one of those college electives that fulfill a "general education requirement", that is, one of a variety of classes that we must take to "round out" our education. View some ancient architecture, a few Dutch masters, some Renoir and Van Gogh, a lot of strange modern paintings and sculptures, take the final, and we're out of there! Now all we have to worry about are the few times during our life when someone forces us to go to an art museum, or when we have to decide which Monet print goes best with our living room decor. We categorize the Art Appreciation class right along with those other classes that we had to take because they were "good for us". We have a foggy reminiscence of taking classes in Algebra, European history, American Literature, geology, music appreciation, and physics, but about the classes themselves, we remember little, or nothing.
But one of our electives we remember vividly. "Whatever you do", a fellow student advised us, "you've got to take that class!" And on the first day of the class, we understood why, for it was taught by a professor who transformed a dry elective into a desert oasis, and it was all we could do to hold back tears of joy, and drink deeply from the flowing fountain of living and relevant knowledge, never before realizing how deep was our thirst. Would that every class was like this one! But no other class could compare, and our time spent there seemed all too short.
We must realize that not every teacher has the ability to present a subject so vividly. What is important is that we are given an understanding of "the big picture", and are shown how one subject fits together with all others. History is no longer a collection of isolated events; it becomes a full-blown drama of the widest scope, filled with invention and discovery, and the philosophies that guided the development of cultures and civilizations. The student who is taught in this way is being given a Classical education, with all the teachers throughout the student's lifetime contributing towards the same goal. And when a Classical education is taught with a Christian worldview, the student is shown that the Scriptures are the foundation of all education and knowledge.
The Classical approach to education has recently been gaining popularity among homeschoolers. It was in 1989 when Vivian Doublestein of Atlanta, Georgia took on the task of homeschooling her children. Coming from a family of musicians, she felt it important that her children's education include instruction in Music and the Arts. But she was not satisfied with the curriculum that she reviewed, none included the comprehensive overview of the Arts that she wanted her children to learn. So she was compelled to design her own Arts curriculum, which could also be used to teach homeschoolers in the Atlanta area. Local parents were very pleased with the idea, and, in September 1991, the first day of class attracted 115 students. So was born the Master's Academy of Fine Arts, and in 1999, the curriculum was being used in seven Atlanta area locations, and in Birmingham (Alabama), Orlando (Florida), Quakertown (Pennsylvania) and Columbia (South Carolina).
The Master's Academy program is designed to teach an integrated view of the Arts, Music and World History. The students meet once a week for half a day of instruction in art, music, drama, history, and various arts electives. The content of the program is divided into six one-year units, each unit covering a different historical period, from ancient all the way to modern times. The classes are divided into several age groups, accommodating students ages seven to seventeen. All students are taught using the same curriculum, however, the older students are given material that is more detailed and complex. Each unit is self-contained, so that a student can start with any unit within the six year cycle.
A typical class day, for students learning from the Classical unit (the era from 1750 to 1830), might begin with a history lesson, outlining the events of the American War for Independence. Then the students are asked to act out the historical events that they were taught, using costumes and props. Next, on to the music lesson, where students learn about the styles of music written by the composers of the Classical era. Then the art lesson, where students design a building using the architectural styles of the period. Next, the drama lesson, where students take a familiar story and then rewrite and perform it in the style of a Classical era play. Finally, the elective, where students can learn drawing, painting, ceramics, a musical instrument, or a period play. The choice of electives is dependent upon the skills and experiences of the class instructors.
By the end of the year, the student has learned not only about the works of art and music of the era, but also has been taught the basics of art and music theory, as well as the ideas, philosophies, and historical events that shaped the era. And students who complete all six program units are given a grasp of the grand sweep of history, and especially how God's Providence directs the affairs of mankind.
Mrs. Rachel Nichols is an Arts Instructor for the Master's Academy group in Birmingham, Alabama. "What I have enjoyed about working with Master's Academy is that I am one in a community of Christian artists, sculptors, thespians, pianists, historians, dancers and technicians. Being employed in the arts is difficult. Being employed in a town not known for its culture is even more difficult. Conventional wisdom in Birmingham says that if you want to succeed in the arts, you have to move to Atlanta, California, Nashville or New York City. But through the Master's Academy, local talent is being employed."
Teaching the arts to children is a challenge, albeit a rewarding one. "Working with teaching children requires us to distill our experience into clear communication of techniques" said Mrs. Nichols. "A lot of us who have been practicing artists just 'do' it and not really think about how. This forces us to verbalize 'how to do it'. Our effectiveness is being tested in the feedback of our student's work."
"We ourselves are learning a lot from each other as we listen to tapes of lectures of other classes, and as we work together on dramatic productions. We are working to disciple and encourage each other in spiritual and professional growth. Previously, working alone, there was no one connected with the arts to encourage and lift you up during a dry spell. The annual staff retreat where teachers from other cities get together to share ideas and encouragement has been stimulating and inspiring. So often it seems in church experience that one hides artistic ability as if it is irrelevant, frivolous and perhaps selfishly sinful. It is so refreshing to find other Christians in pursuit of art to the glory of God, and who have similar visions of reforming the arts where they live."
The vision of the Master's Academy extends beyond its current activities. There are plans to create advanced programs in the Arts, so that talented students will be able to continue their arts or music training within the framework of a Christian worldview. High school and college level programs are in the planning stages, which will be coupled with internships and residency programs. The goal is to train future generations of artists who, by the Grace of God, will be used to revitalize modern culture, so that all the Arts will be used to glorify God.
"I am sure that our impact will take years to be measurable" said Mrs. Nichols. "We have only been working together for two years, and most of our energies have been directed toward efficiently teaching the children in the short time that we have with them. Our vision for impact in the community goes much farther, but we realize that we have lots of time to get there. I see what we are doing as a rich tapestry of the common grace of life that God gives which we are weaving in our community. Our community has had little to offer culturally. Efforts have been small and hidden. Hopefully this is the beginning of change for far better."
If you are interested in starting a Master's Academy program in your
community, or if you would like more information on the work of the
Master's Academy, see http://www.mafa.net .
Updated by: Matt Bynum