I was sitting in on a meeting the other day and overheard a studio art professor characterize his class of beginning drawing students as being obsessed with objects. "They are quite skilled at rendering objects, but they don't know how to use the shadows and forms in a meaningful, expressive way."
Another professor remarked that her drawing students were also astute observers of objects, but they lacked insight into social, political or spiritual issues. "They don't seem to see the relationship between art and anything else that's going on in their lives."
A third colleague complained that first-year design students seemed to think design was nothing more than an intuitive act. "They are surprised to learn that there are systems for planning and that design is a thoughtful process."
Needless to say, these three colleagues have different expectations about what their students should know and be able to do when entering college. If they had been asked, they would never have been able to agree on the new National Standards. In fact, these three may never stand on common ground. Yet, because their comments seem to imply that there is more to art education than mere skill in rendering objects, they might agree that art involves making connections.
Traditionally, the still life has been painted and enjoyed as a demonstration of the artist's technical and illusionary skill. The history of realistic still life goes back to the legend of the Greek painter Zeuxis in the fifth century BC. His painting of a bunch of grapes was so realistic, birds tried to peck at it. But, beyond realism, the still life has at various times taken on other layers of meaning. Artists of the early Renaissance were concerned to add a spiritual significance to their arrangements of objects. In seventeenth-century Holland, people delighted in decorating their houses with paintings of their own possessions, yet profound messages were often concealed in these still life arrangements. …