Mammoth self portraits of art students hang in the student commons at Moffat County High School (MCHS). An exercise in ego? Not hardly. Art teacher Jay Peck said they were an exercise in proportion and foreshortening, two of the toughest painting techniques.
"The students worked hard on that, and they did a good job" Peck said, smiling. The self portraits were an assignment in freestyle painting for his advanced students. "It's not been easy for them to have paintings of themselves in such a public place. Some of them have been embarrassed over that."
But Peck believes one of the things art does is stretch a person. "Art gives students exposure, acceptance and appreciation," he said. "Art helps in self expression, not only visually, but inwardly. It teaches us an appreciation of everything in our life, the beauty around us and in the world."
Peck came to MCHS fresh out of Western State College in 1970, armed with a bachelor of arts degree. He has been here ever since. He also has attended the Art Institute of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, and the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.
Peck has between 60 and 100 students in his art classes each semester. Over the past 30 years, he has taught art to nearly 6,000 students at Moffat County High School. Peck, a fine artist in his own right, attributes his desire to be an artist to his second grade teacher, Mrs. Vogel, and to his Gunnison High School art teacher, Julie Jones Eddy, who ironically grew up in Craig. His parents, creative in their own right, were supportive of his art. Many of his former students have gone on to pursue careers in the art field.
Students who take four years of art in high school learn the fundamentals of drawing, color theory, painting landscape, still life, portrait, free style, self-portraits and to work in a variety of mediums acrylic, pastels, water color, sculpture, calligraphy as well as advertising design, technical evaluation and critique.
"Basic art is the most important because it is the foundation. If you don't have the basics, you won't get any of it," Peck said. His favorite artists are Andrew Wyeth, Salvador Dali and most of the old masters, such as Michaelangelo, because of their abilities to render realistically.
Travis Doolin, a senior, has been working on an acrylic painting for five weeks. His style has the sleek tones you'd expect from a future graphic designer he's applied to the art institute in Denver. "I've learned a lot in this class," Doolin said. "Mr. Peck's a good teacher I wouldn't have been able to learn all this stuff by myself."
Peck believes art gives people a way to express themselves visually and view the world through a different perspective.
"I love art," said junior Ruth McMann. "I like to be able to express myself through my painting." Working on a portrait luminescent with warm tones and depth, she's debating over launching into freestyle painting after graduation or going on to college to study art.
Melanie Peters, a senior, wants to be an art teacher. Her op art painting of a face rendered in gray tones that grew out of one of her pencil sketches. She described the painting as a representation of the mechanical nature of our society, "The grind we get in," she said. "Art is a good way to learn how to express yourself to others in a different way. As an art teacher I want to convey imagination to kids, and help them develop their own style of who they are."
Although Peck said fine arts will be required as a credit course beginning in 2001, he is concerned that other subjects will take precedence. "Because of the new trend toward literacy, and the new legislation to grade the schools according to student's test scores next year, [administrators] are more concerned about getting back to basics reading, writing, math. We can have literacy and still have the arts," he said.
"If we took art out of the schools, it would be really hard on people," Peters said. She is writing a term paper for another class on how art enhances learning in other subjects. "Studies show that art helps with other things. There is so much you can learn and teach through art," she said.
Peck said he can teach English, history, math or science through art, but not vice-versus.
Research backs him up. In the recent book, "Ingenious Pursuits: Creativity and the Scientific Revolution," author Lisa Jardine writes, "Today the two cultures of 'art' and 'science' have come to be treated as fundamentally opposed, their aims incompatible. This distinction is both artificial and historically accurate."
"Art teaches you how to concentrate, and you have to concentrate in other classes," said freshman Krystal Schneider. She plans to pursue photography as a career.
According to Karen DeBord, Ph.D., a child development specialist at North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, creativity is more than a product it's a process. "An interesting painting, a thought-provoking writing, a unique comment these may be examples of creative work, but the decisions people make as they paint, sculpt, write, speak, play, and think are at the core of the creative process," she said. "Art and music are common examples of creativity, but creative thought appears in almost all aspects of life from the way a parent quiets a crying child to the methods a scientist uses to discover a cure for a disease."
DeBord added that artistic training strengthens the thinking process and enables humans to make judgments, imagine possibilities, have volition, and apply specific functional skills in appropriate ways to novel situations.
Peck said art influences every part of our lives. "The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, our homes, even the Christmas decorations we put up all of that is art."
After 30 years of teaching art, Peck is ready for a second career. He plans to retire at the end of this school year so he can devote more time to his own creative process. "Teaching has put me on hold for my own painting for all these years," he said. "As an artist, I want to have a gallery showing, and concentrate on developing my own style."
"Art is for everyone," Peck said. "Everybody has artistic ability. Given the time and interest, anybody can develop their art, enjoy it, appreciate it."
daily press photo/mikaela rierson
Tyler Slaight, sophomore, tries his hand at calligraphy in a MCHS high school art classes.