Save Art Education: From the Eye of a Philadelphia Artist
By Tara Stowe
"I just make art," said 44 year-old Philadelphia resident David Aronson. Aronson continues the legacy of his artisan family. Although David Aronson has been drawing since he was old enough to hold a crayon, he completed formal training in 1986 at the Hussian School of Art and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for one year.
Art classes were never an important part of the school curriculum
as Aronson recalls from his high school days. Has the teaching
philosophy for the arts changed over the last 20 years? According
to Aronson it has become worse. "Arts programs have been
cut tremendously in public schools and they hardly have programs
at all," he continued, "I think it is damaging to young
peoples' minds to take [art] learning out of the classroom,"
Aronson defines his artistic specialization as a mixed media including illustration as well as oil and water color paint. "I'm not just making pictures to go with what people want to see, but I feel that my personal vision lends itself well to fine art," he explained. Aronson describes his work as strange, surreal, and not mainstream.
David Aronson's art has appeared on CD jackets for bands such as Six Feet Under, magazine covers, animated videos shown on MTV and in several children's books.
Aronson always knew he wanted to pursue art for a career. "Art has always been the essential core of my identity. Making art was always a serious thing, seen as important, not trivial," he said. As a child he was always encouraged by his parents to express himself through art.
"It's really hard to make a living as an artist," he admits. Aronson finds creative ways to sell his art because it is very difficult to work solely as a professional artist. He shows his work at galleries throughout Philadelphia and makes prints of his commercial illustrations to sell in Dollar Store frames at First Friday each month in Old City.
First Friday is a popular event for local artists to display their work outdoors beyond the confines of art exhibits. Underground artists, affluent collectors, and art aficionados gather as a community to experience culture and celebrate Philadelphia's art scene along the art gallery district. "When the economy is bad then luxury items are the first thing that consumers stop buying, and unfortunately art is one of those items," Aronson explained.
Aronson used to own a small business, which combined an art supplies store and frame shop with an art school. Several years ago his business art school went bankrupt as a result of financial challenges. His determination to continue his career as an artist prompted him to send resumes to all the art schools and centers around the area. "I never imagined I would be teaching, I really just fell into it," Aronson said.
For the past seven years, Aronson has been working at the Wissahickon Art Center. The Center uses grant dollars to sponsor artists to teach art programs to Philadelphia residents of all ages from 6 year-olds to senior citizens.
He never thought he would be good at teaching until his first day in front of the classroom. "For the first 10 minutes I was really nervous, and I didn't know if I could [teach]. Then I looked at the students and I knew that they were looking at me as a person of authority because I had knowledge to share, and they were hanging on every word," Aronson said. David Aronson teaches to supplement his income, but teaching art is more than just a job.
Many of the kids Aronson teaches come from underprivileged homes. "I can see that the fact these kids are creating something is an expression of who they are," he said. A recurring question for both artists and underprivileged youths is: Am I good enough?
Aronson finds it extremely gratifying to watch his students
develop. He believes the arts help children socially and in school.
When his students make themselves vulnerable through art expression,
he responds with a lot of encouragement because they are seeking
acceptance of who they are on a deeper level. "Right brain
learning is very important and in our society the focus is on
stimulating left brain processes," he said.
Organizations like the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership and the Wissahickon Art Center serve the community by helping kids be exposed to a positive influence in their lives so they feel valued as a person and not just labeled as another kid from the ghetto. "I perceive the attitude from kids that they just don't count like they're just expendable and throwaway," Aronson said.
Art is a good outlet for children psychologically to learn how to express their problems in a constructive way. "If kids find something they're good at and they're valued for it then they will begin to feel like their life matters which helps the community because they are more likely to become contributing members of society," Aronson said.
Aronson's advice to aspiring young artists is to ask yourself this question: "Would you be wasting your life if you were doing anything but art? If the answer is yes, then that is what you were put on this earth to do. If it's important enough to you, be persistent and keep making art."
For more information about art education for children, please visit the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership online at http://www.paep.net"www.paep.net, or call (215) 717-6596. You can find more information about David Aronson's art at www.alchemicalwedding.com.
Tara Stowe is a public relations consultant for the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership.
PHILADELPHIA ARTS IN EDUCATION PARTNERSHIP
c/o THE UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS
320 S. BROAD STREET
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19102
TEL: (215) 717-6596
WEB SITE: WWW.PAEP.NET