THE JOURNEY TO BECOMING A TEACHING ARTIST
On her first day at Ridgefield Academy, Middle and Upper School Art teacher Lisa Liebowitz was impressed by a faculty member’s presentation on an experience funded by Ridgefield Academy’s Faculty Enrichment Grant. She knew that she would someday submit an application to further her own creative endeavors, but wanted to make sure it was the right time and opportunity.
In the winter of 2020, Liebowtiz began looking to reignite her personal artistic practice. She describes herself at the time as a teacher “swimming in researching best methods and practices, materials, planning, and curriculum writing”, but not as an artist herself. Knowing her students would benefit from having a "teaching artist", she decided to apply for the grant and face the first challenge: submitting a portfolio.
The body of work she compiled features a variety of mediums - ink on watercolor paper, acrylic on canvas, and mixed media on cardboard - and draws inspiration from real life. Several pieces are inspired by and reflect upon the impact of man and natural disasters on our natural world (“nature is not ok right now”, reads her description of Status Quo, left).
While working on her application - which included traveling abroad to Florence, Italy - time was not on Liebowitz's side. Just before submitting it, COVID shut down artist workshops along with nearly everything else in Italy. Upon recommendation from a friend, Liebowitz retooled her application and found a workshop in the U.S. where she could experience the teaching of artist David Antonio Cruz. Cruz, a contemporary painter and teacher, works with figures in colors that caught Liebowitz’s eye. As a recipient of the Ridgefield Academy Faculty Enrichment Grant, Liebowitz attended the painting intensive over the summer of 2021 - more than a year after beginning the application process.
At the beautiful Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, Colorado, Liebowitz hoped to begin the journey of becoming a teaching artist and growing her practice outside of work. Each day began with a presentation. Though the intensive was focused on art through the lens of politics and history, the topics ranged from comparing Jay-Z and Beyonce in the Louvre to contemporary artwork to discussing the relationship of politics and art. After the presentations, techniques were reviewed with the artists through demonstrations.
Discussing art in a broader context encouraged Liebowitz to consider the representation and impact of her own work. Previously, she often drew inspiration from photos on her phone.
“While I’m not going to have models laying on the floor in the Louvre, I’m going to start thinking about the symbolism of who I choose to represent and why,” said Liebowitz.
With different goals in mind, the artists also spent many hours in the studio each day. Some artists planned to leave with completed pieces. Liebowitz stuck to her plan of developing a starting point and aimed to leave with a number of pieces in the works. Along with sketches of live models, she left with five started canvases!
At the ranch, Liebowitz valued the uninterrupted time and incredible setting, unobstructed access to an amazing teacher, and perspectives shared by like minded individuals.
“I got to talk to other people who have been in the same spot I was in,” Liebowitz said. “Almost everybody there had taught at some point, and several had taught middle school, so we were able to talk about how to figure out that educator/painter balance.”
Since attending the painting intensive at Anderson Ranch, Liebowitz has made changes that benefit herself as an artist as well as her students. She structures her time differently, in order to make creating art a priority.
“My easel is out in the classroom instead of hiding in a corner. The kids see me working a lot more. They see before and after. They see the progress and the changes - it’s fun!”
Embracing the chance to be a teaching artist, she has shared her own work with students and welcomed feedback when she is stuck on something. And, she has already experienced the benefits of this teaching style firsthand. Her students have made analytical observations and suggestions that have impressed her.
Liebowitz is grateful that the Ridgefield Academy Faculty Enrichment Grant funded this opportunity to reignite her own artistic practice and bring the concept of the teaching artist into her own classroom.
“I am really grateful for the experience,” said Liebowitz. “I appreciate both the funding and the trust that this workshop made sense for what I do.”