The Art Connection

My name is Thomasina (or Ms. D!), & this is my 1st blog, not just as a PPS Art Teacher, but, well…ever! So, to introduce myself a little, I am 30 years old- despite my young & enthusiastic demeanor 😉 –I am from a small town in central Pennsylvania, am a proud pet-momma of a German Shepherd, 2 turtles, & 3 cats, & often frequent places with beautiful scenic views, concerts, & destinations to visit family & friends. Besides teaching public school studio arts, I also teach Introduction to Art History online for a community college where I grew up. Finally, I’m a bit of a nerd…however, I like to refer to myself as a “Renaissance Woman!” My heart is warmed by so much wonder in the world & my soul enjoys the thrill of discovery, which means that my brain must act as both a sponge & a web browser (with 100s of tabs open at once), & my body must take me to parts unknown & often far from where I started. Throughout my journey I have had many adventures that resulted in experiences & lessons learned…which is awesome! To teach art & art history, I, myself, have to be determined, strong, & in a constant state of learning. In the classroom, as in life, some things come easy, while others must be re-adapted several times, &, yet every so often, things still fail miserably & I have to pick myself up & say, “Let’s try that a different way next time.”

One thing that I’ve become quite skilled at is interweaving studio arts & art history. About 2 years ago, I decided that my art history students were missing out on true art experiences…plus, 2 hour lectures with Power Point presentations were killer for me, so I know it was rough for the 18+ year-olds at 8 am. I decided students needed to learn what artists of each decade struggled with, experienced, learned, & loved, so I created a series of simple art projects with rubrics that made sure students knew they’d only be graded on following instructions & effort.

To understand prehistoric cave paintings, students use charcoal, chalk, crayons, or oil pastels to draw the valuables from their everyday lives on a crumpled paper bag.


To understand patterns & the effort in creating stained glass during the Gothic era, students create a paper “stained glass” sun catcher out of construction paper & tissue paper.


Surprisingly enough, students (despite age, major, or year) loved the projects, saying they gave them a break from “typical” college work. They thought of them as a time to relax, have a little fun, & still enjoy a challenge (many consider anything above stick figures to be difficult).  I still have students email me about “stumbling” on a work that they remember from my class…I repeat, they – remember – from – MY – class…not only do they remember my class, BUT ALSO what they learned! Every teacher’s dream-come-true! 🙂

The positive experience from introducing studio arts to my art history students gave me more incentive & more optimism of the possibilities of art history in my studio classes (despite age level). I teach as I would in my art history course, I discuss the time period, an interesting fact (sometimes disturbing works even better) about the artist & his/her works. I emphasize the main point (such as technique, medium, etc.) of why we’re looking at the works (or let the students discover it on their own) & then I plant the seed for creativity by giving a concept, rather than step-by-step instructions. None of my students are Vincent van Gogh, so why have them replicate his work?! Allowing students some artistic freedom should be a law!

The most important thing I try to remember is that these students do NOT live in the 1400s or 1700s or even 1900s (feeling old yet?!)…& unless they’re an art history nerd like me (& unfortunately we seem to be a minority), students – don’t – care. They don’t care about the “old dude” or his “lame painting of fruit”…unless I make them understand it instead of just see it. In order to make any sort of an impact, a connection needs to be made. To be brutally honest, a connection to another subject or class might have a 50/50 chance of sticking. What the lesson NEEDS to be connected with are the students. What are they into? More than that, it must reach them on individual levels, meaning: How can this lesson give students the information & techniques I want to deliver, while giving them the freedom to decipher the lesson by their own means?

Teach glazing, atmospheric perspective, & landscapes while introducing John Constable.

D3Dedham Vale (1802)

D4Wivenhoe Park (1816)                                                    

D5 The Hay Wain (1821)



In It’s All Good! (2008), two personal photographs (the land from a camping trip & the sky taken in the backyard one lazy evening) were combined together for an intimate painting of the artist’s euphoria.

Introduce Jasper Johns & create critical thinking by assigning the re-design of a common subject, like the American Flag.

 D7 Three Flags (1958)

D8Flag (1954-5)

D9Moratorium (1969)


Influenced by the rhythmic flow of music & the bright, colorful lights that are present at concerts, America becomes a land of musical freedom in Flag (reprise) (2005).

Georgia O’Keefe invites people to look closer…no, closer…closer! Nature’s beauty is endless & examining it in detail, deciding exactly what & which part of it to connect with & capture, can create an engaging, personal experience.

D11Red Poppy (1927)

D12White Flower on Red Earth (1943)

D13Grey Line with Black, Blue, & Yellow (1923)

D14Created as a birthday present, Beauty (2010) depicts a rose, a favorite flower & an object almost as beautiful as a sister’s life-long friendship.

Create an emotional tone for a portrait by utilizing colors & shapes as symbols like Pablo Picasso.

D15Mother & Son with Handkerchief (1903)             

D16The Old Guitarist (1903)

D17Harlequin with Glass (1905)

D18A forced smile for a school picture that should capture a happy memory & stepping stone in a youngster’s life, in Blues Kid (2004), actually shows the sadness & unsettling emotions of abandonment & separation.


Depict a dream & practice perspective, shading, & figure painting while studying Salvador Dali & surrealism.                                                 


D19Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man (1943)

D20Remorse, or Sphinx Embedded in the Sand (1931)

D21Keep Going (2013) shows the dream of a girl on a journey from a bad situation &, besides having some big, hairy, man-eating spider parts, gave the feeling of going in the right direction, towards something amazing.

I don’t think of teaching students art history…I think of inspiring them. As for teaching students art…I’m just giving them the means to express themselves. Teaching art history in studio art can not only be beneficial, but it can be fun for students as long as they can form a connection. In my experience, allowing students to show their individuality in their artwork makes their art class experience all the more meaningful & allows a means to learn the material & remember it. The “famous” artist images shown here were found on the Internet through Wikipedia & Wikiart. However, the project examples are all mine. In them you can get a glimpse of my life, not just my fondness for learning from the Greats, but my love for nature, my pets  & family, music, & my gratitude of all the experiences I’ve encountered on my journey (some of these go way back). Anybody can appreciate others’ art, but to appreciate your own art means you put your thoughts, feelings, blood, sweat, & tears (sometimes literally) into your work…only then will it be of value, & only then will it carry significance. As an art teacher, I refuse to believe I’m not an artist. I may not be in galleries or be able to pay a bill from a sale, but I appreciate my art…& that feeling I get when I finish a piece I’m proud of…well, that feeling is what I try to teach. Few students will walk out of my class & into art careers, but most will walk out with an appreciation for art & its history, & all will remember it.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Thomasina Durkay

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