Friday, July 14, 2017

Observing some creativity in STEM

On a bright sunny summer day, SRAP – Wyoming EPSCoR’s program for high school students explored the more creative side of STEM alongside fabulous Wyoming artist Katie Christensen, the University of Wyoming Art Museum Curator of Education and Engagement. Their challenges were to see landscape and sky scapes in a new and more critical manner, as well as explore their own creativity.

The morning began before the gallery space was open to the public for the day. SRAPers could be found getting up and close with works from the museum’s collection, exploring brush strokes and palate selection of various pieces. The first activity was to gallery surf, from piece to piece. Katie shared that the average time an individual spends with a piece of art can be as short as three seconds. Students were encouraged to take in the space quickly and find one piece that resonated with them. From there, they were challenged to spend 10 minutes with a single piece of artwork.  

A hush fell over the gallery space. Unsure whether students were daunted by the task or just settling in, I took my place among the work and began to look at my piece, Abandoned Ranch Road by Linda Lillegraven. As the minutes ticked by, I looked at the brush strokes, observed the way Lillegraven represented sage and summer wild flowers along a road that disappeared across the prairie towards a mountain range that felt familiarly Wyoming. Upon the timer buzzing, I felt a struggle to pull away from the piece; it felt like leaving a conversation with someone before it was truly wrapped up. Other students remarked the same.

From this deep looking exercise, students went outside for some of their own observation, reflection, and creative expression. Students were prompted to look at the sky and clouds and to paint their observations in watercolor following a process similar to that of developing a lab experiment. It was a challenge for some who may not have previously seen the connections between art and science, yet others embraced the challenge with gusto. They painted en plein air for a time before returning to the studio where final touches could be applied to their work.

 Paintings varied from realistic to abstract, but each student created and reflected. The art museum made available plentiful materials and hints on how to achieve various desired effects for the pieces. In all it was a nice opportunity to find connections between the logic and creativity that is science.