“Art Can Really Slay You,” and Other Musings on The Muse, with Ms. Glembotzky

Oil Paintings on Display at the Kennedy Catholic Studio

When prospective parents take the tour of Kennedy Catholic during Open House, many are surprised to learn from their tour guides that the school is one of only a few in the area that offers a four-year Fine Arts program. Katie Glembotzky has been teaching at Kennedy for the past two and a half years, and is the axle around which that four year curriculum spins.

Oil Paintings on Display at the Kennedy Catholic Studio

Oil Paintings on Display at the Kennedy Catholic Studio

KCHS offers several electives to fulfill the NYS graduation fine art requirement. Studio Art, a freshmen level class, focuses on technique and various drawing media. Afterwards, it becomes an elective – Studio Art II – primarily an Introduction to Oil Painting, followed by Advanced Visual Arts for the upperclassmen; Students work on collaborative projects as well as independently.

We will work in a ceramic segment, and maybe a papier-mâché segment to allow for a sculptural or 3-dimensional component,” Ms. Glembotzky explained. “The Advanced Visual Arts students work more independently and have an option to continue painting while focusing on portfolio development.”

A native of Newburgh, NY, Ms. Glembotzky graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City. Classically trained in Fine Art, when she is not up to her elbows in pottery clay at Kennedy, you might find her collaborating with other objects conservators working on collections across the country including the sculpture garden at PepsiCo in Purchase, NY.

But Kennedy is known for all of it’s STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiatives. All the students walk around with IPads, the curriculum is paperless, it treats it’s robotics team like rock stars…. How do you reconcile all that with easels and oil paints?

Yes, sometimes that’s a challenge,” she concedes. “The students are very comfortable with the Ipad – it’s so easy and incredible to have your drawing corrected by an app! I am a little old school in that regard, because I do believe – especially at the Freshmen level – that refining drawing skills provides a solid foundation for many other disciplines; ever more so especially because of all the technology. I would rather see them really learn how to draw, learn how to paint, mix color by hand, and hopefully, through what I teach them, they can realize their own potential and talents.”

Pencil Sketches Line the Walls in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Pencil Sketches Line the Walls in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Ms. Glembotzky allows for what she calls “exploration” on the mid-terms and finals, where students are welcome to experiment a little more with technology. For many students, she notes, tech is “their expression, their mode.”

Expression and inspiration and Old School technique are all well and good, but we know that’s only one percent of any masterpiece. Yet how do you teach the other 99 – perseverance – to a 15 year-old?

Some think that because you are artistic you can just turn it on and it flows out like water,” she explained. “But not necessarily. Many of our projects are long term and sometimes it is hard to draw or paint, especially after a long night of homework. Right now, the freshmen students are doing perspective drawings. They are learning one- and two-point perspective, which is very difficult actually, learning how to see things. We proceed slowly and I just have them keep correcting and adjusting it! When they become frustrated, we do something else. Then they can go back to it with a fresh eye and almost always have great success.”

That kind of personalized calendar-tweaking requires more than a little outside-of-the-box scheduling. Ms. Glembotzky makes use of what she calls “soft deadlines:” some students are ahead, some are behind, some “get it” immediately, others not as quickly. But a studio is not a lecture hall, she is quick to point out, and the clocks and yardsticks that work in one don’t translate across to the other.

Students Take Their Inspirations from Sketch to Completed Painting in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Students Take Their Inspirations from Sketch to Completed Painting in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

For me, everything is always one-on-one,” she points out. “I take a look at what they’re doing, see what their skill level is, what their ability is, what their desire is, and I try to tailor what I’m teaching to each child – that’s how I like to work. Each one is an individual project.”

Those individual projects culminate in the annual Kennedy Art Show which takes over The Commons each year during the week of the musical.

It’s kind of a Big Deal.

Everybody participates,” Ms. Glembotzky enthuses. “Each student is putting up two to three pieces of artwork. The seniors generally have their own boards because they have been in the program for four years, they have a lot of work.”

Each year shows off a new artistic medium, explored and conquered. Last year it was linoleum block prints with an Aesop’s Fables theme. This year? A stop-motion claymation movie.

Claymation you’ll remember from ‘Davey and Goliath,’ or that new movie, ‘Trolls.’ Our project was inspired by one of Fr. Vaillancourt’s homilies, which I can’t say too much about, except that it is a Christmas themed collaborative project between the Advanced Visual Arts senior students and the KCHS Media Lab. My students are creating the characters, building sets and other visual imagery, the Media Lab students will shoot and edit the piece.

Actually, both groups are working all of it together – so they are all learning new concepts and exploring different avenues of the Visual Arts. It’s exciting! Also, being pragmatic, it introduces the students to working on long term, team projects -with just a little bit of stress. They get enough of that already!”

(All of which sounds pretty darn New School-ish to us, but we digress…)

Sculpted Clay Figures on their way to being Animated as Part of a Kennedy Catholic Claymation Project

Sculpted Clay Figures on their way to being Animated as Part of a Kennedy Catholic Claymation Project

At the end of the term, those STEM teachers have it pretty easy. They are working in clear tangibles, test problems are either right or wrong answers, examinations that have clear grades, zero to one hundred. A Math teacher who has helped a student get a better grade can count herself successful. What, then, is the measure of success for an Art teacher?

Good skills are important, the foundation; equally so is the development of confidence,” Ms. Glembotzky told us. “Art can really slay you. If you’re ‘Not Good at Art,’ but have an interest, and you happen to be in a class with a group that has a lot of natural ability, it can be terrible for your self-esteem if you become intimidated. What I consider successful is the young person who does not have the natural ease but perseveres through it, and feels good about what they are doing. That’s more important. I think Art is empowering, a great way to express yourself, and if you feel confident doing it, that enthusiasm and determination will carry over into so many other areas throughout your life. It’s so much more important than trying to actually produce a Mona Lisa every time.