In a modest single-room classroom in Palmer Lake, equipped with every kind of art supply imaginable, Kim Johnson teaches the language of shape. Evidence of her success as a teacher is proudly displayed on the walls of the art studio, including a very convincing Cookie Monster rendered by a six-year-old. A drawing instructor who swears by the Monart drawing method, Johnson teaches adults and children alike to retrain their eyes and draw not what they know they see or what they think they see, but simply what is placed before them. For Kim Johnson, teaching art means teaching people to have confidence in their own abilities and to erase the stigma of what is "good" and "bad" art.
Describe the Monart drawing method. It was developed by a woman named Mona Brooks. She got a grant to work with students ... and she had fantastic results. She realized she had a system. The components of that system are, she teaches these five basic elements of shape; and that is to artistic learning what the alphabet is to reading, writing and spelling. The other parts of it is that she doesn't critique. Children aren't graded in Monart, they're not evaluated. What's important in the Monart system is that the child values his or her artwork. In addition, giving kids the finest art supplies makes all the difference. So when you add those three things, something magical happens.
How has this method been integrated in school settings? In Colorado, over 200 schools, both public and private, have used it. Mona offers in-service training for teachers, and then they can develop several different drawing projects for each lesson. The children learn seven times faster when it involves drawing or another art project and they retain [what they have learned] longer. Over 35 teachers in the Colorado Springs area have been trained.
What would you say to people who feel that adding more art to school curricula is just a waste of time? I think it's so short-sighted to cut music and art, because the studies show us that [those disciplines] improve all the other scholastic studies. Students learn differently ... so there are all these multiple intelligences, and art involves all of that. And there have been a lot of indicators that the Monart technique in particular carries over with reading, especially in kindergarten and first grade. Also, Monart has been taught to help ESL programs because it forms a bridge. You can teach a lesson and do it bilingually, and have the art be the bridge.
Many people think art is the type of thing that's only for the naturally gifted. I have parents coming in all the time who say "I have a gifted child." I've gone into schools and worked with gifted children, and I have rarely seen any difference. I think a lot of this is an ego labeling that we're really invested in right now. I think if someone wants to do art, they're gifted in art. Everything else can be developed, everything else can be learned.
What do you suggest to parents who want to encourage their children to explore art? I recommend getting a set of basic art supplies (they don't have to cost a lot), and setting up a place where they can use them, and then exposing them to all different kinds of art. And then, most importantly, whenever kids bring art home, always respect it, never criticize it, but ask to have the story told about it. I've seen parents take things and have them professionally matted and framed and proudly displayed and there's nothing finer you can do to encourage a child.
An exhibit of pieces completed by Monart students will be on display at the Palmer Lake Library during the month of September. Monart classes are being offered this fall in Skyway/Broadmoor and Briargate as well as Palmer Lake. To contact Kim Johnson for more information, call 488-2111.