Bringing Art to Life in Timothy House: A Profile of Art Teacher Amanda Thompson
Bringing Art to Life in Timothy House: A Profile of Art Teacher Amanda Thompson

Art is omnipresent at Dwight. Student artwork adorns the hallways and gallery spaces of our campus ― and shares pride of place alongside Dwight's museum-quality collection of over 200 paintings, sculptures, etchings, thangkas, and more.

Against this amazingly vibrant backdrop, and from classroom to classroom, students learn about and create art within the context of the IB curriculum, while letting their imaginations roam free. With guidance from mentors, such as Timothy House Art Teacher Amanda Thompson, students unleash their inner Michelangelo or Picasso! A graduate of the London University and Rhode Island School of Design, Ms. Thompson shared her thoughts about teaching and how the artistic spark of genius is found in all her students, when we sat down to discuss all things art.

When did you first become interested in art? What or who inspired you?
My mum is an artist. She went to art school in Brighton in the 70s. I grew up around her and her artist friends in Brighton and London, and we spent a lot of time looking at and talking about art. I first became personally interested in creating art in London in the 80s. Many of my friends were in the music and fashion industries, and I started by creating large-scale paintings and collages in clubs and shops in Soho. It was all about transforming the space.

Is there one art form that you are most passionate about?
Tell us about your personal work. I am particularly enthralled by large-scale, interactive installations. Bill Viola, Olafur Eliasson, and Anish Kapoor are some of my favorite artists.

As for my personal work, I was trained as a painter, but I mainly make three-dimensional abstract work. My last solo show was in a 3,000-square-foot gallery in Williamsburg, where I showed a multimedia installation, using cast glass, resin, carved wood, and video. My goal is to continue to create installations ― to create spaces ― which take the viewer into another world.

How do you ignite the artistic spark of genius within your students?
The spark is in all of them. I am just the facilitator; my job is to make sure I don't stand in their way. Having said that, each student has a different spark, so I believe, as their art teacher, it is my responsibility to introduce him or her to as many different art forms as possible. For example, we have units that focus on graphic design, others on sculpture or painting, and even one on engineering.

Can one teach "creativity"?
Yes, I believe you can. I think it's important for students to be active in the decision-making process. If they are authentically invested in what they are learning or what they are making, they will become very creative. A large part of art class is spent asking questions, brainstorming ideas and solutions to problems, collaborating, and communicating ideas in new and innovative ways. Some of my best classes have started with a pile of materials and a problem to solve, with the creativity blossoming infinitely.

How is art taught differently in the IB curriculum?
I believe that the fundamental difference is in how the art curriculum is integrated with the rest of the curriculum. It is concept-based and skills are taught through the content, rather than in isolation. In this way, everything we do is relevant and interesting to students, and often generated by them. This keeps students motivated and allows them to take ownership of their own learning. I had a first-grader ask me to teach him how to draw a house in 3-D the other day, as he was in the middle of a unit on homes. I ended up teaching the whole class how to draw with a one-point perspective in the next class ― and we had a blast!

What makes Dwight's art program stand out from the crowd?
I think it's pretty incredible to be a part of New York City. It is the home of so many art movements ... of conceptual art. Artists, designers, and museums surround us; the accessibility to art is phenomenal. It is also exciting to teach and learn from students from so many different countries and cultures. It makes our art program rich and varied!

What do you enjoy most about teaching art at Dwight?
Dwight is like a family to me. My daughters go here, I love my students, and I am friends with my colleagues. There is a real collegiality to our community that ensures that I am constantly growing as a teacher. I already loved being a classroom teacher here, but it was a gift when the art teaching position opened up. Now I get to combine my two passions, teaching and making art!

Is there anything else you would like to share about how you bring art to life in Timothy House?
Head of Lower School Martha Hirschman is very supportive. She has a vision that includes a constant rotation of student artwork in the halls of Timothy House. It is inspiring for the students to recognize their own artwork hanging alongside Chancellor Spahn's collection of Goya etchings.

What's the lesson you look forward to most each year?
It changes every year. It depends on the kids, their knowledge, their experiences, and their passions. That's what I love most; I am constantly learning and being inspired by students' creative and unique thought processes!

Tell us about your upcoming solo show? Is there a theme? How did it come about?
The working title of my new show is "Under the Veil," and it is scheduled for December 2016, at Causey Contemporary Fine Art in Chinatown.

My sculpture is abstract, meaning it hangs close to the wall and creates a vivid shadow, allowing positive and negative lines to blur. I am interested in the "hidden" in all of us and in the elusive nature of identity. I try to create a sense of metamorphosis by transforming solid materials, melting, twisting, or stretching the art within my pieces. Depending on the viewer's perspective, the ethereal becomes more dominant than the solid. The relationship between reality and illusion is central to my work.

I first started working with Tracy Causey, Owner and Director of Causey Contemporary, in 2005 and I have had many exhibitions, both solo and group, at her galleries in Brooklyn. I am thrilled about this new show, as it is my first solo show in Manhattan in her new space.

To learn more about Amanda's work, visit amandadowthompson.com.

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