Arts education is important for children and young people for so many reasons. Studies have shown that learning creative subjects such as Art, Music and Drama have a positive impact on kids' performance in other academic subjects. But there are a whole host of other benefits the arts have in themselves. These include building confidence, boosting creativity and self-expression, supporting emotional development, increasing concentration while easing stress, anxiety and depression.
We are excited to welcome a new art teacher to the My Online Schooling team who will be joining us for the new academic year. Originally from Nebraska, USA, Cassandra Harrison is a super talented Edinburgh-based artist who creates vibrant, colourful pieces using different textiles, paint and line as well as illustrations. The focus of a lot of her work is architecture (a personal love of hers) and cityscapes, using the beautiful city of Edinburgh as her muse.
Luckily for us, she's also an experienced art teacher with a passion for sharing the joy of art and creativity with her pupils. To provide a bit of an introduction, we asked Cassandra about her life as an artist and art teacher - check out the Q&A below!
What first drew you to creating and selling art as a career?
Interesting question. I have always liked drawing. When I was 8, I drew a pair of shoes that I remember my dad raving about. It was possibly the first time any of us realised that I had a knack for drawing. In first grade, I knew that I wanted to make art for a job. At the time, the only exposure to art that I had had was in children's picture books. I knew I wanted to be the person that made those pictures. I went on to study Fine Art and Art Education at a liberal arts school. It is odd that it feels like it's not anything I actively chose. There was never any other option. It has been a constant in my life.
Any particular highlights or favourite moments over the years?
There have been several shining moments, often at the expense at having worked through a difficult lesson. I have learned to persevere after set-backs. Had I not done that, I would not have had the opportunities that have come my way. One highlight was putting an artwork forward for the Royal Academy in London. So far I have had three pieces shortlisted, which in itself is quite a thing. My work has been exhibited in five different exhibitions at the Scottish Royal Academy. This year my work was published in a book. Ten years ago I travelled throughout the UK and popped over to the states with an art installation. That pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but it was worth it. I like a challenge and that was certainly it.
The one thing that outshines all of that, though, was the arrival of my daughter. She is shining and wonderful and vibrant. I feel very lucky to have my little side-kick. She is five and is constantly teaching me so much about life.
What made you want to teach art, and why do you think it’s important?
My original track for my degree was study in graphic design. After nearly completing it, I realised that I didn't like working with computers to make art. I've always liked working with children and had been volunteering as a tutor at a housing estate in Omaha. I changed my major to Art Education (carrying forward the Fine Art degree) and went from there. I have personally felt the joy of getting lost in creating artwork. Whilst studying art history, what I first found a bit of a dull subject, suddenly came to life. The vivid stories of the artists and what was happening in the world around them were exciting to discover for myself. Children love stories - people love stories. I think you can learn so much about the world around you and yourself through art. We learn about other cultures through their art. These stories are important for understanding other people, growing compassion and also learning something about yourself.
Creating art can also be a meditative practice in that you focus exclusively on one thing, which quiets the mind to concentrate. One of my favourite things about teaching art is giving children the key needed to know how to use materials. Children who are going through a tricky time in life or feeling like their strengths are not in academics often find their home with art.
How do you encourage pupils that get discouraged easily, or don’t think they are artistic?
We start in the place of I Will Try and not I Can't. I will try this new thing. This is something fun and not to be taken too seriously. We are playing with materials, experimenting, messing stuff up and starting again if we have to. It's only paper. Some children aren't drawn to art or find it easy. I have to remind myself this is how I feel about maths - I have never found it easy. What would I want a teacher to tell me about my maths lesson to open my mind up to trying? 'Can't' is a wall and it's important to bypass it, break it down, scale it, or whatever you need to do to not let that barrier stop you from trying.
Do you think schools could do more to encourage pupils’ creativity? If so, what?
In my travels as a teacher, I have seen some vibrant, wonderful, creative classrooms popping with colour and personality. Other rooms have felt a bit devoid of it. If the teacher is creative and comfortable with art, then art will be a big part of the life of the classroom. Unfortunately, if the teacher is not comfortable with that subject, then art will not be a big part of the environment. It's tough; teachers have a lot on their plate and I think it is a bit unfair to ask they they also teach Music, P.E. and Art. Specialist teachers can bring years of knowledge and experience, teaching lessons that are dynamic and fun. It's a shame that many school systems have taken away these specialist teachers as a form of cost cutting.
What advice would you give to parents to encourage their child’s creativity (especially if they aren’t creative themselves)?
Have plenty of art materials on hand for the children. I had an art table in the living room where my daughter creates countless drawings. She tapes papers, glues, cuts, tears, sprinkles glitter, wraps ribbon around things... It is all to hand for her to use when she wants. Visit art galleries and talk about what you see. Everyone knows what they like. You don't have to be an artist or creative to know what you like. My mother had never been to an art gallery until she visited me three years ago. That blew my mind. Art is such a big part of my life. We walked around and talked about the stories in the paintings.
Check out more of Cassandra's beautiful work on her website, where she also sells prints, paintings, pins and more.
My Online Schooling is an online learning platform that offers a flexible full-time English Curriculum-led education to children all over the world. We support home-educated pupils by providing live online lessons following a set syllabus, offering them the opportunity to receive international GCSE and A-Level qualifications that open doors to higher education.