On Living Artistically

January 1st, 2024

Hello Selwyn Families,
In this month’s Thoughts on Teaching and Learning series, I’ve asked Selwyn’s Upper School Art teacher, Ms. Morgan Swartz, to share her perspective on how Selwyn’s fine arts program–and especially its Fine Arts Academy in the Upper School–prepares all students to think deeply, creatively, and artistically.


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” —Nelson Mandela
Education is about sharing skills and information so that students, whoever they may be, may take their combined knowledge into future situations, able to face any circumstance and find solutions to any problem. The greatest educator is the problem itself, but more specifically a problem whose solution requires the creation of something new. What better position to be in than as an art teacher to guide students through these problems.
I recently began my teaching career, but in my second year, I have already learned possibly twice as much as I have taught. The role of an educator requires us to be constantly prepared and up-to-date in our field for the sake of our students. The secret is how much of this we learn from the students themselves. The relationship of a student and teacher is that of traded knowledge in the classroom. As we teach, we also learn.
This is what it is to be an artist as well. The Artist is two things. She is open to the influence of the world while also understanding of the influence she has in return. She must learn and then teach and then learn again. The Artist observes and absorbs before crafting a work of art that teaches the world a new way of understanding itself. The Artist is the conductor of change.
Many students take art in order to fill an elective credit. But a select few at Selwyn have chosen to join the Fine Arts Academy, taking a deeper dive into their artistic study. Whether in the general elective courses or in the academy, students who wish to become professional artists or designers, find art class to be a no-brainer. It is my belief, however, that students looking to pursue careers outside of the arts will benefit just as much, if not more.
What the study of fine arts provides is practice in artistic behavior. Shea Mallett and I have had discussions about the TAB pedagogy which she uses in her classroom with younger students. She describes this as providing students with choice-based problem solving, which I have found directly relates to the creative problem solving I try to teach to students who choose to take visual arts courses in high school. What we both teach is the ability to see all possible courses of action, rather than only the most obvious one, whether this be within the context of a project or during more explorative art-making time.
It is important for students of any age to understand that though we teach them skills that we are experts in, our ways are not the only way of accomplishing the goal. Bob Ross had a completely different method to blending colors than Berthe Morisot. Does this make one less of an expert than the other? Can this idea expand to other fields?
The ability to conceptualize what the future will hold, critique the present, or renew the past all lie in the hands of the young artist. My job, or rather our jobs as teachers and parents, must then be to provide the skills and background for these young people to make the most informed and creative decisions. We must encourage them to find solutions that make more sense for them so that their work is representative of the world they see, rather than the world we see. I believe this is what separates education and indoctrination. 
This is not a new idea here at Selwyn. In my first year teaching I had the opportunity to watch teachers create lessons which risked the outcome for the sake of students finding creative methodologies of their own. Little did I know the community of artists I would be entering when I first started. Each student is not only provided with lessons in artistic behavior in required or elective art classes, but in their core classes as well. It is my hope that this common practice will result in adults who observe the world with an artist’s mind, seeing the potential for beauty and assurance in their skills to create something better.
It is so exciting to see the students who I have had since I started beginning to say things like, “I am going to try it this way instead.” This shows a growth in students’ confidence in their self-sufficiency. I believe it is this skill that will make our students strong competitors in the working world as well as more confident human beings. We must encourage creativity in our students. There is nothing like watching a child with an artistic mindset being diminished because he dared to show the world what he sees. To be discouraged in one’s right to create is a sure way to discourage the ability to facilitate change. To be joyful and confident in their ability to make something beautiful or of value will expand the breadth of the student’s potential.
I feel incredibly encouraged by what I have been able to share with my students, but I am much more grateful for how they have taught me to be a better teacher and artist as well. The dialogue we are able to have was not something I had available to me in high school, so I am glad we give our students this ability here at Selwyn. I look forward to continuing to perfect the way I teach artistic behavior and creative problem solving with my future students.
Artists are the change makers. Here at Selwyn, we encourage the artists.
-Morgan Swartz

If you or anyone you know have interest in our more advanced art programs, please visit to learn about our Fine Arts Academy’s visual art and music tracks.

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