Priceless pieces: MMOCA exhibits works by young artists

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

The colors are bright and the outlines indistinct — or sometimes too distinct.

The subject matter is usually familiar, but the treatment inevitably fanciful. Fluidity and expression abound.

The media range from paper and colored pencil to paint and canvas, from photography to metal to ceramics. One piece is constructed partially out of candy.

Welcome to Young at Art, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s biennial exhibition of children’s art. A long-standing collaboration between MMOCA and the Madison Metropolitan School District, the exhibition showcases the work of young student artists.

The styles, content and execution of the pieces — 168 works by about 200 student artists — are as wide-ranging as they are evocative, says Sheri Castelnuovo, MMOCA curator of education.

The exhibition helps budding artists and school art programs, some of which struggle for recognition and support, Castelnuovo explains.

“Visual arts are a core part of human language,” says Castelnuovo. “We process the world visually and it’s important for all of us — and especially children — to have access to trained art educators who can teach this.”

Castelnuovo cites the 20,000-year-old cave paintings of Lascaux in southwestern France as evidence of imagery’s long-standing importance to humanity. The communication and thinking skills that art fosters are even more critical today, she adds.

“Creating art helps foster problem-solving skills, adds perspective, builds discipline and improves hand-eye motor skills. It aids conceptual skills to conceive an idea, see it through and reach an end goal,” Castelnuovo explains. “To take a risk and see how accidents might, in fact, be the best solution comes into it as well. Art does this in a way that no other discipline does.”

MMOCA’s commitment to youth

Despite its value, art is often considered a “soft skill” that comes under scrutiny when school boards eye budget cuts. And threats by Republicans have again put National Endowment for the Arts funding in the budgetary crosshairs.

“Both Madison and Wisconsin as a whole are fortunate in that state laws require art to be taught by trained art educators,” Castelnuovo says. “Some states have no art education mandates. We’re lucky to have an excellent program and this really shows up in the exhibition.”

Art teachers from MMSD schools were invited to submit up to three pieces per school for the exhibition, all of which were put on display.

“We’ve had a commitment to this exhibit for more than 40 years,” Castelnuovo says. “It’s written into MMOCA’s mission statement and always occurs during March, which is Youth Art Month.”

The art is grouped by context and subject matter, rather than age, so viewers can examine how expression of various subjects progresses as the artists mature.

“We always try to group the artwork by themes so that you compare the work of, say, an 8-year-old to that of a high school senior,” Castlenuovo says.

Much of the art is work by individual students, but some art is the result of collaborative efforts. The fourth-graders at Crestwood Elementary School on Madison’s west side worked to produce a video of the Icarus and Daedalus legend from Greek mythology.

“Art teaches us to be savvy visual consumers,” Castelnuovo says. “Good visual language skills are critical to being able to process all the images coming at us each and every day.”

On exhibit

Young at Art continues through April 24 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison. The exhibit is free and open to the public. mmoca.org

At the museum

On April 2, 1–2:30 p.m., 30 children ages 6–10 can view MMOCA’s Young at Art exhibit and then create their own animal sculptures under the Kids’ Art Adventures program. The museum also offers an ArtZone to promote children’s art activities on-site and Art Cart and Art Cart EXTRA, which are free programs bringing art instruction to parks, playgrounds and beaches in the summer.