July 22, 2008 — For 15-year-old Corey Johnson, art is his life. He thinks about art all the time and declares, "Art is cool." Johnson plans to pursue a career that encompasses all of the arts, but for now he's happy to be exploring various arts media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, music and film.
Johnson is spending time this summer as he has for the past six — participating in the University of Virginia Art Museum's "Summer Arts @ the Museum" program. In 2001, his art teacher at Red Hill Elementary School first recommended the then-rising fourth-grader for the program, he has attended as a scholarship student each year since.
Johnson said that he has learned to view art differently over the years. In the beginning, it was learning about color and shapes in works of art; now "it's learning about different cultures and how and why they create art," he said.
"Summer Arts @ the Museum" is in its eighth year. The program, for rising fourth- to 12th-graders, provides the time and environment for young artists to explore and create art. Students, who gain admission by recommendation of art teachers, community leaders or mentors, learn to observe, explore and gain artistic skills through museum tours, presentations and studio concentration on techniques and materials.
Johnson, now a sophomore at Monticello High School, has developed his observational skills during many visits to the U.Va. Art Museum over the years, both with the program and on school trips. He now can "see the smallest brush stroke has meaning, or the significance of the part of a sculpture that was left un-sculpted," he said.
His experiences have influenced his thinking about art. "It gives you a better understanding how to create your own art," he said.
These days, Johnson focuses his efforts on developing his skills and finding ways to express his art. He appreciates Summer Arts for providing space to create and think about art within a community of artists.
This summer, he had the opportunity to enjoy the community of artists from the teaching perspective. For the first two sessions of the program, Johnson served as the "Sharper Focus Apprentice," selected for his leadership as well as his artistic ability to assist artists and staff in various aspects of the program. Johnson is the first Summer Arts participant to return to work as an apprentice.
"Corey is a valuable addition to the staff," said Aimee Hunt, manager of this year's program. "He is participating as another teaching assistant, which we had not anticipated for him. And it is very exciting."
Being an apprentice "has been a good experience," Johnson said. "I have learned about teaching art and putting a project together."
Johnson has assumed a leadership role and has garnered the students' respect. One afternoon, a small group of seventh- and eighth-graders who had completed the assigned project asked him to teach them to draw faces. To everyone's surprise and delight, including his own, Johnson had them captivated for about 30 minutes.
"I like helping people and to see the light suddenly click on in their heads and you know they get it," he said.
"The students feel really comfortable interacting with him because he has been in the program and is close to their age," Hunt said. During staff meeting he also provides "insight into the personalities of the kids and their motivations and provides good ideas about how to carry out activities," she added.
In the third session of Summer Arts, the Advanced Academy, Johnson returns as a student, his second year at this level of participation.
Johnson relishes the more sophisticated atmosphere of the Advanced Academy. "It brings out the real artist in you and lets you be free and make your own decisions," he said.
He's already looking forward to one project in the Advanced Academy. As part of the curriculum, advanced students will explore several painting techniques including fresco, egg tempera and encaustic — pigment mixed with wax.
"Using wax to paint — that's really cool," Johnson said.