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Tis’ the Season to be Unique

Around the holiday season classrooms and homes are riddled with festive construction paper décor, the occasional pompom attached, all projects looking essentially the same. On Halloween a perfectly round jack-o-lantern with triangle eyes or black bat, a hand turkey for Thanksgiving, a red or green ornament meant for a tree, or a perfectly piled white snowman for winter. It is tempting for parents and instructors alike to utilize follow the instructor, “cookie-cutter” craft projects” (Cheryl Trowbridge, Teach Kids Art) with children.

Programs that conduct these step by step projects, do not fully develop the creative and artistic ability of the student and while the finished work may be wonderful home décor, these lessons are actually creativity and individuality killers. Several successful art schools thrive on individuality killers, touting success based on the finished product. However, we believe that a strong educational program, particularly an art program, is one that helps each student to fully express their unique selves.

Our goal is to celebrate the joy of individuality at the same time as we celebrate the holidays. Because as Avraham Aderet, a scholar, said,

“Each person has a unique value that does not stem from socio-economic standing or talents and abilities; rather, from being a human being that bears from birth a divine spark that is unique, a spark which was thrust upon on by the authority of the rule of consequence, and which one is responsible for EXPRESSING and actualizing in one’s short life.”

There is no better way for a person to express their “divine spark” than through one of a kind art.  And perhaps, the holidays, a time typically spent with loved ones, is the best time to celebrate the uniqueness of each person and how they contribute to each of our lives.

If you are looking for a quality art education program join us at the Washington Cathay Future Center for visual arts classes that enhance artistic skill and creativity and adapt the lessons to meet the needs of the individual.

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Go Where Imagination Takes You

Prior to instructing art at the Washington Cathay Future Center (WCFC) and in Public Schools, I was the unlikely painting companion to a 91-year-old woman named Charlotte.  Most Saturdays, for over a year, Charlotte and I sat side by side and created works of art. We not only painted together, but we also discussed techniques and critiqued each other’s works. Her critiques were sometimes harsher than mine, but I guess you can be a bit unfiltered when you are in your 90s!

The time I spent with Charlotte generated some of the most uninhibited and meaningful art-making of my life that has brought me to a dedication to visual art education at the WCFC.

“The discourse transformed the art.”

We’d talk about her trip she took to Mexico when she was in her early 20s, a story she often forgets that she already told me twenty times, and suddenly she selects brighter paint colors and her brush strokes become a bit more active. I learned that art making can be a lot more fruitful in a social setting where artists can discuss and look at each others ideas.

But I haven’t always felt this level of creative freedom and connection to my artwork.  In college, I felt stifled by my professors’ limited definition of what it means to create art in the 21st century.  I felt like they expected all works to be abstract and scoffed at anything representational that involved traditional subject matter – still lives, landscapes, and portraiture. As a result, I created works that I neither understood nor valued.  During critiques, I disagreed with my peers’ interpretations of my work, but couldn’t offer a more accurate interpretation. Painting and interpreting my art felt more like a cumbersome task only to be attempted with a guiding hand. This was definitely a class style I hope to avoid.

One evening I went to a celebration connected to the camp I attended since I was young. The celebration happened to be at the house of Charlotte’s daughter, Sandy.  Sandy expressed her concern that her mother, once a prolific artist, now a victim of depression and dementia, had not painted in a decade. Sandy suggested having a visit with Charlotte to see if Charlotte was interested in working with me. I met with Charlotte the next week over lunch and we have been connected creatively and emotionally ever since.  On the weekends I painted the still lives, figures, and landscapes I love with her, which has helped me return to a similar subject matter in my own artwork and to inspire students to select the subject matter that is right for them.

When I started working with Charlotte, I thought my art would evolve to have a specific style.  But watching Charlotte create her art now, and comparing what she has done in past weeks, to 30 years ago when she was in her 60s, and even before that, has taught me that making art is a constantly evolving process, with no specific end point. Just like my students, I have to keep taking art lessons and working on my craft.

“I have to just go where my imagination takes me and help my students to do the same.”

Melissa Eisen is a programs manager at the Washington Cathay Future Center in Rockville, MD. In her spare time she continues to create her own personal art work that can be found at

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What If: Envisioning a World Without Art

One chilly winter afternoon, I decided to get hot chocolate from the Starbucks drive-through.  When I pulled up to the window, a friendly barista confirmed my order, verified the price with me, and asked me a standard friendly question about how my day was going.

I answered, “My day is great; I think it’s going to snow.”

The man looked out the window at the sky and asked how I knew something was coming. At first, I was a bit confused by the question as it seemed obvious to me that it was going to snow. I pointed to the trees near the edge of the parking lot and described how they seemed so still. I looked toward the sky and identified the misty grey color that seems to always appear before a snowstorm, and I took a deep breath in and mentioned that the air seems wet and cooler than usual.

The barista then asked if I knew a lot about weather. I said “No, but I do know a lot about art.”

What seemed to be small talk had more complex implications. Though I am by no means a meteorologist, I used the skills I learned from my arts education to observe the environment around me and used descriptive vocabulary to explain my hypothesis regarding the weather.

“I began to wonder what my life would be like without the numerous ways art enhanced every part of my day.”

What if I didn’t notice all the world’s unique colors and shapes? What if I didn’t have the words to describe a sunset or the look on a child’s face when he learns something new?

Perhaps the barista didn’t see the signs because he didn’t have the observational skills of an artist, or the ability to make connections between his surroundings and the state of the world. Maybe he didn’t have the language arts training that would help him find the vocabulary to describe what was going on around him. This is a clear display of how the arts and the sciences are intrinsically linked.

The arts help children in many other areas of study, and broaden their horizons in life in general. Supplement your child’s education with visual, language, and performing arts at Washington Cathay Future Center this school year.