For thousands of years, humans have relied on dance and art to tell stories, celebrate momentous occasions, and connect to one another. Like our earliest ancestors, we continue to use these art forms to express abstract ideas, share information, reflect on our identity, and cope with life’s mysteries.
Art and dance share an aesthetic language. Terms like shape, line, pattern, space, rhythm, and composition are equally descriptive in both disciplines. There is a synergy between these methods of creative expression and elementary school students at Florida State University School recently learned how art can serve as inspiration for movement and vice versa.
Opening on October 13, the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts (MoFA) presents its new exhibition titled “Bell & Belman.” The show will feature Trevor Bell’s multi-panel, 125-foot painting “Southern Light,” accompanied by choreographic work and performance by Rodger Belman and his associates from the FSU School of Dance.
Born and educated in England, Bell arrived in Tallahassee in 1976 to teach painting as a professor at FSU. His abstract expressionist works are included in MoFA’s permanent collection, though his large-scale pieces and monumental series are rarely exhibited in their entirety. The co-subject of this exhibition, Belman is a professor of dance at FSU and a post-modern choreographer. He often references the work of visual artist and encourages his students to do the same.
Believing that the exhibition offered “a fertile, rich ground for kids to see the connections between one art discipline and another,” Viki Thompson Wylder and her student interns developed a unique educational outreach opportunity. As MoFA’s curator of education emerita, Wylder teamed up with Lynda Davis, professor emerita of the FSU Department of Dance, to help elementary and middle school students throughout our community better understand both abstract art and creative movement.
“It’s very difficult for a child who is on a totally other developmental stage to look at an artwork and think about abstraction and have it mean anything,” explained Wylder. “This was an opportunity for them to see some reason for abstraction that they wouldn’t get in some other way. I felt like they had to understand it physically.”
Students gathered in the FSUS cafeteria and listened intently to details of the lives of both Bell and Belman. They saw examples of Bell’s paintings and watched footage of Belman dancing in front of the artwork. Students were encouraged to use their hands to trace in space the lines and shapes incorporated in the paintings, they then stood and used their bodies to replicate the imagery with three-dimensional movements.
Davis frequently takes her college-level dance students to MoFA and encourages them to engage in similar activities. She shared that the museum has “offered me so many important and unique teaching opportunities. Being able to use an exhibition and the gallery space as a studio is invaluable to the dancer’s and choreographer’s understanding of the range of the artistic process. Gallery and site-specific exhibitions provide learning, practicing, and understanding opportunities that are live, inspiring, and memorable.”
Third-grader Carson Broome was certainly inspired. He said “I liked when we got to interpret our shapes and movements that we did. I had to use my imagination. I looked at the paintings and I saw what I thought the movements would look like. This teaches us how to move and be free.”
Fifth-grader Keegan Flury learned “that you can use art to make movements and movements to make art.” She enjoys dancing because “you can just let your emotions take over and with art, you can show your emotions while painting or coloring. Using movements and art, you can tell a story and you become more confident.”
The final component of the activity challenged the students to create a visual representation of their movements in an open-ended art-making session.
Wylder and Davis agree that students of all ages can benefit from experiencing movement and artwork in this way. “It could be triggering a concept, looking at something in a way they’ve never looked at it before,” said Wylder. “I feel like that is an important skill for all kids and it’s really necessary in our world. It’s good for all sorts of problem-solving and it gives them creative permission to think of new things.”
Taking that concept one step further, Davis explained that the experience of creative movement provides an essential lens for learning. It begs the questions: “Where do ideas come from? What can we do with an idea? How do we create a response that is clear? What does this suggest as another possibility? It amplifies ideas and concepts in ways that deepen the learning experience. Though an abstract concept may have built-in teaching difficulties, through physical and visual explorations we find that sometimes the path to understanding is more possible.”
The opening public reception for the “Bell and Belman” exhibition will be held on October 13th from 6-8 p.m. at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts and the show will be on view through Nov. 19. On Oct. 24 from 6-7:30 p.m., the museum will offer a special public reception with art and movement activities for children as well as photographs of the student-created artwork responses to Bell’s paintings. Attendees are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes for a bit of extra fun.
Amanda Karioth Thompson is the Assistant Director for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture.