In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

DY: We have been working together on the Center's High School Arts Education Program. You have been an art educator for the last three decades; what do you think is the place of art education in elementary, middle and high schools?

RH: I think that arts education is imperative. And there are things that a student learns and is exposed to through arts education that is just not possible in the regular academic curriculum. I think that arts education needs to be a part of your schooling from pre-school through the rest of your life. One of the most exciting things about arts education, if it's done comprehensively or approached comprehensively, is that it's interdisciplinary. So when you're learning to build skills and to use techniques, they're based on certain materials, you're automatically learning about chemistry and physics, because you're learning the properties and the characteristics of the materials. You're learning about color, the science of color optics; you're learning about the chemistry of mixing colors and about certain techniques that depend on the fact that oil and water don't mix. Another thing that you're learning is that when you're creating the imagery, the imagery has to be connected thematically with something, and that can be literature, sociology, history, anthropology, or engineering; it can be a design project. So it's very easy to develop a lesson or to develop a design project about art making in which the student has to do some cross-referencing research. So let's say, for example, that the assignment is for the student to design a sneaker that they think is the most aesthetically pleasing sneaker; it also has to be functional, so the student has to research what is the function of a sneaker, what kind of materials would you use, why do you use rubber, how does that support your foot. In doing something that seems like it's only about colors and shapes, it's also a functional thing that leads to understanding the parts of the human skeleton and how the foot works.

DY: Some of the high school students we met in this program are thinking about having a career in the arts. You said something, which I think is very important, about the commitment of the artist, and how much hard work and discipline is required in order to be an artist. What would be your advice to someone in high school who wishes to become a practicing artist?

RH: They really have to learn about the different realms that they can go in. They can go into illustration, animation; they can become a conceptual artist; they can be sculptors; they can do graphic layouts, medical illustrations or design work for almost any industry; they can go into any industry that relies heavily on advertising or marketing; and they can go into filmmaking or photography. So I don't even think that they have much of an understanding of how many different areas that they can use the art. My first advice to them would be to know that they're excited and intrigued by, as well as enjoy dealing with, visual images. The next step would be to explore and research and find out where in society, which industries, that happens. They should try to figure out what interests them, and then figure out what is it that they have to develop in order to have the sensibilities and the skills to do that. Since they are just beginning, they should be exposed to those options now; why wait for four years until it's time to think about college? They will never have as much energy as they have now, they will never has as much time as they have now. They have the opportunity to take advantage of it.

DY: During the years that you've been teaching, what is for you the most important aspect of teaching art?

RH: Anybody can learn how to make art; anybody can, unless you have some kind of physical disability relating to the materials. I'm not really interested in teaching how to make objects. Most people can create in an aesthetically pleasing way, an object or something. But to me, what's real is the creative process, not just confined to art-making. So what I'm hoping to do, what I'm trying to do, is to encourage my students to think creatively, to be reflective citizens. That's what's important to me; we just happen to be making art. I don't really go beyond showing the students the properties of certain art materials. But they have to figure it out by responding to and considering a series of questions.

For example, I had my students taking photographs of other students and then doing a drawing about it. I tell them be cognitive and conscious of the fact that there's a reason that they're drawing that angle that way, that there's another person in the human experience that will look at the perspective and relate to it. Most students think it's a game, but I say to them that they're not going to understand anything until they start asking questions about it. Until they engage in it, they'll never understand it. That's what the creative process is, it's responding to a series of questions, a series of possibilities.

DY: I think that understanding your view on the creative process is a good point to conclude our conversation. Thank you, Robin, for taking the time to have this conversation with me and provide insights to your life as an artist and an art educator. I am sure that, like me, readers of this interview will have a better understanding and appreciation of your art.