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Child Mind Institute Hosts Student Artists

By Sybil Maimin

The larger-than-life self-portraits currently hanging in the gallery spaces of New York's Child Mind Institute are arresting in their intensity and straightforwardness. Created by teen-age students at the Dalton School, the pastel portraits are products of young minds open to new ways of seeing and doing. Under the guidance of art teacher Lotus Do, students in Beginning Drawing classes began the project by sketching small everyday objects and learning how to make the objects "pop" out of the page, or contrast with their backgrounds. They moved from charcoal to pastels as they took on the assignment of portraying themselves. Do explains, "The idea is for students to suspend self-critical thinking and think more objectively about drawing."

The young artists studied facial proportions, shapes, composition, light, and color tones. They learned the basics of shading and perspective. To capture their likenesses, they looked in mirrors.

Max, a student, explains, "You look at yourself and analyze your face. . . The biggest struggle is having a feel, feeling the lines rather than overly thinking about them. You have to distance yourself from the idea of a self-portrait and get away from preconceived notions." 

Ben, another student, who sees himself as a "novice artist," says the challenge was, "You see your face every day and have a clear picture of what it should look like. . . "On paper it looked different--my nose was too big, my hair unruly. . . It was hard to look at." He concluded, "You mustn't be self-critical. Art is a mental game." The resulting observational portraits are wonderfully expressive, subtly mysterious, colorful, sober, and skillfully executed.

Do applauds the students for allowing their portraits to be hung on public walls.  "Kids are worried about what people think of them," she notes.  "These students are very brave." The show, "Pastel Self-Portraits: Works by High School Students from The Dalton School," is part of the Child Mind Institute's Student Art Project and the inaugural exhibit funded by the Doris Sirow Memorial Art Fund. As noted by  co-founder and president Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the Child Mind Institute, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to children's mental health care, has always exhibited student art in its gallery. He explains, "When families come to see us, they are struggling. Creating a warm and inviting environment is essential." In addition,  "I love having the opportunity to offer local school kids a place to display their work."  Linda Sirow, daughter of the late Doris Sirow and an art teacher at Dalton, explains the Memorial Art Fund will honor her mother by ensuring the exhibition program continues. Public and independent schools in the New York Metropolitan area are invited to submit proposals for a gallery exhibition at the Child Mind Institute to curator Angela Gage at 212-308-3118, or angela.gage@childmind.org

Sybil Maimin, a senior reporter for Education Update, is an artist as well as an alumna of Columbia graduate school.

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