Art teacher Asta Kiršienė: “Art is everywhere, you just need to notice it”Erudito2023-11-24T16:23:14+03:00
Art teacher Asta Kiršienė jokingly says that she remembers students by their drawings. Not because she forgets their names—drawings help recognize their emotions, mood, which is an invaluable tool in the educational process. As an educator with a pedagogical background in art, she herself discovered the therapeutic effect of art—she began to paint, conduct educational sessions, creative workshops, and teaches that art plays a very important role in our everyday lives for everyone.
Helps to relax and calm down
Asta, what is art to you and how do you talk about it with students?
First of all, what do we consider art? Most often, children identify art with painting, although painting is just one form of art; art encompasses many areas (music, dance, choreography). I tell students that art begins from the very morning: if you stepped into someone’s created slippers, that’s already an artwork. Walking down the street and looking at a building – someone also created its architecture. All things are a collective creation, usually having some connection to the branch of art. Most importantly, I want respect to arise for this visual form of art. In my classes, I aim for children to experience the joy of discovery and capture emotions when looking at artworks.
We explain the concept of art through works, assignments, creations. With older students, we have to search for more interesting topics, viewpoints, try to spark a discussion, philosophize. We like to talk about artists, their paintings, discuss why not everyone could be Kandinsky or paint Pollock’s “drip” (that’s a quote from the kids). They like to say, “I could do that too”. I respond that they could, of course, but I ask why they don’t do it (laughs). For instance, a Pollock painting is not just a surface splattered with paint. In a flat painting, the eye has nothing to latch onto, so there must be a striking accent that helps a person “enter” the artwork and allows them to exit. A finished painting must have depth, breadth, it must have light and shadow. I tell students that to create something, you need to learn a lot. Because to break the rules, you must first master them very well. And art has a lot of rules—colorfulness, compositions, and many others.
Art indeed has a therapeutic effect, especially visual arts. You yourself are an art therapy specialist. Through a drawing, a child can express their emotions, depict sadness, anxiety, fear… What is the connection between art and emotions? How does this branch of art help develop emotional intelligence?
Art truly aids in understanding and self-regulating emotions. Sometimes, children find it difficult to talk about their emotions, and art is precisely the space where they can express and release their emotions. Preschool-age children, in particular, are receptive and easily express emotions through drawing.
We talk a lot with children about colors and their therapeutic effects: what each color signifies, what mood it creates, which colors represent a cheerful day versus a somber one? Colors not only affect our emotions but can also raise or lower body temperature. In older classes, we discuss interiors, touching upon paint colors there too; for instance, we explain why ceilings are painted white. If the ceilings were black and the floors white, we’d probably feel a sense of weightlessness.
It seems that your lessons resemble therapy sessions: when we were filming the video footage of the Vilnius premises, students were focused on their work, some were listening to music with headphones, and you were gliding between desks like a fairy on tiptoes… What do you think motivates children to attend art classes?
(Jokingly.) You’ve hit upon the class dedicated to Music Day when kids were drawing music, so you saw so many of them with headphones. Sometimes, during art lessons, I notice that active, expressive, constantly moving children calm down and slow down. At the beginning of September, right when the school year starts, I like to ask why they need art. Almost everyone answers that it helps them relax. I usually recognize and remember the kids through their drawings rather than their names or surnames (laughs).
You can describe each child’s character based on their drawing.
I see that modern children are already very accustomed to rushing. In art class, I teach them not to hurry, to slow down, to calm down—this also affects their emotional state. Art is especially beneficial for children who attend sports activities. Engaging in artistic activities doesn’t require chatter—it teaches focus inward, listening to their inner thoughts, delving into their emotions. When you talk a lot, you don’t think much.
The teacher comes to school to show the way. It so happened that I would come to work at schools where students didn’t have a proper art teacher—this I can tell from their works: they might not be familiar with techniques, tools, unable to mix colors, feeling disappointed, demotivated. So, I start from the very basics. My main goal is for students to love art. But to love it, you need to get acquainted with it. It’s important to me that they understand the tools, know how to choose them purposefully, know how to mix colors—mixed colors are deeper, set the mood, help express oneself. I never force anyone to be an artist (laughs). I just teach that it’s important not to stand still and to keep improving.
Became a teacher right away
How did your journey lead you to “Erudito” licėjus?
My path to “Erudito” licėjus started from my lifelong passion for drawing, practically since childhood. I had a dream of becoming an art teacher when I was around ten years old; I even planned to attend every possible art school (laughs). After completing an art school, I aimed to study graphic design at Vilnius Art Academy, but ended up pursuing studies at Šiauliai Art Faculty.
Despite the general belief that, after finishing pedagogical studies, we wouldn’t choose teaching as a career but rather pursue artistry, I immediately started seeking a teaching position after graduation. I came to Vilnius, a city I’ve always dreamed of living in, applied to the education department, and secured a job quickly.
Following a year of maternity leave, during which I worked on illustrating books, I received an invitation to join a music and art studio. I spent fifteen years there, teaching students ranging from one-year-olds to adults, including those with disabilities. Subsequently, I continued my career as an art teacher in high schools and an engineering lyceum, and now I’ve been at “Erudito” licėjus for two years.
You yourself are an artist: On Teacher’s Day, at “Erudito” licėjus, you organized an exhibition of your original oil paintings titled “Gaze”. You invited viewers to look through your gaze at reflections of reality depicted in paintings with brushstrokes, shadows, spots, color conflicts, and harmony. I heard that some pieces were purchased by your colleagues…
For the exhibition, I prepared ten artworks that I had created at the “Colors of Laughter” studio. Since I missed painting a lot, the exhibition came about quite quickly. Indeed, two pieces have already found their new homes. I don’t call myself an artist; I simply do what I like. My artworks reflect me and my character.
As for the time I dedicate to my hobby – whenever I have free time. Truthfully, I haven’t been painting for that long. There wasn’t much time before; it seemed like I had to raise children, work… A few years ago, silk painting came into my life. I decided that more time wouldn’t magically appear; I needed to just start doing it. At home, I was both cooking soup and painting silk at the same time (laughs). Now, I systematically allocate time for painting. I’ve become engrossed in silk scarves, dresses – there’s no shortage of activity, but it’s important to improve systematically.
Is it true that describing something as “beautiful” isn’t a criterion for evaluating an artwork, that it’s more about what you feel, how the artwork touches you? How do you evaluate art?
I say that there’s no simply “beautiful” or “ugly”, but rather “finished” or “unfinished”. Completeness creates a sense of harmony and beauty. In my classes, I try to teach children to finish their work. Upon completing a piece, they see their own progress and show that they respect their work. When a child puts in more effort, they usually don’t want to discard their work. Recently, we held an exhibition of children’s artwork at “Erudito” Lyceum: we learned which works are suitable for an exhibition and why.
The attitude towards art is also influenced by the family. What role does art play in the educational process?
Children inherit their attitude toward art from their families: if parents don’t appreciate art, it may seem unimportant to the child. Art nurtures many skills. Engaging with art helps individuals observe their surroundings better, notice colors, and perceive things they might have overlooked before – it makes them more attentive. Art encourages observing the environment, nurtures patience, meticulousness, and spatial perception. It’s a vital part of cultural education, aiding in understanding spatial relationships and composition. For instance, it helps understand how to hang paintings at home or display objects without overshadowing or being overshadowed by others.
Do you think the talent for drawing and painting is innate or can it be learned?
I believe it all depends on education. There’s a saying that talent constitutes only 1% of abilities, while the remaining 99% is hard work. I believe in the truth of this saying, and I’m sure that art, like anything else, can be learned. Art also has its own rules. What truly might be innate is the sense. If we have an innate sense, it can greatly assist, but if we don’t work on and improve those abilities, innate potential won’t help. Talent is developed. Therefore, education is crucial, especially holistic education. It’s important to explore various fields – art, music, dance, sports – the more activities children try at an early age, the easier it is to nurture their inclinations in the future. Later on, it will be much easier for children themselves to choose what they’re good at.
Is there an ideal age for art?
It’s currently popular to start a child’s education from birth, and sometimes even before birth, mothers are already attending various classes, essentially “educating” their children. Artistic education starts with auditory education – through music. This is because sound is sensed first. Speaking about art and music in early ages, children are more inclined toward music at a very young age; however, their maturity in art comes later. Art requires concentration and focus. Two or three-year-old children can already be taught to mix colors, work with paints, hold a brush – it’s fun for them, and they relax. Wax crayons work well too, improving fine motor skills. If a child says they don’t like something, it might just not be the right time for it.
And it’s never too late to learn art in older age – it’s important that the child wants to do it themselves.
During the recent “Teacher’s Passport” conference on the importance and specifics of artistic education in early ages, education specialists discussed the integration of artistic education into the educational process. One of the tools is inclusive and integrated education, contextual lessons in museums, and other spaces. What do you think about this? Do you often visit museums with children?
We love going to museums with children. Especially convenient and our favorite is the MO museum in the city center. I’ve been leading art education for many years, and I can definitely confirm the influence of art on the learning process. An artistic environment nurtures, educates, and inevitably leaves an impact and broadens perspectives, even inspiring some children to start creating. It’s worth taking children to museums – they learn a lot there. Similarly, even the journey to the museum – they interact a lot amongst themselves, learn to see others beside themselves. This also helps develop emotional intelligence.
Thank you, Asta, for the interview!
By the way, as the holidays approach, Asta invites everyone to lighten their mood with creative Advent wreath weaving and Kimekomi Christmas tree toyworkshops at “Erudito” licėjus in the art classroom. Those interested are invited to register via email at email@example.com.