THE BLOG
09/30/2014 05:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Da Vinci Initiative

The stone has been thrown. The splash is being made and as the repercussions arc across the surface of the representational revolution, they are intercepted as inspiration, as ideas, and The Da Vinci Initiative is capitalizing on them. Everybody has them, these ideas that surface from the student's questions, formed from their longing and quiet desperation to make something of the talents that they KNOW lay within!

"Can you teach me to draw better?", asks one girl.

"I like to create collages but, how do you make a drawing look real?" asks another child.

"I can render graphics better than you can draw," says another.

This necessary and ambitious project brings an incredibly talented group of artists and educators together to provide us with something that has been missing in our educational programs. In order to make skill based learning techniques more accessible to teachers The Da Vinci Initiative just launched a Kickstarter program which will help create a series of on line instructional courses that teachers can take for continuing education credits in their respective states.

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Mandy Hallenius is President of the Da Vinci Initiative. She is a certified K-12 teacher with 7+ years of classroom experience and she is a board member of the Washington Art Education Association. Chief Executive Officer Kara Lysandra Ross, well known for her work with the Art Renewal Center, is a regular columnist for the Epoch Times and is a contributing writer for Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.

She is also considered to be the world authority on Edmund Blair Leighton and is currently writing the catalogue raisonné on that artist. Juliette Aristides is the organizations Vice President and is the founding instructor of the Aristides Atelier at the Gage Academy of Fine Art in Seattle. She is the author of several books about classical painting techniques. She exhibits her paintings and also holds workshops both nationally and internationally. In addition there is a team of experienced artists and educators working with them who provide the tools necessary to develop an efficient system for teaching the visual language in our schools.

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Drawing by Katie Li, age 16

Teachers across the country, and the world for that matter are hungry for this information and as many who have seen the DVI presentations can attest to, teachers are brought to tears of gratitude for having this information shared with them. I have talked to artists and educators alike, in Europe as well as in the States, about the dilemma of not being able to meet the demands of their students. One educator told me, "If you can create a plan, show how representational art is made, what happens in the studio, then I promise you it will fill a great need."

The potential here for the proven benefits of teaching representational artistic techniques and by promoting skill based learning opportunities is vast. It is important because we need our visionaries, our educators, and our shamans, to be able to speak clearly in their natural language.

Like teaching rhythm, tempo, and scales in music class so that students have as many tools to express themselves through music, as possible, so too is there a need for a skill-based education in the visual arts. By learning solid draftsmanship, color theory, paint handling skills, and perspective, etc. students can expand their own toolbox for visual expression.

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The Da Vinci Initiative offers lessons plans to students K-12. Here students learn perspective from their own creation.

In some schools, grades in art are based on how well the students clean up their work space at the end of class. The Da Vinci Initiative sends ambassadors to the schools, offers presentations to teachers about skill-based learning methods and exposes them to lesson plans that will challenge their students in new ways. They can show you scientifically, how their programs enhance the visually oriented child's learning capabilities in other areas such as English, the sciences and mathematics. It helps provide them with a diagram for how to structure problems, and challenges of all kinds. As a brilliant professor and friend of mine, Dr. Lud Stromeyer, told me, "Art can be used to understand the world, it permeates all of the other disciplines if it is used right. Draw those rocks in geology, draw the pattern of evolution, paint the death of Socrates."

This is not about making things look old though. As Kara Ross points out, "Even though skill based work has been used for centuries we are approaching it from a 21st century perspective."

The Da Vinci Initiative has a mission for visual literacy in our contemporary world. With a focus on K-12 public and private schools, the goal of this project is to provide skill-based learning in art education in order to deepen the understanding of and applications of the visual language that surrounds us.

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They provide classroom resources in the form of free lesson plans, an outreach program where they send skill-based artists into public schools, and they offer weekend retreats and workshops to provide meaningful professional development as well. They also offer scholarship funds to teachers to attend courses that will teach them the advanced technical art skills they may not have had an opportunity to learn during their teacher training.

The DVI courses offer personal development certification to teachers and on their website you can find a list of states which teacher accreditation can be obtained. This list expands frequently. The Da Vinci Initiative is officially endorsed by the Washington Art Education Association. This year alone they are giving presentations at art education association conferences sponsored by the American Teacher Association in more than 12 states.

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The Da Vinci Initiative clarifies the importance of skill based learning for a generation of teachers who are spending their days with your children. When we ask what shall we do about the sad state of affairs, when we complain about the status quo, the decline of the educational system, we would do well to spend some time considering the solution that the Da Vinci Initiative is offering.

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Painting from an 18 year old student

When I spoke to Mandy Hallenius, and Kara Lysandra Ross in a recent interview, they told me about their Kickstarter program that they are launching to help raise funding for the non-profit organization as well as to help raise awareness. DVI is part of a 501C3, nonprofit, educational foundation and they rely on contributions to help them with their ambitious projects.

"The Da Vinci Initiative's aim is to enhance visual literacy for both teachers and students. This Kickstarter project is focused on creating online courses that teachers can take for continuing education credits in their respective states. These courses would give teaches advanced training in skill-based art education that is not included in normal public art education practices and include ideas on how to implement these skills into K-12 classrooms. The courses would use a studio based model that include critiques from highly trained professional artists who incorporate skill-based techniques in their work. Along with the online course we would develop K - 12 lesson plans that also incorporate the newly acquired skills.

The online courses would be provided at a subsidized rate and the lesson plans would be free to certified teachers, homeschooling parents, and the general public via our website. Da Vinci Initiative lesson plans meet National and Common Core Standards. By developing a series of cross-curricular lesson plans, The Da Vinci Initiative links together the visual arts with subjects such as Math, Science, and Literature. Each lesson encourages a child's creativity while asking them to analyze what they see and apply it in a variety of different exercises."

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Our cultural waters have already been stirred by the desire for representational art, for well-crafted paintings and sculptures that we can relate to, that lead us forward as individuals and as human beings. The waves sent out from the splash that Post Contemporary artists are making is lapping up against the shore and these mavericks of education whose vision comprise the mission of the Da Vinci Initiative are not afraid to get their feet wet.

For more information please have a look at their website and follow this link to learn about and offer support to their Kickstarter program! Remember to share it! We need more of this. www.davinciinitiative.org

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High School Aged Student, Portrait from Life, Courtesy of Gage Academy of Art