If you think the creation of art is a free-for-all approach — seemingly random splatterings of paint or a jumbled-looking mix of lines on a canvas — you should talk to Maggie Harlow-Vogt.
The Norwalk High School art teacher will passionately explain that there is, indeed, a process.
“Art is not just full-on expression,” says Harlow-Vogt, a teacher for about 18 years. “Art needs to have content; it needs to have meaning; it needs to have purpose.”
It is that thought and intent, along with being unafraid of taking risks and failure, that Harlow-Vogt tries to impart on her students.
“I try to push the kids out of ‘safe,’ and they don’t like it. They hate it,” says Harlow-Vogt, who teaches mostly three-dimensional classes and Advanced Placement Studio, a directed independent study course where students can earn college credit.
Without risk-taking, making mistakes and learning from them, and failure, she says, there cannot be growth.
“Failure is absolutely OK and necessary,” says Harlow-Vogt. That idea is one of the main things she wants students to get out of her class.
She also wants students to be able to identify quality work and understand what went into a piece. While some may not go on to be artists, those skills will be helpful when purchasing art for their home or looking at pieces at the Des Moines Arts Festival with a more discerning eye.
“One of my greater goals is that any student who leaves here has a greater appreciation of art or can have a knowledgeable conversation about art,” she says.
Art is much more involved and multidimensional than some students expect. Harlow-Vogt’s classes involve a lot of talking and explanation before doing, which surprises many of her students, she says.
For example, before students even touch the clay in her pottery class, she discusses things such as the types of tools they’ll be using, and the properties and chemistry of clay. Students also go through a planning process for their piece.
It’s all part of art, which is “the critical application of knowledge in a very physical way,” Harlow-Vogt explains. “They have to create something, showing me they understand the concepts, but it also has to be a new product and they have to be able to explain it.”