“Young at Art” is an assortment of artwork at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The artists range from kindergarten students to high school seniors. To some, it might sound like a grandiose version of a school art show.
In some sense, it is.
The walls of State Street’s main art gallery, the MMoCA, are currently lined with crayon drawings, questionable shading and sometimes unrecognizable shapes. The song to the video montage “We are the Children,” made by the students at the Shorewood Hills Elementary School, can be heard in the background, sung by the young artists themselves. In the recording, they seem to all take their own creative license on both the melody and rhythm of the song, as any elementary school student would.
But to leave consideration for “Young at Art” there would be to sell it short. The pieces featured in the exhibit were made by students around the Madison Metropolitan School District.
While there might be works with mediums such as construction paper and copious amounts of white glue, there are also some pieces that are very well-crafted, and worth a second look. In addition to the drawings, there are also pieces made out of clay and even various metals.
There are undoubtedly standout pieces in the gallery, made by older students. The photograph “Across the Prairie,” by 11th-grader Conor Ryan, for example, exhibits a solid understanding of photography composition. One would not be surprised to find the photo hanging in Espresso Royale for sale. There is also “The Chubby Mermaid” by 11th-grader Jenna Youngwood. The drawing shows a distinct style that stands out among the works of other students.
Madison is a city of many small art galleries by artists that are often famous. Artists from across the country and sometimes the world come to leave their creative mark. But despite the presence of accomplished professionals in the local art scene, and the proximity of so many other exhibits on campus, “Young at Art” is still worth a stop on a walk down State Street.
Works by the likes of Ryan and Youngwood are impressive, and there other pieces of a similar caliber in the gallery. And that is not even the primary reason “Young at Art” is worth visiting.
“Calla Lilies” by fifth grader Kelly Wu is an example of what makes the exhibit worth seeing. Even before middle school there are some art students, Wu being one such example, who produce works that would be hung not just on their parents’ refrigerator but might actually be framed on their parents’ wall. They might also garner some second looks from people walking by. And Wu is not alone.
Some of the works of art made by elementary and middle school students are just as impressive as some of the work by older students. They might not merit as much deep inspection or extended analysis, but those students are the same ones who will be producing more polished pieces in the coming years. And their skill, given their age, is more than admirable.
This is the true draw of “Young at Art”. Any art critic could surely find technical fault in every single piece presented, but that would miss the point of the gallery. To see the evolution of the various students from elementary school to high school is interesting, and the opportunity seldom presents itself. Any University of Wisconsin student could probably personally recall their own experiences in art classes and would find the entire experience even more gratifying.
It would be unfair to call the exhibit another art show for students, because it takes the aggregate of the entire K-12 experience and puts it in a single location. Almost anybody past their high school years can look at the pieces with a certain hint of nostalgia. “Young at Art” provides the opportunity to look back to the days of crayon eating and finger painting, and the creative development that happens along the way.
“Young at Art” is running now through May 15, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art on State Street, next to the Overture Center for the Arts. To learn more, check out MMoCA’s website.