More than a century after the rise of the French impressionists, local residents will be getting a crash course on the legacy of this movement, and its relevance to the present day, in an upcoming art exhibit in Danville.
The Village Theatre and Art Gallery is set to host "Impressions of Light", an exhibit aimed at showcasing the work of young artists who have been learning about the history and techniques of impressionism in San Ramon Valley middle schools.
The exhibit will feature works from students at Charlotte Wood, Diablo Vista, Iron Horse, Los Cerros, Pine Valley, Stone Valley and Windemere Ranch. Charlotte Wood teacher Gary Leveque and Pine Valley teacher Tricia Grame, both prolific artists themselves, are curating and organizing the exhibit.
"Initially the art community didn't know what to do with them," Leveque said, of the early French impressionists. "Nobody had ever seen anything like this, and you try to bring across the concept to students."
This is one of the many things that might resonate with middle school art students, who have been preparing works for the exhibit under Leveque's watch. While early adolescence can be a lonely and alienating period in the best of times, the pandemic -- and the way in which kids might sense that nobody knows what to do with them in recent times -- have made arts education all the more important, according to Leveque.
"If there was ever a time for art and expression, for hearing students' voices … They are struggling in so many different ways, but in art they can not only succeed, they can feel empowered," Leveque said.
Leveque emphasized the way in which impressionism uses light, and the way in which impressionist artists are known for tracking the movement and play of light as time passed throughout the day, as particularly important for students in the present moment, learning to express themselves as time marches forward.
Grame agreed that learning to view light through the eyes of impressionist artists was a critical experience for students.
"They're going to look at the subject differently," Grame said. "I tell them when you learn the value of how to capture light and shading, you'll never look at anything the same again … someone's face, the way the highlights hit, it changes your visceral experience, your vision, and everything starts to dance. You get 3-D, you get color, you get movement."
An additional piece of teaching students to put themselves in the shoes of influential artists, according to both Grame and Leveque, is insisting that they learn the biographies and histories of these artists, and how their perspectives influenced their work.
"Every artist's work is almost autobiographical; it's the time, the history, it's what they needed to say," Grame said.
For young artists in her class, Grame said that nature is an overarching focus of what they need to say at this point in time and history, as well as the development of their own voices.
"I think they're feeling the beauty of nature," Grame said."I think they realize they don't need to paint something just because somebody is going to think it's the most important image."
Grame and Leveque both emphasized that their work in education goes both ways: they learn from and are inspired by the young artists in their classroom, in the same way they are by canonized artists throughout history.
"I don't think it can be emphasized enough that teachers who are open to learning -- that's the best kind of teaching," Leveque said.
Both teachers are working artists who have collaborated on exhibits in the past, and see their work as core to the message they want to send to students. In addition, both recognize how valuable having an audience, and public input, can be for artists.
"To see the power of their artwork and how people react to it -- this puts them in the public eye, then it opens us up to what it is to continue to work with art, what is it to self-assess, how do you take the public's opinion … you have that broad range of reception," Leveque said.
In addition, the two hope that the exhibit will help bring awareness to the value of arts in local schools, something that can be overlooked by students and parents who are focused solely on academic achievement.
"We know that if you don't put it out there for the public, they're not going to care about the arts," Grame said.
This makes empowering young artists all the more important, as well as satisfying, according to Leveque, in ways that might not be the same for teachers of all subjects.
"My students feel like they can make a difference in this world through their art, and what's better than that," Leveque said.
"Impressions of Light" will run from Nov. 6 through Dec. 17 at the Village Theatre in Danville, with an opening reception on Nov. 6 from 4-6 p.m. Refreshments will be served on the theater patio, although no food or drink is allowed inside, and masks are required. More information is available here.