Teacher gives students perspective beyond the canvas

Cindy Lott Neely works with student Bella Vick on a pen and ink drawing.
Staff Writer

The idea is so simple.

And yet, most people don't even think about it, much less fully understand it. And it literally can change the way everything is viewed.

Art is everywhere and in some way, everyone is an artist.

"I tell my students they are artists when they get dressed in the morning. They are picking and choosing how they look, how they feel, what message they are sending to others. They are mixing colors and designs," explains Cindy Lott Neely, the art teacher at Fifth Street School.
That is the concept she hopes her students will walk from the classroom into life with.

"It's the view I hope they will take to everything they do. I always try to connect it to everything. They start understanding that you have the whole world out there, everything you touch and see is art," she added.

Her list of examples is long.

Cloth is woven and uses different patterns and materials. That's art. A car starts with a design on paper and is changed along the way as science and math is combined to improve aerodynamics.

Food is art mixing ingredients, colors and the presentation. A doctor is an artist, using different medicines to treat an illness.

"A hairdresser is an artist," she said to emphasize art's reach.

Her goal is to allow students from different backgrounds and interests to see art in their own way. She works with other teachers to combine art with lessons in everything from science and math to social studies.

Last year, art became part of students' studies of ancient Egypt and Rome. She's connected art to the study of light, color and prisms in science classes. It also provides opportunities to expose students to many different art forms, from pen and ink and paint to clay and paper mache.

"I try to introduce them to everything I can until you see the light come on. I try to introduce them to different techniques and mediums so they can find their own place. They may not be able to draw, but they may be able to sculpt or build or construct. The specifics or art tie in to that broader view," she explained.

For more than a decade, Neely taught art to fifth- and sixth-graders at Central School. With that school closed this year, she's now got fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders at Fifth Street. Many of them just completed projects with pen and ink, Their work is hung everywhere from their classroom and school to the upstairs hallway at the Clay County Courthouse.

While pen and ink may not be everyone's favorite, it is a good lesson in developing light, dark and medium shading.

One group is about to embark on an ambitious project that started with them taking off and drawing their shoes.

"Some of them were mad because they couldn't see the lines. Eventually they see the lines and learn the contours," she said.

They go from there to adding color and shades and values. If time permits, she wants the sixth-graders to design their own "funky" shoe and make it out of clay.

Neely's personal taste leans toward the Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet and his series of water scenes with lilies.

"I love the Impressionist because of the color. But when teaching, I don't stay with just that. I try to teach about the famous artists as we are doing our own art. But Monet's scenes with the lilies are fun to do with the kids with pastels," she described.

Among Mississippi artists, Walter Anderson is among her favorites. She prefers portraits when painting for herself, but her work at school detracts from her time to work on her own art.

But she is making an impression on her students.

Some have started making their own folders of art. "They are constantly drawing," she noted.

But the goal goes beyond that, beyond even that simple lesson of art is everywhere.

"I want them to have a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling they learned something new, did something new, created something," she concluded.