All posts by acstratten

Artist, Bonsai Enthusiast, and Art Educator

A Matter of Perspective

Perhaps one of the greatest educational concerns in these modern, cell-phone-saturated times is that our children learn to interact with others in a meaningful way, to connect and have empathy for others.

One of the most powerful but under-recognized learning outcomes in the arts is an understanding of the relationship between the artists intent and the interpretation of the viewer. At its core, this is about understanding others, understanding how others might feel or react, understanding how others have a different background and experience that impacts the way they interpret the world around them. It’s a matter of perspective.

A great example of this interaction was recently brought to my attention and I thought I would share it for all to consider and learn from.

Brauntheus, by a 12th grade art student

The impressive artwork above won a Gold Key award in the regional Scholastic Art Awards program and hangs,  as seen above, in the exhibition of award winning work. I received a letter from a Chinese-American visitor to the exhibition. It reads…

While I was [at the exhibition] I saw many paintings were exhibited on the walls, most of them are nice and artistic pieces. However, one of them makes me feel uncomfortable.

It is the piece titled: Brauntheus by a 12th grade student. Referring to the “dragon slayer” story, Brauntheus presents a man fighting an evil creature with spears. Looking carefully, I found that the creature in there is not a western dragon. What the man fighting against is clearly a Chinese Loong.

The letters author provided the images of “Western Dragons,” above, and the images of the Chinese Loong, below, to illustrate the differences. What do you think? Is the dragon in the artwork a Western dragon or a Chinese Loong?

He went on to write:

If you know some Chinese cultural, you may understand that a Chinese Loong is not an evil creature as a western dragon is. And the Chinese often call ourselves as the Loong’s successors.

The letter’s author was even kind enough to provide a web page about the differences between a Chinese Loong and a western dragon. Use the link to check it out if you like.

The authors of Brauntheus make the Chinese Loong look really evil, and he/she specifically used papers full of Chinese characters to make this piece.  Therefore, what the authors want to express is quite clear. As a Chinese American, I can feel that the hatred and hostility are directly poured over me when I stand in front of the piece. I feel very offended, and I also learned that many Chinese Americans feel the same way as I do.

I sincerely believe that an institute… should not exhibit a piece of work like this which promotes hatred and hostility.

Powerful feelings! It is no small matter that a visitor to an art exhibition can feel attacked by an absent artist, and nearly declare the act of artmaking a hate crime. I don’t want to diminish that reaction! It is at the center of this conversation, but here’s the kicker…

This student artist intended to flip the roles! His teacher explains:

The funny part is that the human in the composition IS the monster. The monster is minding his own business in his lair.

What a fascinating case! Even as the artist was pushing back against our notions of monsters, he was perceived as one! And while you don’t want the viewer to feel attacked, he was actually right on target to feel like the dragon slayer is the more evil of the two characters represented.

I believe the most important thing that came from this was the conversation. Next time you feel misunderstood, or feel offended by something someone else is expressing, I hope you will talk it out. You might just find that you and your opponent are actually on the same side!


It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher.

“It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher” is an overly-long title in my opinion, but I was considering, “It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher, and other quotes from our superintendent.”

Tonight we held our Regional Scholastic Art Awards ceremony, and we were honored to have Dr. Scott Brabrand, Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, join us to offer some opening remarks and his congratulations to our student award winners. And yes, he actually said, “It’s amazing what you can do with the help of an art teacher.”

He was sharing a personal experience and experiment. He wanted to see if he could learn to draw at the age of 49, and just one hour with an art teacher allowed him to make significant strides.

Dr. Brabrand went out of his way to recognize the art teachers at tonight’s event. He also acknowledged how important the arts are in our schools and recognized that the arts are supporting the very skills the school system is striving to instill in all graduates including communication skills, creativity, and critical thinking.

I couldn’t be more proud to have a superintendent and leadership team who are so supportive of the arts. Thank you, Dr. Brabrand, not just for saying it, but for showing it by making time to join us for this special night!

Scholastic Art

Such a busy time of year! But I want to take a moment to acknowledge a big milestone in the Scholastic Art Awards season: the exhibition is installed!

We judges more work than ever, and have more work than ever to install in a gallery space that has remained stubbornly unchanged in size from year to year.

We also had our fair share of weather challenges including at submission deadline time, and for installing this show. A HUGE thank you to the teachers who came in on their snow day to get this work going.

Nearly 400 gold key and silver key artworks are on display at the Ernst Center at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

There is still much to be done to prepare for our award ceremony on February 21. Stay tuned for more!

Day 22: Thankful for Art Teachers

Day 22: Thankful for Art Teachers

“Day 22…” is not the usual way I would start a blog post, but this month I have been trying to share daily gratitude through social media. Today, I wanted to go a little further in an attempt to express just a fraction of my gratitude toward the art educators I work with day in and day out.

FCPS Art Teachers at the National Portrait Gallery

I have said, many times, that in my job I have “the great pleasure of working with 380 amazing art teachers.” It’s not just talk. I mean it. I am  frequently over-credited as “being in charge of” or “running the entire” K-12 art program in our school district, but in fact it is these folks who make it all happen. While I do my best to develop and provide helpful resources and facilitate some fidelity in the programs, the amount of work we are able to do in the fine arts office is dwarfed next to the work this army of art teachers do every day.

I don’t just mean this in a numbers sense. Sure, 380 art teachers can put in way more hours than a couple of us in the instructional services office, but these teachers are committed! Every day I see or hear about another way they are going well above and beyond to make a difference in their students lives. They are supporting students through difficult situations, life coaching, staying late to support clubs and activities, taking student to museums, traveling with them to New York City, meeting them for evening artmaking events… The list goes on, and many of them are practicing artists to boot!

I want to share one specific story that I hope will be illustrative.

Recently a new central office project manager was named for the STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The team has existed for a few years now, and turns regularly — as they should — to specialists in the Science, Math, Fine Arts, Career and Technical Education, and Instructional Technology offices to support and inform their work. I admit, though, that from its inception, I have struggled with how I can support from my role.

Naturally, the new project manager, getting acquainted with her new role, wanted to meet with me to discuss how we might work together and I am certain that I sounded a bit lost as to how I can support in a meaningful way. I didn’t want to give the impression that the Arts didn’t have a place in this work — and I definitely didn’t want the ‘A’ in STEAM to be what some have called the POS approach (paint on stuff), but I couldn’t yet grasp how I might help.

Not long after, the STEAM team asked for input to identify schools where they could see STEAM instruction in practice in our schools. Now that I can help with! And this starts to get at my point… Even as I am unsure of my role in supporting STEAM as an initiative, I know that there are many art teachers who are deeply engaged in the work in their schools.

I was able to recommend several teachers and schools where this is happening through the arts, and as the STEAM team has started making school visits, they have been duly impressed by the work of the art teachers.

And that is what I mean. The magic is happening on the ground, in the schools, and the magicians are the art teachers.

I am so grateful for each of you!





VAEA – Northern Region

Having the annual VAEA conference in Northern Virginia this year really shows in the large turn out for the Northern Region Meeting. 

I am so excited to have so many of my local colleagues here, and especially excited that they were all here to recognize Susan Silva who received the secondary educator of the year award for the Northern Region. 

Thank you, Andrew, for putting her name forward. She is so deserving!

Congratulations Susan!

A New Teacher Reflects

I was moved by the reflection this new teacher shared on social media, and I am sharing it here with his permission…

As I wrap up my second MONTH of teaching, I’ve come to realize a bunch cliches about teaching are dead on accurate. Starting off with: 

There are good days and bad days.

The same class that is amazing one week could very easily be the worst the next. It’s very annoying and honestly kind of sad when you see great students fall for the traps of the students that are challenging. They fall like dominos. Because quite frankly, it’s fun as hell being the class clown/being a rebel. 

There are days you want to be the best teacher in the world and there are days you want to quit.

Ask me on a Wednesday, when I have my favorite line up of classes and I’ll say I want to stay in elementary art forever. But ask me on a Tuesday after first period and I’ll want to put in my two weeks and leave. But when I’m walking down the hall to make copies and passing by one of my 1st grade classes and having a chorus of “omg Mr. Reinaltt!” Or “that’s our awesome art teacher!,” which leads to each student running out of their line to give you a hug, I literally can’t handle my happiness. When moments like this happen, it makes me want to stay in elementary school for the rest of my teaching years. 

Being a male teacher is going to make a huge difference.

There might be 1 or 2 male classroom teachers and 4 specialists in the entire school. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been called “Mrs. Reinaltt” or when I tell them I’m not married “Miss Reinaltt”. I had a class of boys bully a kid for coloring his shirt pink for his self portrait. So the next week, I wore pink (also because on Wednesday’s we wear pink, duh) and dared those same students to bully me. They didn’t, and now they know there are NO such things as boy or girl colors. 

Being a male teacher AND a minority is going to make a huge difference.

Especially in this politically climate, at my school that is 77% minority (but it seems so much higher) so many students feel unsafe and unfortunately scared to be themselves. I stress in every single class to be proud of who they are. I tell them the world needs us to be the difference. To not allow the world to tell us (mainly them) where we belong or what we should do with our lives. 

Two months of teaching, feels like 2 years. There are many challenges ahead, but my heart and my mind are in this for the long haul.

Thank you, Arthur, for sharing your experience with all of us.