Will Cardell – Art as Ministry

By Will Cardell, Creative Arts Department Head at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child

Art has been my passion as far back as I can remember, but that wasn’t initially my chosen academic or career path. I entered Princeton University as an East Asian Studies Major with a focus on Japan. At that time, when the Art and Archaeology Department was adding a visual arts track to its collection of majors, my penchant for art won over. So I switched my initial major to a minor and decided to become one of the first Visual Arts Majors.

Although I only came to see art as a career choice in college, I was drawn to teaching all along. I had always loved math, and I remember an experience as an eighth grade peer tutor helping a fellow student finally understand a difficult algebra problem. That moment was an epiphany for both of us, and the satisfaction I felt as a mentor then was indescribable. Later, in graduate school, when I was having a particularly frustrating day with a printmaking project, I helped a fellow student through her own artistic challenge. At that moment, I realized I cared more about helping a fellow artist succeed than about the actual success of my own work; and that encounter confirmed my early discovery that teaching is a powerful tool.

After receiving my undergraduate degree in fine arts, I fused a variety of interests and moved to Japan for six years where I taught English and art to Japanese students. Teaching art in Japan is kind of like eating your favorite French pastry: you can’t seem to get enough! Of course, the arts are highly revered in Japan by everyone, and so teaching art there is an absolute delight. That experience prepared me well for my teaching career at Oak Knoll School where I was the only member of the school’s creative arts faculty in 1980. I am now in my forty-third year of teaching and currently lead a full-time team of five creative arts teachers who offer instruction in music, photography, drama, dance, and art. My beautifully appointed art classroom/studio is on the second floor of the historic Grace Hall. Interestingly, it happens to be the third art room I’ve taught in during my tenure at Oak Knoll.

I was an early proponent of integrating art with other disciplines because I believe that the arts connect with all areas of learning. I love interdisciplinary work, and I have been doing projects with different departments for many years. We don’t necessarily need to groom a team of professional artists at Oak Knoll; we just need to cultivate our students’ critical and creative thinking skills, so that, when they enter the professional world, they can think more creatively about problem solving.

Creative endeavors can be nourishment for the soul. In a troubled world that is often subject to despair, it is the artist who can open a wider window on those places where things are soothed and healed. Surely, the arts bring joy to the world, and the underpinning to that is Oak Knoll’s faith-based foundation. What we try to convey to our students is not that we’re looking for them to win acclamation, but rather that we’re encouraging them to use their art as ministry. The arts can serve our community; and, when offered with humility, we give thanks for our God-given talents. Sharing one’s talent is, after all, the noblest form of artistic expression.

My approach to teaching is based on a favorite quote I once heard that claims the artist becomes the art teacher when he/she is no longer the picture but the frame. I am an art teacher first. I am here to serve my students, and I am blessed to be able to do that. Even if I am tutoring a student in math or helping another with a college essay, I am elated when each has learned something new and has succeeded in her endeavor.