Fireworks! An Es-STEAM-ed Project

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by Reagan Wish
Hoyt Intern

            The process behind making fireworks is super cool. There’s a lot of moving parts and the planning is science intensive, using a lot of chemistry and engineering. But for all its science, the process is also super artsy! To be a good firework technician, you need an eye for color and patterns.

The two most important things for a good firework are the colors and the BOOM. To make sure both of these things happen, firework technicians use a special vessel called a “shell”. This is basically a hollow paper ball with several different layers in it. A powder “bursting charge” is in the center, which is what allows the firework to explode in a really loud boom once it’s in the air. To get the proper colors, firework technicians also put in “stars”—small spheres of different metals—around the powder charge. When the firework explodes in the air these starts are pushed out in different directions (usually circles of varying size) and catch fire. The different-shaped explosions vary due to how the stars are arranged in the shell. Depending on the type of metal chosen, the firework will be different colors! For example, barium makes green colors and strontium salts make the reds.

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But being a good firework technician requires more than just being a good chemist. In order to create cool fireworks, you have to have an eye for patterns, color, and space. One of the most important things is making sure the choreography of the firework is good. This is the perfect job for an artist.

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Art teaches you skills like spatial reasoning—how something changes from scale to scale. This is super important for fireworks, as the placement of the stars within the shell determine the shape of the explosion. Someone who practices drawing, for example, will often do a smaller sketch before tackling a full-sized work. By planning it out in a smaller, more manageable space, an artist is able to make adjustments and understand the composition of their piece easily. The same idea holds for firework creation: when arranging things in the shell, an art-minded person would be able to visualize how the stars will look once exploded. By practicing this artistic skill, firework technicians become more efficient and creative in their work.

Similarly, art teaches you all about color and patterns. The firework technician must decide which colors are aesthetically pleasing with each other. Taking it one step further, technicians often combine the colors so that designs are made in the sky when the firework explodes. To do this, they must have an eye for color (it’s not fun when everything is the same old red) but also for design. The arrangement of the stars affects the shape of the explosion as well as what color goes where. This is how you get those really cool fireworks that look like flowers or smiley faces when they explode! A firework technician can’t complete this step without an eye towards art.

 It originally surprised me to find out that art has such a stake in a job as technical as firework creation. But honestly? I shouldn’t be so shocked. Art is everywhere, especially in these STEM-focused careers where you least expect it.

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Grit, Empathy, and Art

By Reagan Wish  Hoyt Intern

By Reagan Wish
Hoyt Intern

 
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There’s a lot of debate around whether or not art teaches empathy. Some people say yes, art can create a more empathetic mindset; others say no, art only does this for individuals who already have high empathy. Whether or not you have an opinion on the matter, art is a great tool to practice empathetic thinking, especially for kids. Part of growing up is learning how to relate to others—how to understand different perspectives and respect different backgrounds. By exploring art museums and institutes, you’re able to open yourself up to these new identities and gain some insight into a life different from your own!

Take, for example, the exhibit currently on display at the Hoyt. Grit (by Rabecca Signoriello) is a collection of paintings depicting construction workers. Signoriello, who works on a road crew herself, says that some inspiration for the collection comes from how curious people are about the road workers. They’re always staring as they drive past yet, when caught staring, they always quickly look away. Signoriello says it’s this hesitancy to engage that interests her. With her paintings, she wants to create a space where people don’t have to hesitate—where they can comfortably study a scene that is usually too loud and chaotic for an outsider to try and understand. To promote viewer participation, most of the workers are looking directly at the viewer, as if to say, “Hi, you’re new here. Welcome to the crew.”

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By painting such a life-like and engaging piece, Signoriello does a great job of creating a space for empathy. To walk around the exhibit and study the different pieces is like looking through a window into a construction zone—you can sense the brightness of the sky, the heat from the sun beating down on the workers, the sweat dripping from their foreheads. But this “construction zone” is perfect for you, who doesn’t know the first thing about construction zone safety, because it is ordered and quiet and there is no traffic. With her paintings, Signoriello gives you the chance to observe closely and find some similarities between yourself and the men and woman you see hard at work on the road.

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Grit is a great exhibit to see, and also to take your kids to. Construction work is one of the professions that many people don’t get exposure to, as it is kind of “out of sight, out of mind” and when it is in sight, no one wants to be caught staring. But by looking at Signoriello’s art, you get an intimate and real view into the typical workday. This exercise educates you, and also fosters empathy—understanding another person’s way of living (including their profession and work day) is an important step in relating to them. This observant relatability is a great lesson to practice or teach.

Grit will be on display in the Hoyt’s main gallery until August 15th!

Making Art Accessible – How to Enjoy Art Even If You’re “Not Really an Art Person”

by Reagan Wish Hoyt Intern

by Reagan Wish
Hoyt Intern

 

Art has always been important to me. I grew up at the Hoyt, running between legs at gallery openings and staring with wide eyes at the carefully composed blotches of color grown-ups called art work. As I got older, the blotches began to look like landscapes, or portraits, or abstract pieces, and I began to find excitement in studying them. Three years at university later, I am studying art history and spending most of my free time frolicking through local museums. Art, beyond being important, is something fun for me.

I was shocked to find that not all my friends in college thought of art as “fun”. Almost everyone agreed it was important—it is famous, after all—but a majority vote indicated that there was nothing particularly enjoyable about art. I vowed to change their minds, and we set a date for a trip to Philadelphia’s main art museum. A few weeks later, lined up in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (with some mild fear in their eyes), my friends waited for me to impart my knowledge: how do you enjoy art?

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The answer? Don’t take it—or yourself—too seriously.

I’m no wise man (if anything, I’m a wisecracker), but getting into the arts at any age is easy once you get past the toughest part: getting comfortable in a museum. People are often intimidated by the art world…and that’s perfectly normal! Museums are scary at first, to all ages. They’re often all white walls, all quiet whispers, no running, and Absolutely No Touching…almost trying to get you in trouble. But you shouldn’t let the museum freak you out! I promise you: you don’t have to walk on your tiptoes, you’re allowed to talk in a normal speaking voice, and (while you shouldn’t touch any artwork) there’s no harm in parking yourself in front of a piece and staring at it for a bit.

“But Reagan,” you might cry, “I’m fine with museums, art is just boring!”

Here, you would be wrong. For sure, art is not for everyone! But I have a few hacks that make a day in the museum fun for even the most cynical of us.

The first? Meme. Everything. If you’re part of an older crowd, this might be a bit unfamiliar to you, but “memeing” is the process of putting funny captions on potentially humorous subjects, like so:

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Art museums are FULL of memable content, and you don’t need to know anything about the painting to do it (although sometimes knowing the title, history, or intention makes the meme that much funnier!). Going through a gallery with friends, family, or even by yourself is a really fun time when your intention is to have a goof.

My other bit of advice to make things interesting for everyone is…impersonation! This is best done in a group of three or more! So many paintings and sculptures strike wacky poses or have hilarious facial expressions—trying to recreate them with your group is a challenge and super fun for all involved!

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Take the lead from the youngest visitors, let yourself be silly!

Take the lead from the youngest visitors, let yourself be silly!

I hope you take these tips to heart and get out to some art places with your family and friends (or all on your own).

In every museum, gallery, or institute there is something for everybody—you just have to find it! Get excited—and remember to let yourself be silly.