Art. Lessons.

Sometimes art is a combination of painstaking research, thorough prep work and careful execution. Sometimes it’s a playful accident. And sometimes it’s just dumb luck. Here’s what happened yesterday:

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On the left is a painting by our older son. He painted the four corners of a rectangle of black paper. He dropped a yellow splodge in the middle. The yellow was going to drip so I blotted it on another piece of paper and left this interesting design. WOW! I said, and tried to replicate it.  On the right, you see my result. I did the yellow printed part first, then filled in the other colours around it – which lends the convenient impression that I planned that blob very carefully… when the truth is, I just squashed the pages together and waited to see what happens.

It reminded me of an experience I had recently. I was doing art with B—— (6), when I heard her say, “OOPS!” and then, “Never mind.” It was the best thing I’d heard in a while.

Adults don’t vocalize the way six year-olds do, but knowing how an artist’s interior monologue can be a steady stream of criticism and self-doubt, I was impressed by this child’s ability to right herself. Temporarily knocked off-balance by a mistake, she centred herself almost immediately and kept working until she had finished her project. A few minutes later, she asked me, “Am I an artist yet?” I’m sure you can guess what my answer was.

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Another instructive moment came when I was painting children’s faces at a recent workshop. A nine year-old girl had come with her mother and two siblings but hadn’t so much as lifted a paint brush. At the end of the workshop, just as she was about to leave, I found myself painting a Tardis on her left cheek. We only exchanged a few words but she told her mom afterwards that she wanted to come again.

When I ran an online forum for creative youngsters (a long time ago, in a faraway galaxy), I realized that grading for participation in art would have been pointless – that’s if I had even been in a position to do so. It can take time for people of any age to feel comfortable in a social setting. Not everyone is at ease right away, especially when they are being invited or required to produce art. There is something profoundly unsettling about having to make something honest, good and alive, when your insides are churning. What are they churning with? Fear? Anxiety? Self-doubt? And does it matter?

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Of course it doesn’t. What matters is that the self that wants to come out can do so when it’s ready, and when it’s time. When I reached that conclusion, I was even gladder that my Tardis-sporting comrade had shown up at all. I realized that helping artists find a place to work was my first task. Teaching them how to do something was less important than showing them that this was where they would do it…  and of course, that we were the people they can do it with. As with those creative youngsters of 2005-2008, the space became extremely, emotionally, creatively, passionately significant. It became a place that is still recalled with fondness and which still binds us – and our children – together, ten years later.

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And what happened to Tardis Girl? She did come back the following week. She painted a plaster sculpture of a butterfly, which she took home to mount on a canvas. Reflecting back on what I’ve learned since I started the Art House, I have a new appreciation both of the art we do and the lessons it affords us all. We are all engaged in this community as students. And we are all each other’s teachers, a spirit I hope we can preserve as our community grows and matures.

That, in a sense, will be the real art.

The Art House September 11, 2014

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2 Responses to Art. Lessons.

  1. Linda Mullin says:

    Excellent article, Shula. You really made me think about what still excites me as I create my own self-chosen work.
    I think it is very important to keep our inner childlike wonder no matter how old we are on the outside.

  2. Maurice says:

    Well said, unfortunately the importance of art or any form of “free expression ” where people / kids (they are sort of like people ) can do or say what they want without worrying about rules or constraints is dwarfed as the opportunities disappear . As someone who never enjoyed any of it in school I certainly appreciate the importance of it now ….

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