Thursday, November 27, 2008

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Art I Learned in the 4th Grade.



Artwork by Clark County students. Photos of artwork by Richard Brian/Home News.

One dark and dreary school night, many moons ago, I sat at home, full of dread, while my parents zealously attended a Parent-Teacher Meeting. My grade school interim report suggested that I was doing more than getting by, but there was one bit of criticism from that evening's discussion that blind-sided me and, as you can see, may have scarred me for life.

How was I doing? Fine, as far as I was concerned. Math? Great. Science? Passing with flying colors. Art? Presumably my favorite and most intuitive subject. So what bad things could my fourth grade art teacher possibly have to say? I can remember the librarian's name. Miss Bitner. But the art teacher's has long since been forgotten and rightfully so.

I wasn't there for the confab between grown-ups regarding my progress, so all I've ever had to go on is hearsay. According to my parents, she said I displayed some innate artistic ability. Cool.

But that wasn't all she said. She went on to say that I was "too meticulous." All of eight years old, I could hardly pronounce the word. Having no idea what it meant, I still took issue with it. I didn't like the way it sounded, even when I spoke it. My little finger-painting spirit was officially crushed.

In that class, I specifically remember rendering a copy of the cartoon feline Garfield and it turning out pretty brilliantly, for a fourth grader. But because I was so focused on perfecting his whiskers, or his stripes, or his tail, I received unspoken admonishment in the form of a barely passing grade, to which I really wanted to reply "Ummmm...it's art."

Today, I understand the definition of "meticulous" well and to this day, I still don't understand how that was a bad thing. Regardless, in Miss What's-her-face's mind it was, and simply hearing it made me conscious enough as a child not to take art for several of my crucial formative years.

Eventually, I got over it and figured things out on my own, with the help of true guidance, mentorship, and encouragement, not the kind you find in a textbook. To some degree I still hold that woman responsible for my not enrolling in a creative curriculum or pursuing a creative field sooner than I did. Thankfully, one day I figured out that, while I didn't know what I wanted to do, I knew what I DIDN'T want to do, and that was dress, think, and act like everybody else.

Now I think for myself. Some days I actually get paid to think. And I will strongly encourage my child to think for him- or herself too, with the promise of someday getting paid to do so. Being an artist—any type of artist—allows you to do that. It's liberation of the mind, the soul, the heart.

So, when I came across an article in the Las Vegas Sun championing art in the Clark County School District, I immediately knew what I had to do. Spread the word. Support the cause. Include a link.

The editors were kind enough to let me include a couple of photos of the student work on this site. You've already seen them at the top of this post and, truth be told, they're light years ahead of where mine ever were.

Check out the full story, and let's all do our part to encourage and let kids know it's never a bad thing to think things through and definitely a wonderful thing to dream.