I opened the book that showed up in my studio last week, left by a friend who was clearing her clutter. The last sentence of the author’s note moved me to tears. It said, “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the alter of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”
As I sat in the bed and wept memories came floating in on the river of tears. I was eight. All I wanted for Christmas that year was the Jon Gnagy Art Set. I got it. A box with a pad of paper, a kneaded eraser, assorted pencils and charcols and an instruction book. And so I began my informal art education.
In school art was more about coloring, cutting and pasting then it was about drawing. I’d say more craft oriented than art…but it was something and it sure beat math!
I don’t remember much about the art experience of Jr. High…I don’t remember much about Jr High period!
In High School my art teacher was a tall lean man with a sweet smile and a generous heart. A winter scene I painted hangs in my house today. It reminds me of Grandma Moses. He praised my efforts and the secret of my heart was to major in art at college. But my dad had other ideas…
Dad didn’t give much credence to artists. He was more concerned about me making a living and getting off the “dole.” As long as he was paying for my tuition I would be an Education Major…and I wasn’t confident enough to fight him.
So my art dreams slipped into an occasional pastime. I always had a sketchpad and I sketched portraits of my friends, my pets, my surroundings…and I excelled in my art education class…but that was it.
How would my life have been different if I had received whole-hearted support from my family for my passion? I’ll never know.
In my second year as an elementary teacher, funding cuts happened and all of the elementary art teachers were laid off. The responsibility for teaching art fell to the classroom teachers. I loved allowing my kids to explore and be curious as much as the system would allow. I would have spent more time letting them play with mediums of artistic expression but the test scores had to be met and artistic expression was not on the list of things being measured. After ten years as a classroom teacher I left teaching…as much as I loved the kids I hated the restrictions put upon me about how and what I could teach.
I stayed at home and had two babies and when they entered school I became a volunteer at their schools. In the five years I had been away, the attention to art had diminshed further. In some classes it wasn’t being taught at all.
One of my friends was as appalled as I was at the situation our children were facing. Together we wrote a grant which proposed that she and I would design an art curriculum, purchase needed materials, have a monthly training and take the art instruction from the classroom teachers and put it in the hands of interested volunteer parents. We got grant funding for three years! The project was a great success…in fact the program is still running…twenty years later and funded by the district.
This morning, as the tears flowed, I had a realization for the first time. When I took that step to give all the young budding artists in my community the support they deserved so that they could explore themselves through the expression of artistic endeavor, I was righting the wrong that my budding child artist had suffered.
Today I paint. I paint silk scarves and watercolors. I free write poetry, music and stories. I sing and play the piano. I dance with wild abandon. And whatever I am doing, when I am expressing my artistic self…my eight year old is right there…grinning from ear to ear.