Have you ever had the opportunity to watch someone at their craft- when they were truly absorbed in their work? It’s amazing to watch. I think the only thing that brings me more joy than creating and experimenting with materials, is spotting a child in that zone. Looking over into our family craft room, I’ll often catch one of the kids mid-drawing, or contemplating a “good junk” sculpture. In that moment you couldn’t possibly diagram where the kid ends and the piece begins. The rest of the world ceases to exist, maker and craft are one. And. it. is. awesome.
Chloe, experimenting with snow on glass.
Eventually the stillness is broken- but in a good way- more like hatching than destruction. A little person will walk into the kitchen (object d’art proudly leading the way) head tilted up and smiling at a job well done- even before I’ve said a word. When I see them beaming, it makes each stepped-on-lego, every tantrum, every pile of laundry just disappear. Well, at least for a precious moment or two, while I bask in their pride as they explain tiny details, choices and discoveries.
Now not every piece is one for the refrigerator, but each piece is a step. I won’t even say a step in the right direction. Art is experimentation and observation. It’s embracing serendipity and reverse engineering the good mistakes to do them on purpose the next time. You can’t possibly create something new without trying something different! I think the best thing we’ve done as parents is not just given them access to tons of materials and processes and ideas, but granted them the freedom to just make stuff. They can choose from those experiences what to keep and combine and what to toss away. This is innovation! (and why we need MORE art integrated into the classroom-but that’s a whole other ginormous topic… I digress)
The story that inspired this one…
I stumbled across a blog post “Art and Judgement” by Melissa at Rock and Drool. She described how her second grade son, who hadn’t often shown interest in arts and crafts, was suddenly inspired to work on a self-portrait assignment in school. She wrote about the details he added to his shirt, how he challenged himself to make spirals in the background and proudly illustrated his uniquely colored eyes…
And then this is the part that broke my heart:
He could barely hold back the tears as he told her how his teacher had gotten upset with him. See, rather than waiting for a putty-colored crayon the other students were using for skin tone, apparently he had used a gray crayon to color in his face. He said the teacher had gotten angry with him for this choice.
When he brought the ostracized, rejected picture home with him.
He held it, crinkled in his hand, and thrust it at me.
“Here”, he said angrily, the upset resurfacing, “This is the ugly picture that my art teacher wouldn’t hang with the rest of my class. I suck at art Mom. Duh”
I was not there. I do not know the exact words that were exchanged in the classroom, nor the details of the assignment. All I know is they resulted in these words: “I suck at art Mom.”
Several hundred NO!s ran through my brain. I had to reach out to this little guy, those words were a cruel foundation to a wall I just couldn’t stand to see him build.
So I contacted Melissa with a note for her son. I let him in on the big secret- adults aren’t always right. I told him that Larry & I are artists, and that we’ve also run into some who’ve disagreed with our choice of materials in our artwork and that he wasn’t alone. “You are strong to use something different to make art!”
Melissa was kind enough to let us share not only his story, but his piece. Tonight (2/3) is First Friday, and the studio gallery will be open as usual- but along with our work, we are honored to feature a daring and controversial print by an emerging artist from the Midwest. (And mom says he is super-duper excited about having his artwork exhibited in a Gallery!!)
UPDATE: what happened next is awesome…
PS, if you’re wondering what mudita means, the definition (thanks Wikipedia-) is below. It’s one of my favorite words!
Mudita – joy. It is especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it. The traditional paradigmatic example of this mind-state is the attitude of a parent observing a growing child’s accomplishments and successes, but it is not to be confounded with proudness as the person feeling mudita must not have any interest or direct income from the accomplishments of the other.