Thursday, August 9, 2012


Jane was her name, and she could draw horses from her imagination that looked like real horses. I have a vivid memory of Jane and I walking home from school in the fall, through fallen leaves which were bigger than either of our feet, colored bright reds and yellows. We were 11 or 12 years old, both in grade six. I wanted SO BADLY to be able to draw like Jane. I remember surreptitiously studying her hands, and noting the details: short fingers, small in size, dry and chapped skin, in places cracked with evidence of bleeding. I also remember the thought, very distinctly, that if I could somehow have hands like Jane, then maybe I could draw like Jane. But since I didn't have hands like Jane, and I couldn't draw like Jane, I grew up believing I could not draw at all. Every once in a while, I would try to represent something on paper, and it just wasn't right, so I would give up again for another period of years, knowing I was hopeless at art, and understanding that only certain people who were born with great talent could draw and paint. I was not among them.

Where did those ideas come from? I know that words have great power for good or evil, so did anyone ever say those words to me: "You are just not an artist."? Or was it through school "art" projects where marks for "effort" were higher than marks for my "masterpiece"? Could it be that I was unable to produce on paper what was in my head, and had no way to know how to change that, so I gave up? 

What turns a child, who is free to dance with abandon, sing with joy, draw with intense concentration, write, produce, costume-design, direct and act a play in front of peers and adults alike without embarrassment into one who believes and acts as though they have no talent or creativity?

This morning I had coffee with a friend whose son has declared that he wants to learn to draw. He has been saying this for 2 years - since he was five years old. He was disappointed to not be in an art program last summer, and frustrated when the art camp he was enrolled in this summer included art activities like dance, drama, and sculpting. His singular focus, at age 7, is to know how to draw. This is a need for him - and one which his parents wish to honor. And who knows where this could lead?  He could use his creativity to change our world. 

Having been a school teacher for 14 years, and a professional artist for a few years, I can say that I have taught art to 100's of children and adults, and there has not been even one that has not had what I considered to be a degree of success and development. I believe, when a child is cheered on, coached, mentored, shown the steps and how to achieve them, and held to a high standard that they are enabled to achieve, he or she will reach for and attain things neither we nor they could even imagine. But sadly, this is not the case for many kids in our school systems as the arts programs become less  supported while the sciences and maths rise in importance. Most teachers, who already have heavy workloads and new curriculums to learn and teach, have very little time to embrace the artistic skills that they would have to learn themselves to then teach their students. I am not painting with a wide brush stroke here - it is simply a fact that the subjects which are tested on a PAT take priority for both the teacher and the student in almost all of our public schools. There are exceptions - some charter schools, for example - but those exceptions are few.

Here is a TED Talk which speaks to this issue, and is well worth the time to watch. See if you agree with Sir Ken Robinson. I certainly do...


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