I started reading The Barren Grounds last weekend and almost immediately was triggered not by the Indigenous content but by references to art within an educational setting. Please read the book if you are so inclined – I will not get into the details of the story but it is wonderfully written by David A. Robertson and as it is a Kid Lit. novel, fairly easy reading.
As a child I drew… made things, but the story that has played in my mind for over 4 decades is that formal art making was really an escape mechanism for me to deal with being physically and mentally humiliated by my friends on a fairly regular basis starting in elementary school. It became my tool for some social preservation with my more academically inclined peers as I moved through the public education system.
By grade 10, you could find me firmly entrenched in the art room at any point when I did not have to be in another class and my teacher fostered that feeling that this had become part of my identity. This was so much the case that when I was invited to join a class for honours students and I asked if I could major in something else besides art, my teacher reminded me that art was why I was asked to join.
I continued on and worked hard to live up to the gold standards of realism that seemed to be the hallmark of a real artist and I always felt there was something quite forced about what I was doing – something I didn’t understand that came naturally to others who drew all the time.
Nevertheless, that continued hard work ethic I learned from my family, art scholarships and the offerings of job opportunities in creative work (parks and recreation leader, graphic artist, picture framer/gallery attendant, history of art slide monitor, illustrator) helped me continue down the path in visual art without thinking there could really be anything else.
Eventually, I became an educator and have now been working 18 of almost 20 years in a charter school system as an elementary art specialist.
The baggage I carry as an art teacher is the memories of my own childhood and why I created art, why I chose to try to create a specific kind of art and why I couldn’t let go of that way of working.
As a teacher, in class, I intentionally keep my demos short, I encourage students to create art in the way they want to and perhaps, unfortunately, I don’t push students with skill for realism to go further with what they are doing because I worry it will feed a perfectionist tendency and perpetuate the idea that “good art” takes a lot of time and is realistic looking.
This 24 Days of Drawing practice I have set for myself has allowed me to be aware of how I am feeling when I make a mark. I am practicing not worrying about whether the proportions are correct or the image is cohesive. Working on 1″ x 1″ a day also fits into a time frame that is realistic for me in a life that I have built with another that includes other pursuits not related to visual art. I am keeping skills up, but more importantly, I am learning to explore what it means to communicate something visually in a mentally healthy way. I think this is something valuable I can pass on to my students.