I have a long history of not seeing eye to eye with my art teachers. When I was younger I clearly remember failing an essay in our class where the prompt was “what is art?” To this day I am still annoyed that someone could ask such a highly subjective question and then place a letter grade on the essay. My three page essay about how art could be “anything to anyone and most important to the creator and secondly the viewers personal opinion” was one I was so proud to turn in. This is what art was to me. Art has always been a form of self-expression, a release from the confines of the reality we live in, and a scape, a celebration, and it has been many different things to me at many different times.
I remember the proud look on my art teacher’s face when she handed me that failing grade. How dare I question her textbook opinion of what art is? The difference between she and I was that I was an artist. She was just an art teacher. I walked out of the classroom and brought it to the principals office. I was furious, shaking as I stormed through her do, ready to go to war for this. She agreed with me, called in the teacher and made her change the grade to a “B+”, only short of an “A” because it was “too long.”
Now it’s not that there can’t be inspiring art teachers. Certainly they exist, somewhere. I also understand that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. I believe that if you are serious about furthering your art it would be in your best interest to learn as much as you can about different styles and techniques. I also think that the most important technique is in your heart and soul. Some of the most celebrated artists to this day were wildly misunderstood from greats like Salvador Dali to lowbrow artists like Robert Williams. From Michelangelo to be creators of “Sanjay and Craig”, to Francis Bacon, to Frida Kahlo, to the guys that drew “Ren and Stimpy”, art is highly subjective and is a personal experience shared between the creator and the viewer.
What I have found that many of our children are learning in school about art is that it is a class to be dreaded. Instead of fostering creativity and encouraging individuality and enjoyment of art many of my friends tell me stories of how art is their children’s least favorite subject. A part of me wonders how it could be so, and another part understands completely. The saying “Those that can, do and those that can’t, teach” rings true in this situation more often than not.
Forming a relationship between pen and a pad, between paint and canvas, between words and paper, between the world and a camera lens, this is the most important aspect of art. Of course I understand there has to be a curriculum, and there are new standards to which every child must be tested on even in their art class, but where is the passion? Children come to art usually when they are young, they equate it with having fun and exploring the freedom that things like finger paints can offer. When they begin to realize that art in school is nothing more than a history lesson rigorous textbook memorization, and painful art instruction along the lines of a drafting class, they begin to hate art.
What do I know about art? I spent over 10 years of my life making a living and supporting my family as a working artist. I worked in many mediums from watercolor and acrylic to poetry and even the human canvas. All the while my personal style of artwork was celebrated by my fans and clients. You see, there are many artists that can replicate pictures, that can reproduce classics like a photo copier, or can trace images from a book and call them their own. Very few people can close their eyes and imagine a world where their own drawings come to life. This, to me, is the essence of art. The escape, the imagination, the celebration of those that are willing to imagine that world without rules and allow the art to move through them in a way makes them happy, that helps them express themselves, that makes them complete. Not everyone that came across my art was a fan, but those that were would travel hundreds of miles just to get artwork from me. You either get it or you don’t, but that never stopped me from creating artwork, or from being an artist. It isn’t something you “do”, it’s something you ARE.
I have a feeling that jealousy is prevalent with our teachers where young children just don’t understand “how great of an artist they are learning from.” If those teachers would realize that they are in such an amazing position to teach kids how important it is to love art then perhaps their behaviors would change. If the teachers were comfortable with their own art they wouldn’t belittle and disparage the child like likes to draw cartoons, the one that likes finger-paints, the one that enjoys fashion designing, or the one that really just wants to get by with as little as they can because art just isn’t for them. I can’t say that all of them are this way, but I certainly haven’t met one yet that understands that art is highly personal and something different to everyone. “Grading” has to be looked at in a different way as well.
It seems like our children already know that there is more to art than this. They know in their core that what they are learning isn’t art at all, and it is frustrating. They are talked down to by their teacher for breaking the rules that they have imposed for the classroom, yet I have to sit back and laugh…ART IS ALL ABOUT BREAKING THE RULES. I’m pretty positive I know who the real artist is in these situations, and who is the one that is desperately trying to teach something they obviously know nothing about.
What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this as well? Anyone made any headway with their art teachers?