Let Them Make Art

I hated art class when I was in school. I’m talking about that class that you had to take in middle school where the teacher made you draw things. I never got it. I remember my teacher saying to me once, “Can’t you see the circles in that painting? Draw circles and then you can figure out how to draw the hand.”

What the heck? No, I don’t see circles in that painting. And I certainly cannot draw a hand to save my life. I always walked out of that class feeling frustrated.

Art class brought down my GPA. It made me feel dumb and uncreative. It was restricting.

I failed my entrance exam into first grade at a private school, not based on where I was academically, but because I could not draw a person or a clock. I could read and write better than any other six-year old, which was evident by the number of books I had started to read by then. But there I was, about to leave kindergarten, sitting in a room with this stuffy admissions person and struggling to draw a human being and a clock. I knew what a person and a clock looked like, but I could not draw them freehand. So I drew a stick figure and a clock that ran out of numbers at some point, leaving a big white gap between 11 and 12. My brain simply did not work that way. Give me a book, and I would read the hell out of it, but give me a pencil and insist that I draw, and I froze up. I was told by the admissions person that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing in the “art” category, but I was smart enough to get into the school. Gee, thanks.  Ironically, a year later, I almost skipped second grade at that same school.

When I was in fifth grade, I decided that I wanted to be an actor. I took an acting class at the local performing arts theatre in Coral Gables, FL called Actors’ Playhouse. The class was probably about six weeks long, and full of kids and teens. I wasn’t the oldest in the class, but I wasn’t the youngest either. Our culminating project was a performance for our friends and family at the end of the six weeks, one that we were supposed to write together as a class. During one of our sessions, I brought in a story that I had written (prior to fifth grade) to show my teacher as an idea for our show. It was somewhat autobiographical, but written as fiction, with a protagonist who was a young girl about my age. The teacher loved the story and decided that this was going to be the basis for our performance. We adapted the story into a short play, and I was awarded the leading role. No one complained. It was my writing/acting debut. We performed for a small audience on the main stage, and I was given roses (maybe just a rose) at the end of the show. For the next five years or so, I was going to be an actor.

I took acting classes all throughout middle school and high school. Sometimes they were part of my class schedule at school, other times they were extracurricular. I performed during our large assemblies at school, and I tried to get involved in TV work. In high school, I took two years of acting as electives at a public school in Atlanta. The teacher for all the acting classes was very much into herself and her own styles, and I’m not sure that we really got along well. I never wanted to do the big productions at the school, mainly because I didn’t like this woman. She kind of ruined it for me. However, I still enjoyed acting and reading plays. I actually really enjoyed reading the plays.

Writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing. I guess my point for this particular post is that I wish that there were more creative writing courses offered to students in elementary through high school. “Art class” was always a requirement, and it was an insufferable necessity for me. I cannot draw. I know that about myself. I cannot paint a flower or a bird. And when I tried most recently (admittedly while drinking a few glasses of wine), the peacock feather that I was supposed to paint looked more like a colorful vagina. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not creative. I was writing stories that turned into little plays before I was twelve years old. I’ve always been a little strange with imaginary characters floating around in my head. I just wish that I was encouraged to pursue that route as a kid, instead of having to suffer through drawing people, clocks, and other circular things that I couldn’t really see.

I hope that this restrictive mindset about art has changed since I was in school. But if it hasn’t, let’s reevaluate the way we cultivate young artists. I think it’s great for kids to paint, act, write, make music, design things, whatever gives them an artistic outlet, but all I can think about is how restricting “art” was for me as a child.  There are so many different ways that one can be creative, and not all of those ways have to include a typical canvas and paints. I’d hate to see young people turned off by art because they do not conform to a certain type of creativity forced on them in a class that they did not choose. I thrived in environments where I was allowed to express myself in the way that I could do it best. Let’s give choices for art! Most importantly, don’t tell your child he/she isn’t artistic or creative because they can’t draw or paint on demand. Maybe give them a  pen and some lined paper, or an instrument, and wait for the magic.

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