For much of my elementary school years I was known as the boy who liked to draw. I was also known as the boy who needed glasses, but that’s another story. As far back as I can remember, I would be drawing, usually skies full of clouds, eagles flying over mountains, or dead trees in the desert. And quite often I would be one of the students chosen to help the teacher decorate the classroom bulletin board. From about second grade on, all I wanted to do was Art.
So it seems strange to me looking back that I don’t remember having taken any art classes during those years. Yet once I got to middle school and art was an elective, I took as many classes as allowed. The same in high school. In college my major was studio art. My entire life I had expected that I would eventually be a professional artist, or at least have a career in the arts. And for the most part I did, having spent more than 25 years in the graphic arts and art production fields.
However, at no time had I ever taken an art education class. In fact, as much as I endorse the arts in school, it’s been a mystery to me how teachers actually encourage and develop any child’s interest in art. Walking thru school hallways decorated with student artwork, I had no idea what it takes to get a nine year-old to settle down and actually paint, with a brush and paints, a still life in front of them.
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon giving “art lessons” to my young niece and nephew. They arrived with paints, brushes, and canvases ready to create. For my part, I had snacks for the kids and a bowl full of fruit we set up as a still life. For two hours we worked at seeing the subject in front of us; drawing the outline of oranges, lemons, and limes in a bowl; mixing paints and getting used to the effects of different-sized brushes. It was a grand experiment in finding out how little I know about actually teaching others.
When their Mom came and retrieved them later that day, I experienced a sense of relief mixed with fatigue. I can’t imagine what school teachers go thru to prepare lessons and keep the attention of a room full of children, even when it’s something they like to do. I had my hands full keeping one nine year old boy focused on not getting paint all over himself and his sister while working on a project they could take home.
Imagine my surprise then to learn from their Mom how they thought the afternoon had gone. A few days later she had texted me this report: “The whole car ride home was all about how amazing it was and how much they learned – especially about using water and mixing the paints!”
And I’m OK with that. I learned that you have to tailor your goals to the age of the participant (dolt! Of course). And if all we did that day was learn how to mix a nice lime green, then that’s OK too. Next time I’ll be ready: more snacks and bigger brushes. Smaller goals and time spent encouraging young people to learn as they go can be very satisfying at any age.
“Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.” Exodus 35:30-34