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 Knowing that I am an art teacher, people often come to me with confessions of how lacking they are in artistic inclination or skill – or they tell me painful childhood stories of their having worked really hard on an art project that a teacher or parent horribly criticized. What I notice is common in these is interactions is how they seem to be mourning the loss of their artistic selves, either because it was never really developed or because they tried and were hurt in the process. Most of these adults know me because their children are my students. They may not be making art themselves, but they are determined to make art available for their children. While I am obviously grateful that parents expend the resources and effort to have their children involved in dance, theater, or after school art class, I am becoming more and more interested in how everyone, not only kids, can benefit from time set aside for their own version of artistic expression. 

I consider art a vital endeavor that need not be the result of a particular talent or necessarily directed toward a career. In his book The Accidental Masterpiece, art critic Michael Kimmelman, describes how pursing art can enhance our lives. 

 …art provides us with clues about how to live our own lives more fully….I don’t mean that every day becomes perfect if we enjoy art. But having spent much of my own life looking at it, I have come to feel that everything, even the most ordinary daily affair, is enriched by the lessons that can be gleaned from art; that beauty is often where you don’t expect to find it; that it is something we may discover and also invent, then reinvent, for ourselves; that the most important things in the world are never as simple as they seem but that the world is also richer when it declines to abide by comforting formulas. And that it is always good to keep your eyes wide open, because you never know what you will discover.

In the twelve or so years that I have been teaching art, or more accurately, watching art emerge around me - I have seen my students discover many things that were unexpected and revealing. Often they uncover untapped aspects of themselves - like that they can turn something they thought was awful into something beautiful, that they can laugh at their mistakes, that they can be excited by the accomplishments of a classmate. Over and over, I see that making art provides my students with a forum to deeply know themselves, the chance to unveil new thoughts and understanding, recognize their potential, overcome their hesitation, and ultimately, to inspire transformation. 

Last spring, I took time out with several of my third grade students to ask them why they thought art was important. Every child I asked had something positive to say in response, but I was especially struck by the reflections of two students.

Nine year old William explained the significance of art this way:

First there is the art of getting along well with your friends and family; then there is the art when you really concentrate and work to turn the ideas inside your head into something you can see and hold  - like a painting or a sculpture or a drawing. Then there is the art that can only come out through your body, like the way a soccer player moves down the field or a dancer leaps and spins. These are all really important things for people to do in life.

Nine-year-old Song put it more simply:

Art is in everything.


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November 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Aspillera

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