Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making art and making the grade

I have done everything I could, always, to encourage Dean in the arts.  Oodles and oodles of supplies, and time to experiment, and conversations, and always saying what I truly believe -- that everyone is an artist.  Our output is the output that we, and we alone, are capable of producing.  We may judge our output harshly, against all those killer standards that beat us all down one way or another, but the reality is that we can all make art and that the art we make is uniquely our own.  Art is visual, auditory, aural and oral.

Dean was always a "process" guy growing up -- much, much more interested in getting his hands deep into the paint and rubbing over and over the surface telling a story as he went (a story that was obliterated in the end, but that gave him pleasure in the making), much more engaged with seeing how much color and texture he could put down but not interested in the end result.  He'd draw, a little, again to tell his own stories, but it wasn't his passion and I can't think of the last time he drew anything.  He still loves to dance, but on his own terms (although he is looking forward to a dance class later this year).  He does play piano, and is newly inspired to push himself to practice and experiment more.  But, at least at this point in his journey, he doesn't feel that he's a visual artist and doesn't have a great deal of interest.

His school, however, requires that all students work across all disciplines, and he must take music, visual arts, dance, theater (and all students focused on the arts must meet requirements across every other academic discipline).  He just finished up his Sculpture 1 class, and stands next to himself up there -- self portrait, full-sized bust in cardboard.

I see his work and I am thrilled.  I know how far out of his comfort zone he has been in this class, and I am awed by his work.  On the other hand, I understand that this is a real, academic course -- the school takes the arts seriously.  I get that.  I even understand how other students in the class produced *better* work.  But the bummer is that he got a grade he's not happy with in the class, which tragically has him re-convinced that he's NOT an artist and wanting to shimmy his way out of any other visual arts courses.  (He will have a photography class coming up, and he feels pretty positive about what he'll be able to accomplish).  I wish there were some middle ground; I wish there were some feedback the teacher could have given him that was more encouraging, even if that had to be the grade.  It's difficult to teach someone how to deeply engage with the art they are tasked with making (my mom was an art teacher so I had a front-row seat on this), how to show their thought process even if their execution is deemed somehow lacking. Back to that business about loving the process -- if he's engaged in the process and the thinking, should that "count?  I believe so.  You don't begin to make art unless you feel good about and are willing to undertake the process.

And the grade isn't the end of the world in my eyes, by the way -- but the issue is the way Dean interprets that....

1 comment:

Natalie, the Chickenblogger said...

I keep thinking about this... it's troubling.
We cannot be those dread "helicopter parents," right? But. But. But...
Gah... you cannot grade art! You can grade participation, attitude, effort, but not the product, the piece. At least, I don't see how it's possible to justly say one thing is A+ and something else C-. And the result of trying to qualify the "value" of someone's art is the risk of losing them, discouraging what is possibly sincere, and true, and I do not think that is a worthwhile risk. Outside of school, beyond the place where you want to cultivate skills and nurture creativity, there is plenty of opportunity for the critics, the markets, to give a grade, and even then... art is good for art's sake, and not everything needs a grade.
For what it's worth, I am delighted by what I see. Well, done and inspiring, Dean. I would love to see more pictures. Do what you love, and love what you do, and do please always be open to trying again, for your own interest and curiosity.