Monday, April 4, 2016

I was not the Art Star

                At the NYSATA conference two years ago, I was listening to an art teacher give a presentation on (you guessed it!) teaching art.  I was slightly dozy, due to the extremely warm conference room and not her presentation.  At that point in the morning, everyone was half listening while doodling, (NOT ZENTANGLING) and wondering what was for lunch.  Then the presenter said something that hit home.  A flood of memories rushed into my brain when I heard this interesting string of words come out of her mouth. 

                "Now, like all of you, I was the 'ART STAR' in high school."  She paused and smiled knowingly out at the audience.  "You know, we were the kids that were amazing at art and always won the awards, always got our work displayed, were the teacher's favorite.  Those are not the kids I'm talking about.."

                Her talk went on, but my mind didn't. 

                I was never the "art star."

                I'm not even really good at art. 
I made myself an "art star."  So there.

                Ahhh... Did I really just write that?  My name's Rebecca, and I'm really kind of dreadful at making art, but I teach it.  Is that even allowed?  Should I hand in the keys to my classroom, my teaching certificate and my sparkly, Cassie Stephen's inspired apron?  Should I be mortified that I can't draw?  Can't paint?  Can't throw a ceramic bowl?  But here's the thing.  I'm not embarrassed at all.  And this is why...

                First, like any good gossip, you'll need some back story.  I am an only child.  Scratch that.  Not only was I an only child, I was an only grandchild.  That means I was the only one born to fulfill two generations of my family's hopes and dreams.  Talk about pressure!  The upside of this, everything I did as a child was fantastic.  If I drew a picture, it was beautiful.  If I used up all the tape in the house, it was because I was being creative.  Or, true story, if I cut up my mother's $200 brand new coat she just ordered from QVC, well I was just exercising my artistic spirit.  Side note: I would never be as forgiving as my mother was.  Sorry kids, I had three of you.  If one of you cuts up a $200 coat, you've lost your college fund.  Plus you owe me about five bucks. 
Nice coat, but I'd be more upset if something happened to my shoes. 

                That's pretty much how I spent my childhood.  I created doll clothes, story books, troll houses, sketches, I had a pretty detailed paracosm, and once even designed a line of porcelain dolls (Now that's something to be embarrassed about!).  I didn't put much thought into the fact I was an artist, I was just doing what made me happy.  I don't remember a lot about my elementary art days, except the classroom was in the basement, (why always the basement?! Come on, elementary schools!  At least pretend to like the art teacher!) and smelled unique.  As an adult, I know that smell is tempera paint and that's pretty much how I smell all the time. 
My two favorite perfumes. 

                In middle school, it was a bit different, because I was a bit different.  People started picking identities.  I guess you can't pick jock when you're failing gym class, so I went with artiste.  That's how I felt... but... my art grade didn't reflect that.  Middle school art class was hard for me.  I had all these great ideas but couldn't execute them due to low skill level.  Like one assignment at Halloween.  We had to paint a spooky face.  Cool, right?  Well, I had just read this pulp book about monster little girls that could kill people with their minds, or something stupid like that.  It gave me nightmares in a way that Goosebumps books never could.  To a middle schooler, it was super awesome.  So I decided that's what I was going to recreate with paint.  It would be terrifying!  No one else's art would look like mine!  The book described the girls "So beautiful they were scary...blond hair, blue eyes, mature smile, gives you the creeps to look at them."  Well, with crappy minimum  talent and  florescent paint, how are you going to create a beautiful, spooky little girl?  I couldn't. 
What a trashy novel that I'm totally going to re-read this summer. 
                My art teacher pulled me aside and basically said I wasn't doing the assignment.  And to be fair, I'm sure it looked like I wasn't.  At 12, I didn't have the words to defend or explain myself.  Defeated, I went back to my seat, looked at what the "good" kids were doing, and painted all the traditional spooky face crap on top of my blond hair and blue eyes.  It looked like crap, and not just because I was viewing it through tear filled eyes. 
Not a self portrait.

                High school was more of the same.  I liked my art teacher, and she liked me, but I never felt special.  It's ok, I wasn't.  There were people much better than me, but heck, I could console myself with the fact that I wasn't as bad as the kids who were there to get graduation credit.  I never made the front hall display case, but by that time, it didn't matter.  I was a self identified artist.  My projects for school were done, but at home is where I thrived.  I filled sketchbooks.  I made paintings.  I made collages.  I was happy. 
Also not a self portrait. 

                Then I went to college.  You know how everyone says college is the best years of your life?  Yeah... nope.  As I moved up through higher education, I heard a lot more negative comments about my ability.  There was the thinly veiled compliments, "You have great ideas, you just need to get your skill set up."  Then there was the outright negative opinions, "Boy, you suck.*"  If college taught me one thing, it was not listen to ANYONE's opinion about my art.  Which is an awesome skill to learn, and one I would need to have even if I was fantastic at drawing.  I just got a lot more practice than the average art student. 
This was obliviously how I showed teenage angst.  Thousands and thousands of dots. 
This is pointillism, haters.  

                So now I'm the art teacher.  The path I took to becoming one is long and twisted, and it's really not the point of this post.  The point of the post is I think being a "crappy" artist made me an "awesome" art teacher.  I know the struggles of the students.  I know how frustrating it can be to have a vision in your head and not able to put it down on paper.  I know the great effort it can take to draw a face, much less the entire body.  I know the jealously of seeing your peer scribble something effortlessly down on the paper and have it be amazing.  You know how Timothy Bogatz wrote this post?  Yeah, that's me everyday buddy!  They're all better than me. 
OK, which one of you left this spot?!??!?!

                But that's ok.  I have so much to offer these students.  I have the historical knowledge.  I have suggestions and inspiration to share.  I can talk to a middle school student and help them map out what they are thinking.  Together, in class, we turn ideas into art.  It's not an artist who does that for someone, it's a teacher.  I wish I could go back in time and help my twelve year old self put into words what she was trying to create that day in art class.  I would dry her tears, tell her she's an artist, and give her some words of advice. 

"You think this is bad?  Just wait until you have to deal with student growth objectives."  


*Actual professor comment to me. 

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