Dribble Doggie, painted by a 6th grader in a Lowell Public School, who swore up and down he wasn’t an artist and had no artistic talent. He is and he does.
I’m working on a project with middle schoolers in Lowell Public Schools in Massachusetts.
It’s my unenviable task to spend two 2-hour sessions with the kids and have a finished mural by the end of it — a mural that will hang in a Lowell Park.
I teach up to 50 kids at once. You can imagine the chaos.
I just started the work, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. What has amazed me most about it can be summed up in the following scenario.
I come to the front door of one of the public schools, a drab, pockmarked undernourished looking building. The door is locked. You have to buzz to be let in.
The corridors too are drab, brightened up here and there by colored construction paper on bulletin boards. Everywhere are signs about Respect and Responsibility. These are multi-ethnic schools and getting everyone to get along must be a big issue.
Finally, I face the kids. We are dribbling paint on 1’x1′ boards, random lines we then look at to ‘see’ a picture and paint it in. We’re dribbling the paint from one board to another as a metaphor of ‘we’re all connected’. I have only two hours per session and I want to have a soulful impact with the kids, besides the very real mural we have to paint and finish on deadline.
Finally, I ask them: Who thinks they’re an artist? Two hands go up. I ask: Who thinks that you’re only an artist if you have pictures up in galleries? Lots of hands fly up.
I say: We’re all artists in our souls. Just be yourself.
You could hear a pin drop when I said: be yourself. I’m quite psychic, and even the psychic noise calmed significantly from the kids.
Just be yourself. As a writer, just be yourself.
Just like these kids have to prep for state-wide tests that have nothing to do with who they are deep down (not that I’m against holding education to some standard — but there’s got to be a balance), just as these kids think there’s a right way to do something, a way decided by someone else, so too do we as adult artist/writers think there is a right way, a standard way.
If we could just learn it, follow it, then we’d be a success. The only real success as an artist comes from being yourself. It’s a lifetime journey of finding out who that self is. We need to excavate it because we’ve been told for so long that this institution or that KNOWS the right way. No, they don’t.
When you are your true creative, eccentric self you may feel fragile, shy. That’s OK. That’s because you don’t have whole organizations touting what you’re doing. Your real self is just this one person with this one vision. But then single people with their own vision (a vision that’s gone up against the mainstream standards), have profoundly impacted the world. Ghandi, Jesus, Buddha to name spiritual leaders. Pollock, Cézanne, Van Gogh, to name visual artists.
Even in the building where I have my art studio, you wouldn’t believe how many people still believe there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing art. The right way is the institutional way, the grad school way, the mainstream way. Is it?
Let’s just be our creative selves, shall we? The rest is all just so depressing.