Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm asking for it...

Yesterday, my niece, a joyful little 3 year old, came over to play. She sat at the wheel and poked, prodded, and embraced the clay. She sat across from me at my second wheel. It was all very cute, etc. etc. As she finished a "pot" and wanted me to come cut if off, I said, "Ok, let me finish this pot... Just sit there and be patient and watch me throw." She looked at me and then quickly looked over her left and right shoulders, looked back at me with a questioning look, and said, "Where?" HA! I laughed and explained that the word "throw" in pottery is the word for turning the clay on the wheel into a pot.

She is growing up, just as I did, with an insiders view of the artist at work. Seeing an artist really working at their craft, day after day, with a seriousness far beyond what some people see as a "hobby" makes a huge difference in a child's understanding of art, both past and present, famous and local. Basic education used to include pretty serious drawing and painting lessons. Among many things, this would show the difficulty of the craft and stir a profound respect for those with the skills to make a living from it (or try!). Unfortunately, a lack of art education has been going on long enough that we have even gotten to the point where many adults have no concept of this. And unless an adult seeks out a deeper understanding of art, there will not be any reference point for their children... and pattern continues.

This subject fascinates me. It gets very messy because it is the result of an amalgamation of pretty heavy subjects: cultural changes in freedom of the individual, religions and philosophies, public sentiments toward art, educational policies, technology, mass production and outsourcing, and even the role of the family. As you study art history, you can see the gradual decline of public desire for and understanding of the modern artist. Some of the modern art and most of the post-modern or contemporary art is alienating in its very core. And it has done just that. Alienated the individual from art. Rather than engaging the viewer in any capacity, its purpose, as stated by the artists themselves and as spoken by the artwork itself, is to shock, to push away, to elude.

Well, we have gotten our results. The public has a natural desire for art and beauty but no where to turn. Educating kids in art and art history is seen as dispensable. Some are angered, confused, apathetic towards the art world and turn away or ignore. People's experience with art consists of elementary crafts, color by number, and second grade tracing mixed with a head knowledge of a few names... The Mona Lisa, The Waterlilies, Sunflowers, The David.

Art is a skill. It is a gift that some people have, just as a mathematical mind or a natural born leader. But just like those things, it requires massive amounts of time in practice, honing, developing and enhancing. I have all the patience in the world for adults and children alike who have no background or beginning of understanding about art. We have to rebuild the understanding. Let me encourage all of you: don't let it elude you. Don't be intimidated. Like what you like and learn more. Ask questions. Seek out beauty in your life whether it be in the color of your walls, the shape of your kitchen cabinet knobs, the mug for your coffee, or the painting above your mantle.


  1. So true Sarah. Thanks for your thoughfulness. It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better with art programs taking the first hits of the recession cut backs in schools and programs.

    Keep up the great work and observations! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The more the establishment and art communities have sought to remove God from art, the less people are drawn to it...hmmm...that raises a question. If God is not in it, is it art at all?

    Good post, Sarah!

  3. This has been going on for centuries. Something happened between the Renaissance and now, when urinals and pictures of soup cans are museum pieces. Who can blame people for not valuing art when that's what passes for it nowadays? There would have to be just as big a shift for program cuts/attitudes to change.

  4. Thanks for all the comments. We have much to do to re-instill art as a valuable part of our lives but I don't like to get bogged down in that too much. I just take it one day, one piece, one person at a time and do what I can to be a part of making that happen.