This post could be subtitled “A Cautionary Tale.” Last Monday, I blogged about the joy inherent in the artistic expression of children. I remember feeling that joy myself. I liked my art big and bold and life-size, if possible. Mum used to tell of going into the spare bedroom where she’d covered the bed with a clean flat sheet, to find that toddler me had drawn a mural over the entire sheet. She kept that sheet until it faded beyond recognition. I remember standing on a chair in first grade, so that I could draw huge pictures on the blackboard at recess time. My grandmother used to save shopping bags for me (at that time, shopping bags were made of paper, with stiff cord handles). I would cut the bag down the sides so that it would lie flat, then draw a person and color and cut it out, leaving one handle sticking out the head of my person. I could then carry the person around by the handle, making her “walk.” I wonder how many such people I made over the years?

There came a point, however, when I became aware that other kids in my class could draw much more realistically than I could. Other kids were “artistic.” I began to feel I was not. I don’t know now if it was just the comparison of my own art to theirs, if there were careless remarks that added up to me thinking I wasn’t good at art — however it happened, it happened. It’s all too easy to squelch that joy in artistic expression that we saw last week, and that I felt in my early years.

Are you familiar with Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red?” It illustrates this perfectly. It’s available on iTunes (or Youtube). I’d urge you to give it a listen before clicking on “read more.”

I am so grateful that a person like the second teacher in that song came into my life, and expanded my view of art, and of my abilities. Pat was a friend of my Mum’s, a wonderfully creative, encouraging person, who was one of the leaders in a girls’ group I joined when I was 12. We became friends, and she started inviting me over to her home for an afternoon, or a day.

She taught me to create abstracts with oil pastels; she taught me to quilt; she taught me to do batik. Her art went beyond the perfectly representational drawings that I could not emulate. Her art was free, it was “writ large” on the page or the fabric. It sang. She encouraged the artist within me, the artist who had been intimidated. She challenged me to step beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone in many other ways, as well. She was — and is — truly a mentor to me, and we remain friends to this day.

Her main artistic work these days is in pottery, but I still receive note cards every now and then with a tiny batik on them, which brings back the memories of those wonderful, free, excitingly creative times in that little house in a town that hardly exists anymore. I will forever be grateful to her.

There is a wonderful video of Eric Carle, picture book author/illustrator par excellence, talking about his book The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (which will be my Perfect Picture Book selection this Friday). I hope you’ll take a few minutes and listen to him talk about encouraging children’s artistic freedom.

Words and actions of encouragement cost nothing, but their worth to the receiver is beyond price.

How can you, how can I, encourage a child or teen today and every day?

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