Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Art-eries carry blood from the heart to the body

During teacher conferences a few weeks ago I mentioned to Blue's teacher that Blue is less than thrilled with the art "class." This is taught on Fridays, not by a trained, enthusiastic certificated teacher, but by the regular teacher. She's brilliant at teaching math and reading, but like all of us, she's not perfect at everything. Her art instruction is less than inspired and rather control-freaky. Anti-art. I mentioned being a couple credits short of my art degree (I was a double major until that pink cross appeared on the dip stick, then I shortened my elongated college career by finishing up just the one philosophy-esc major) and so art was kind of important in our house, and Blue probably had absurdly high expectations of art at school. And the teacher burst forth with a plea for me to help her, readily admitting it wasn't her forte. I was impressed she knew herself and her limits so well.

I've been careful with what I involve myself. I'm planning on staying here for an absurdly long time and I have immense difficulty un-extricating myself from volunteer work once I've begun. I've chosen surgical precision infiltration into activities. And people. I want everything I do to ring true. No time fillers. No people fillers. Just people that get me and work that touches me. And until that happens, I'll be fine alone-ish, with my family.

This seemed close enough. So I decided to try it. With the caveat that if it doesn't make my heart sing, I don't do it again.

My heart is still belting out an aria.

To match their Sioux studies, I suggested a shield decorated with a dream animal of protection and festooned with feathers and beads (this I pulled from a book about the Sioux... it's not just some stereo type I gleaned from Tonto, rest assured). We discussed, improvised, planned and developed the project. And then we began.

Where I went during those two hours astonished me. I was there, in this hectic class room. I wasn't overwhelmed or frazzled as I suspected I would be. I was fully present, asking each child if the animal resonated with them. If when they looked at their drawing they saw something they loved. If they felt they were done, or if they wanted to add more. Nothing was bad. Nothing needed erasing, unless they felt it wasn't their best. I encouraged drawings so big and powerful and protective that the plate could not contain them. I wanted them to feel safe enough to be big, and free enough to express the big world within each small child. What I wanted them all to know was that art is about personal expression. And in this there are no rules except: do your best. Art is about our best and truest selves. Whoever you are is beautiful and wonderful and that is the story that art tells, first and foremost. And I got to help them hear their shields tell that story. I took each shield into my hands and praised it for it's specific strengths. And while I did that I explained about colors and textures and dynamics. I got to speak about artists using the unique qualities of their materials, such as the ruffled edges of our paper plates. As long as a teacher is present, art is a collaboration with that teacher, with her values, with her ideals. What I valued and expressed became part of their work. I felt it was my responsibility to guide them to a final work they felt proud of because it was theirs and it was good.

I honestly fell in love with every student and every shield they created. And I was free to do this because the teacher was attending to the business end of 24 3rd graders. The class buzzed with beauty and enthusiasm. I was not overwhelmed with kids, I was overwhelmed with love for 24 perfectly cherish-able beings. My heart could barely contain that much love.

When the students left, the teacher and I pawed through their plates and I tell you, I have never seen such beautiful work. We were both astounded at what they accomplished with some pencils, paper plates, yarn and a little instruction. Such a humble project and such glorious and divine rewards.

Most schools have cut real art programs. Teachers, untrained in this crucial spiritual work, have had to roll up their sleeves and get to it. Some probably love it, relish it as their favorite part of the day. Others welcome help. And I will. I will.

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