Today in the art residency I am teaching, we did self-portraits. These are intended to be Christmas presents for the 4th-graders' parents (act surprised if your child is in this class, okay?) and were also an exercise to get them a little more confident with planning and painting in watercolors before we illustrate the stories we've written as part of the residency.
Now let me say right off the bat that this would be a daunting challenge for most adults - and for a 9-year-old to tackle it, no one was expecting perfection. But one boy in particular was in tears from about 4 minutes into the lesson. "I can't draw," he sobbed. "I never could."
To my knowledge, no one in the class had told him he couldn't draw. In fact, his table group were surprisingly supportive of his drawing. And considering they'd had two hours practice so far, the portraits were turning out surprisingly well. But at each step - eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair - he'd start to cry and drop his pencil until someone came and walked him through it. It really broke my heart to see someone so young finished already. He had shut the door firmly on art for reasons that I obviously didn't understand.
How many other kids have already shut the door on something because they "can't"? How many grown-ups are no longer even aware they have hidden talents as writers or artists or some other skill because they made up their mind when they were 9 years old that they couldn't?
Three years ago, I also sat down in a class and said "I can't draw." But because it was so important to me, and with the encouragement of my own classmates, I can call myself an artist today. I know I still have a lot to learn but I discovered something that thrills me in both the product and the process and I can't imagine life without it.
I have just over four hours over the next week to try to light that fire in these students.
Wish me luck...
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