When I was in the fourth grade, the art teacher in our elementary school decided to put together a special extended art class for those of us that showed a real interest. Since I went to public school, we had "specials" every day -- art, PE, music, and library, but this was an extra class, and that meant if you were picked for this, you missed actual regular class work.
Now, mind you, I didn't really like the art teacher because he was weird, he had a funny nasally accent (he was from the north), and his butt crack always showed. But it just so happened that this extra art class met during math time on Fridays, and I was very interested in getting out of working on multiplication whenever possible. So I worked hard on the mobiles in our regular art time, hoping to get noticed. I also asked the other kids how they got picked, and found out they drew pictures and left them in their tote tray.
By mimicking their actions, soon my hope was realized, and on Fridays, I found myself working on an independent art project instead of multiplication problems, which I had already mastered.
Now here's where my tale gets interesting, transforming from a lesson in how to get out of an undesirable task by pursuing something at least moderately more engaging. I actually felt inspired to try a few new things. I felt safe in that extra art class, because these projects, instead of being judged as meeting the objectives of the assigned exercise, were critiqued. This was my first real experience with constructive feedback in the classroom. I didn't have to worry about a grade at all, but could instead focus on how to improve my creations.
Besides, did you notice where I mentioned that we were working on mobiles during regular art time? We did that for weeks, and I found it to be wearisome and tedious. Finally, art time became open-ended, and the possibilities seemed endless.
At least, until I had my first breakthrough idea for an awesome drawing.
If you remember the 1970s, then you may recall the old Alka-Seltzer commercials where you saw two tablets dropped into a glass of water, which immediately started fizzing.
The jingle, "plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is!" was such a great slogan that I couldn't resist using it as inspiration. Unfortunately, what I thought to be extremely clever and original didn't quite meet the high standards of that weird art teacher.
I had, for months, been working on drawing bunnies. Not lifelike, realistic portraits, but something more like a bunny costume worn by a person. Think Donnie Darko, minus the wrecked side of the face, and you'll have a close approximation of what my bunny looked like.
Now imagine a bunny in profile, sitting.
On a toilet.
Add in the slogan made famous by Alka-Seltzer, and you've got a picture that is not only a Beezus original, but funny to boot.
|A fair approximation of my fourth grade artwork. Yes, it looks childish, but isn't it clever?|
Unfortunately for me, however, the art teacher went through our tote trays after class, and he must have thought bunnies pooing to be an inappropriate subject for his special, hand-picked budding artists. The next Friday that we met, he pulled me aside and told me as much. I was crushed and shamed, thinking I'd done something wrong, when I thought I had created a really cool work of inspired art.
To add insult to injury, my mother also had a talk with me about my drawing on the ride home from school that afternoon. She taught at the same elementary school, and at some point, the art teacher had told her what I'd done. I cringed to think they'd been talking about me behind my back, and that I'd done something at school to disappoint my mother. I had always been a good student, excelling in my work, and doing so while behaving impeccably in the classroom. It was a serious blow to my creative ego.
Today I can look back on that moment and I can appreciate how amused they must have been when he showed my mother my fine handiwork, but stepping on such a tender, shy artist's attempt such as mine at that time left a permanent mark. I don't remember anything else I did in that art class, or if I ever went back.
Why am I talking about this now?
I guess this silly little story could be a cautionary tale about the attempts we adults make to press children's artistic ways into a prescribed mold of rules (both spoken and unspoken) about what art is, or what it should be.
Or I could be trying to amuse you for just a bit, which is perhaps even more important in the sometimes sad, depressing world we live in today.
But my true intention is to work through some of my own creative issues, because there have been very few occasions since this episode in the fourth grade where I wasn't afraid to create, for fear of my creation being judged by the standards of those around me. Yes, I dabble in lots of creative activities, but seldom do I attempt to try something novel, or out of the box. I admire so many people for what they create, but more importantly, for their courage to follow their creative muse, and I've decided to give myself permission to try new artistic endeavors, even if I fail to attain my own goals.
I hope you can do the same.
Man, how I wish I had that drawing today so I could hang it up and use it as a reminder to follow my own path. Maybe I'll recreate it from the image I carry in my mind's eye.
ETA: I felt my inner imp come to life after writing this post, so I went over to Zazzle and made my own shirt with ye olde Bunny on the john. I just can't help myself sometimes. The link is here if you want to see it for yourself. Blame it on the bloggess.