Monday, January 31, 2011
Why do some kids keep drawing and some kids stop? Are artists childlike creatures who remain forever locked into their own imagination, viewing the world through their myopic vision? Are artists the product of noisy, argumentative families where their imagination is the only safe, quiet place to hide? Or do artists come from families where creativity is encouraged with lots of art materials and trips to museums? Maybe artists come from families, as Georgia O'Keefe said, who "work with their hands". Have artists chosen their path, or did art choose them? Did they have encouraging teachers, or, like Faith Ringgold, did they have teachers who told them that they "would never be an artist"? Have artists always risen up from poverty, or can they also come from wealth and exposure to art and other artists? Is being artistically gifted hereditary, or can any one practice artistic skills and become fluent?
Every week I see children that I think are truly gifted artists, but I also see children who have great ideas and think independently. I see kids who work with their hands so easily, interpreting their ideas into something visually exciting and new. In kindergarten, no child doubts that they are artists. They jump right into their work, unafraid and excited by new materials and ideas like color mixing. In first grade, they have better fine motor skills and begin to interpret the world around them with accuracy. In second grade, they have confidence and use color, line and shape in bold ways.
But every once in a while I see a child whose intensity really amazes me. Last week, I was explaining a project about winter trees to a kindergarten class. I asked the class to begin with the deciduous trees we had looked at in the book "Owl Moon". Then, I explained, they should finish the forest with pine trees. As I looked around the room to see if everyone understood what I was asking for, I noticed one girl who had begun to work as soon as I said the word, 'tree'. I walked over to her table and saw that she was focused on her tree; a big, dark, twisted tree with forked branches and rusty pastel bark. She hadn't heard the assignment but had begun as soon as she heard the word 'tree' and had fallen into that trancelike state that I see in some children whom I believe to be real artists. I believe this focus, this intensity marks them from an early age as gifted and talented, and, although I see many children whose wonderful ideas delight me, these are the children I look for: to encourage, to help in any way I can.