Sometime this last year, one of my previous art students, who is now in college, posted on Facebook: Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”. It made me laugh and think. Ultimately, it became the inspiration for this painting, which I created for my art classroom this summer.
With all of the emphasis on testing at my school and across the country, the arts tend to be ignored by educators and administrators trying to get students to pass a test. However, art is an integral part of our world. Art is all around us. We cannot escape it. We are constantly choosing the beauty we allow into our lives from the clothing we wear, to the home we live in, and to the car, we drive. Color and beauty surrounds us and inspires us. Life without some form of art, in my opinion, would be dull for most of us. Most people are inspired by the performing arts, especially music. We cannot wait to listen to music. It can both soothe our soul on a tough day and motivate us to action on another. We can view a painting and be mesmerized by both the detailed brushstroke or loose, fast, moving strokes. I can remember seeing a Van Gogh painting back in my twenties that I swore the wheat was moving in. Of course, it appeared as though the wind was blowing and it was just paint, but it was fascinating to me.
When I was young, I grew up in a very large family. We really didn’t have time for art. We worked hard and we just were not exposed to the arts in a way that many are today. The fact that I became an art teacher is somewhat puzzling. I didn’t have an art class all through my K-12 years. I had a pencil and paper and I liked to draw. I didn’t have room in my schedule in high school for an art class until my senior year because I was all college prep. I didn’t take art. I took choir. I really like to sing but the truth is I figured I would be a failure in an art class. I had never had art, so how could I possibly take art as a senior? I knew I could sing a bit so I figured that was a safer bet. However, during my senior year I remember staying up late and drawing. One time I got out the encyclopedia and drew a picture of JFK. Of course, I just happened to leave it on the kitchen table so my parents would see it in the morning. I don’t remember their response but I did keep on drawing. I went on to college as an undeclared major. I loved college. I took many different classes from psychology to philosophy and of course all of the other required courses and I kept on drawing. Other students encouraged me to take an art course after seeing a drawing I did of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. I don’t even remember how I discovered that painting but I wanted to draw that beautiful girl. I thought my friends were nuts, but somehow I found myself signing up for a drawing class. I was scared to death. When I went to my first class, the other students were talking about how stupid it was that they had to take this “dip shit” drawing course before they could take anything better. I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?” I talked to the professor after class and he asked me if I would faithfully come to class and do the assignments. I told him I would. He told me that I would be fine, not to drop out, and to watch as some of those students do drop out. He was right. When I took that first class, I knew I had found my home, my center, the place where I felt complete, like I never had before. Art gave me courage. Art gave me purpose. Art made me feel I was part of something bigger in this world.
Even though I missed some early art training, I have never looked back. I know I made the right choice for me. I love making art and I love teaching art to my students. I feel earth without art is just “eh” for sure. After changing my major to art, I discovered clay. Throwing on the wheel became a passion so I spent many years supporting myself with that passion. I truthfully only went into teaching because of my parents. My mom wanted me to have my teaching certificate to fall back on. Both of my parents were teachers. When I first graduated, I taught art at Fowler, Michigan and I loved it but I still wanted to make pottery. When my husband took a job in Oklahoma, I gave up my job and focused on my pottery. In a few years, he left and I had to make a living for my son and myself. I did it with my pottery. It was tough because I had to make a lot of pottery, not just the things that most inspired me. However, I did well enough to move back to Michigan and buy a home. When my son was in Kindergarten, I went up to the school with my pottery wheel and some clay for his class. I had so much fun working with those little kids that I started thinking about going back to teaching. It appeared that in order to do this I needed to update my teaching credentials, which meant more schooling. I had taken courses in Oklahoma but they were all pottery courses with Montee Hoke. They wouldn’t count towards that update. It was going to cost about $6000, so I thought I can’t do that! Of course, with parents like mine, that was not going to happen. They said they would loan me the money. When I told them, it had been awhile and I might not do well, my mom laughed and told me I was a good student and I would do fine. Of course, she was right. I went to Central Michigan University. My son started second grade at Glen Lake and then went to CMU with me. We lived in married housing, which he loved! He loved it because it was a small apartment and other kids were there. He ended the year back up at Glen Lake. I’m lucky he was a smart kid and easily adjusted to the situation. I remember telling him we were going on an adventure!
That was well over twenty years ago. After CMU, I taught art at Manistee part time for a year. Then I was hired at Sturgis. I have taught twenty years at Sturgis. What I find amazing is how excited the start of a new year remains for me. I spent much of this summer working on classroom management, creating art for my classroom, and creating new lesson plans for my students. I totally revamped my classroom and discipline plan. I made art to inspire my students. I have a passion for teaching art. I want to inspire everyone I can with how important art is in our lives. Art gives children an opportunity to express themselves. It can make a child feel like a super star. It can even do that for adults. Art can transform people and even nations. Art is a language that we all can understand. It can speak to us in quiet ways or loud. It can teach us to care. It can help us understand each other. The earth without art really is just “eh”.