Recently, Julia called me from the Boys and Girls Club because she was writing an art grant. She was curious about my methodology for teaching art to the teens. My behind the scenes thought processes. I’ve thought about that conversation for several days. I thought to myself that the teens will probably never know how much time and thought I put into their lessons. Just the generation of ideas, for projects day in and day out, can be exhausting. I know, for myself, that just the putting together of supplies for specific projects and the working thru of methods for students in different stages of skill development is enough to wear me out….I can’t imagine art teachers in public schools doing all of that.
But the main thing that stayed on my mind was this…I don’t want the facts to get in the way of the students’ truth. So the facts are these…these students of mine will not grow up to be artists, for the most part. Even though they are incredibly talented, I know that their lives are so difficult, on so many levels, that an art career is out of the question. Just the sheer amount of practice necessary to become proficient is something most of them will not be able to do. Several years ago I had the realization that I could not teach them art. That’s right. NOT. So I had to back up and wonder what I could teach them. What would be the most valuable way to spend my time? You know, my husband and I have six children. I’m 52. My time is limited in the extreme. So how could I “give back” and serve these kids that I made a commitment to?
Here’s what I decided, in case you’re interested or thinking of teaching at a nonprofit. I cannot teach them art, but I can teach them the benefits of art. And, for me, the benefit of art is being able to tell my truth. I want them to tell their truth, whatever it may be. A lot of their art is raw, uncomfortable and ugly. That’s perfect. Every day, every month, every year that I can spend teaching them to art their truth out …is another day I’m successful. And ultimately that they are successful. I believe that it’s not enough to just get through your day, I believe that it’s not enough to just exist. I want them to believe that too. I want them to think, deeply, about who they are and why they are here. To understand themselves and the context of their lives. I want them to not only point at the moon, but to see it. I want them to become comfortable telling their truth, despite the facts.
Sometimes the facts are grim…sometimes their truth is too. That’s ok. I can’t change the facts but , It’s enough I think, for them to be heard, understood, and to pour their emotions out onto the page. If I can facilitate that…their truth…then I’ve taught them something. I’m listening and the people who see their art are listening too. That’s a lot more people listening to these children than were listening previously. We all just want to be heard. This art that we do together is the vehicle for that process. I’m working at teaching them to drive it without worrying what it looks like. It’s enough for me that the engine works.