Working with Young Artists
By trade I am a lawyer. Many lawyers do have a passion besides their original profession though, I happen to have three, if you count my love for children in general and my own children in particular. The other two are writing and art. I mention this because you will surely want to know how I am qualified to “teach art” or as I prefer to say: to work with and alongside young artists.
My grandmother used to say I have been born with a brush in one and in pen in my other hand – and as far as I can remember I have been scribbling and drawing on every appropriate surface – and some less suited. That I came to study law is strange, all things considered, but I guess I wanted to try out if I could succeed doing something else and law had always been intriguing to me. It turned out that I could succeed. I graduated with two law degrees – and came straight back to art. And at some point I started doing it both: art and law. Kids have always played a role. I have been teaching all kinds of classes, art and law, over the last ten years, and it has been a truly rewarding part of my life, not just my professional life. As you might imagine, I am never asked how I qualify to teach legal workshops, I am a lawyer after all, but often how come I teach art as well.
I do believe that art is not the esoteric, isolated endeavor that people sometimes take it to be. Artists are well advised to take notice of their world and have an understanding of it that transcends the visual. Beuys pointed out that every person is an artist, that artistic creation is at the center of human life. He went as far as demanding that every physician, scientist, philosopher be first trained in art. I will venture further by saying that the art world would profit if artists would first be trained in a trade that explores the practical aspects of their environment. Every artist is part of a tangible social reality. The training to become a lawyer might in the end not be either so far from or so detrimental to artistic process as is might seem at first.
Why I do love to work with young artists? Because it refreshing to leave the stereotypes that people retreat to as they become older. Every child I have ever had the pleasure to meet turned out to be an original artist (albeit sometimes a frustrated one …).
I respect the creative work children are capable of. As a first hand witness and as someone who still draws and paints, saws and glues every day: There is no time like childhood to experience the joy of art.
I had the good luck to be raised by a grandmother who had the wisdom of an older generation to pretty much let me do whatever I thought appropriate as long as I did not nail her good table linens onto a broomstick for a pirate sail (happened only once) or cut out my great grandmother’s lace to make curtains for fairy dwellings, also a one time never to happen again situation.
However I was allowed to make use of any tool that I would find in my grandfathers tool shed or in the kitchen without anyone trying to figure out if they were child appropriate. I was also allowed to make generous use of old newspapers and magazines, of the newsprint paper that my grandfather, who was publisher of a local newspaper, brought home, and in general of every piece of metal, screw, paper, feather, stone or yes, glass! that I would pick up on our long walks. It never occurred to my grandparents that I might pick up some dangerous germs on the way.
I brought everything home and assembled it very much the way every child will when you do not interfere. I do not know where our desire to “make” things has its origin but I do know that we already possess it as children, together with an instinct of how things fit together. If children are not allowed to roam as freely as I was, they will still build markers from pebbles and stones, they’d still use sticks to draw in sand, build strange, improvised gardens in mud, decorate prefabricated play structures with ritual signs.
To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.
To come back to the question of my own expertise: I do believe with visionary clarity that it is not my academic expertise that is relevant. It is my willingness to acknowledge and celebrate children as the artists they are. I do believe that art is not a matter of paper and ink, of perspective and shading, I do believe though art techniques can be taught art cannot, no more than breathing, walking, seeing. It is something that happens when things go right or when you have to make them come out right. Art is life.