Friday, November 08, 2013

Artistic Trauma

At a workshop last week the presenter was talking about using art therapy to assist people in treatment. He commented that one of the things that sometimes has to be dealt with is artistic trauma that many children experience in school. That poor child who has trouble drawing stick people feeling pressured to be Van Gogh.

Later in the week I heard a story about a mother writing a letter to her daughter's art teacher for, in essence, artistic trauma. It seems the child drew a purple cow. The cow was not standing on the ground. Everyone knows that cows are not purple and that they need to be well grounded- all feet on the dirt. Needless to say the child was hurt. But so was the mother. She introduced her daughter to the work of Marc Chagall and others where color was intense and all sorts of animals and people can fly.

Bravo to that mother. Her daughter may not turn into a great artist, but I would bet she will like great art. Not all art is "realistic." Van Gogh, Picasso, Chagall give us views of the world that enlighten and challenge us. The power of art.

But the whole congruence of these two incidents last week got me thinking about my own history with art. I have never had an artistic gift. I am one of those with the poorly drawn stick figures. I watched the PBS art guy, Bob Ross. I could see how he did his work, but I could never figure out how to do it. I remember looking at those ads in the back of comic books about becoming an artist. I never spent my money on any of them. It would be a waste of money. When I would be in a group where the icebreaker assignment would be draw a family shield or picture of something, I would shy away to the side and mumble and scribble.

Then I wondered how I was traumatized in my artistic growth. I never remember any. I just remember the feeling that I knew, without a doubt, that I am not cut out to be an artist with pain and canvas. Give me a camera and I will spend hours exploring and snapping pictures. Give a men and a Moleskine journal and I can be happy with words upon words. But drawing. Not me.

Then it came to me. In 6th grade I had my one and only art work in a school art show. My friend Mick and I were wandering around the spring exhibit commenting on the work of classmates. Then there it was. A piece with our names on the work. Mick and Barry, exhibited artists in 6th grade.

I am not sure of the color anymore, it could have been a dark blue or black piece of construction paper. Pasted on the background were irregular, uneven pieces of white paper. Bisecting the picture both horizontally and vertically were two dark brown strips of construction paper connected to the dark brown construction paper frame.

Got that in your mind?

We both started to laugh. In case my word picture isn't detailed enough let me describe why Mick and I did that piece.

It was a winter window as part of a scene for a school class play. It was night and it was snowing.

My one moment in the artistic sun was a bunch of oddly cut-out snow flakes pasted on dark construction paper.

Is that trauma? No, not by any stretch. But it sure gave me an insight into the weirdness of art teachers. I don't think it kept me from learning how to become an artist. I guess it can be taught, but it also takes a way of looking at the world and being able to translate that into a picture of some type.

I guess our picture could have been considered modern art. At least we didn't win any awards.

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