This week's blog post is written by Laura K. Maxwell.
Before I began actively creating and selling my own art, I was an elementary art teacher. I taught students how to draw, paint, and sculpt at an elementary school in Dallas, Texas before moving to Portland. I believe a big part of teaching is learning with your students. A classroom - especially an art classroom - should be a place where everyone involved, including the teacher, are discovering new things and learning from each other. This turned out to be especially true in my situation. My students taught me how to be an artist.
Before teaching, I had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art History. Looking back, I think it was because I was more comfortable reading and talking about art, rather than making it myself. For sure, Art History is super interesting - learning how visual culture has changed throughout time and history - but by the end, it felt hollow. I wanted to pursue something more meaningful. So I endeavored to teach little ones how to engage with and appreciate art themselves. I got a Master’s in Art Education and began teaching K-6 art. As I said, I wasn’t really creating much art myself at the time, and so a part of me didn’t feel quite qualified to be teaching others. Either way, I dove in and determined to learn as I went.
A big part of teaching is giving pep talks. Creating is a scary process, and when a piece turns out differently than you plan, it can be really frustrating - for kids and adults alike. It was not uncommon to have a student in tears, so upset that their artwork wasn’t turning out the way they hoped. I tried to combat this from the very beginning of the school year, by reading books like Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg -- which is about how any “mistake” can be turned into something beautiful. Also the books The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds, which both encourage embracing the unique way you create, even when it’s not exactly what you were expecting.
It’s hard to give a pep talk without some of it seeping into yourself. As I encouraged my students and watched them create without fear, I began to hunger to do the same. When I had extra time in the evenings and weekends, I pulled out a sketchbook and some pens and started to draw. At first it was just to prepare for specific lessons, but then I increasingly began to do art for its own sake. I especially tried to challenge myself to draw in pen, so that I could really embrace the “beautiful oops” philosophy and be forced to turn my mistakes into something beautiful, rather than erase. This really drove me crazy at times. It is also freeing - to let go of fixed outcomes and see where the process leads one step at a time.
I don’t teach full time anymore, but I still value the lessons learned from teaching and continually am inspired by the uninhibited creativity I see in young artists. I agree with Pablo Picasso who said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
I believe the drive to create is part of the human condition. Don’t suppress that- - don’t be afraid of making mistakes or comparing your creative path to another's. Get out there and make something.