Friday, April 19, 2013

Pictures, Not Words

I was recently invited to speak at the Frist Visual Arts Center because my woodcut and the block it was printed on are in the Martin Artquest Gallery. I shared some of my experiences with art education and I wanted to share them here with you on my blog.

"Lesson" acrylic, collage & found objects on panel
As a child, I went to public schools and we always had art class. I wasn’t a great student in general and being left handed made the writing messy. One of my earliest memories of doing art was with Mrs. Damico in second grade. She had us reach in to a paper bag and grasp an object and draw what it made us think of. I felt something furry (a rabbits foot keychain) and drew a squirrel with a gigantic tail. It won a prize in a local kids' art show but I remember loving the feeling of making something up on paper stemming from a real experience.

In high school I had Mrs. Hall for art, who was very supportive of my art interest and made up a job for me as art room monitor and gave me a key to the room. This was my first studio and the beginning of my identity as the artist.

My father told me once that as a child on my first visit to the library I told him “Daddy, pictures not words.” I had trouble reading but I drew constantly, making things up, copying comic books, and photographs- I loved the private space and the different sense of time that drawing and making things afforded me.

Museums played a big role too. I remember my father taking me to the Boston museum of Fine Arts when I was around 10 years old and seeing a Monet painting I had coveted in a book and was shocked that it existed in real life. I was mesmerized by the texture of the painted surface.

And so I have had a life in art that I never could have imagined as a never relinquishing the private space of artmaking to the world. When I came to TN in the mid –eighties I worked for two years for the TN Arts Commission’s Artists in the Schools program for KMA. I went to schools all over East Tennessee and worked with mostly elementary school age kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds.I was inspired by the kids and saw that in first and second grade all 30 kids in the class made great, honest art.

I want to share a few excerpts of letters I received from the students.

Thank you for teaching me how to put light in my pictures

I never knew such artwork could exist. Before you came I could not draw at all. Now I am very ,very good

I like drawing because it was fun and we didn’t have to work

I wish in the future there would be more shapes

Thank you so much for the art project and for using up some of our time

I liked the lesson

I used the words from the last student note in a painting called Lesson that I did a few years ago (seen above). To me, using handwritten words and text adds meaning to a work.

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