One of the most wonderful things about art is the amount of freedom it provides. We can make art out of almost any material and about any subject matter. It is an excellent means of self-expression as well as self-exploration. One of my favorite moments in the artroom is when a student has an a-ha moment and is surprised by how well their piece has turned out or thrilled at the mastery of a new technique. They do not always know how talented they are and art teaches them what they are capable of.
Personally, I started to identify myself as “an artist” very early in life. I loved to make things and working with my hands. In elementary school, I used to go into my backyard and dig clay out of the ground. I sculpted it into small bird’s heads and used pebbles for the eyes. I would bake them on the driveway until they hardened in the sun. This was perfectly normal to me, because I was “an artist”. I looked for any excuse to make things and loved sharing what I had made with others. My parents were the recipients of countless creations over the years as I explored various artistic avenues.
By middle school, I was at home in the artroom. I knew my teacher well and felt comfortable and supported there. I ways always seeking opportunities though: electives, clubs, afterschool options and through the gifted program, anything that might give me additional time in the artroom. My peers and teachers complimented my skills and made me feel good about my abilities. My confidence in my art making grew at a time when I was insecure about pretty much everything else. I was not popular, athletic or tan. I felt like I stood out when I desperately wanted to fit in. Middle school can be a difficult time as we test boundaries and explore the things that will mold us into the adult we will be one day. I found my foundation in art.
That foundation and sense of belonging followed me on to high school. I found some lifelong friends, including my future husband, in the art room. I ate lunch there everyday so I could keep creating. Senior year I was even excused from gym class to perfect my portfolio for college applications. I proudly announced to anyone who would listen that “I was going to art school”. I had a purpose. I had a passion. I was “an artist”. Three art colleges and so many years later, I am still “an artist”. I am happiest when I am creating and love to share what I have learned with my students. I recognize the students who have a tendency to linger in the art room, or check in when they have free time.
They are comfortable here and are looking for an excuse to make things. They are trying on the title of “artist” to see how it fits. For many, it fits very well. Art becomes an integral part of their identity. It is a means of self expression. It is how they impress their peers and explore the world around them. They identify with being “an artist” and by doing so, have found where they fit. What makes art especially important in terms of self-image is that you do not have to identify as an artist to express who you are in your art. Athletes can make art about their passion for sports, animal lovers can make art about their favorite species. There is a path of self discovery for any who are willing to take it. I see my job as an art educator to encourage my students to find and follow their own path in art and am fortunate to get to ride along on their journey for a little while.