As long as I can remember, when it comes to art, my mother’s side of the family won awards. The artistic gene ran strong producing writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, and graphic designers. A gene, which I inherited but my brother did not.
I saw over the years how this placed my brother at a disadvantage. In minutes, I could churn out an assignment with a creative twist that would wow my teacher into giving me a top grade. For hours, he would stare at me with envy as I goofed off while he still sat at the kitchen table struggling with his assignment.
When Kyra’s school, Pacific Northern Academy, launched an art exhibit on May 5, showcasing the best work from each student ranging from Kindergarten through Eighth grade, I must confess that I was nervous.
A week earlier, we had brought home Kyra’s portfolio and Drawing/Reflection Journal, one of the reasons why many parents choose PNA. With two days of art per week, the portfolio and journal is a wonderful treat offered by Ms. Brenda Jaeger, the fine arts teacher since 1996 who won the highest awards in seven exhibitions, including four All Alaska Juried Watercolor Exhibitions.
We “oohed and aahed,” of course, in front of Kyra, but later after the kids were in bed, I scrutinized her progress. Most of her artwork looked similar to the abstract stuff she did last year, where it seemed like she just scribbled. Having spotted some of her classmates’ work where vases and flowers clearly appeared in their pieces, I worried that Kyra did not get the Chow family artistic gene.
Or worse, maybe I had not done enough to nurture it. Earlier in the school year, I had noticed that her classmates drew people while Kyra drew “Angry Birds,” from the popular iPhone app. So, I sat her down one evening and showed her how to draw a person. Her first attempt mimicked my sketch precisely and I saw this figure pop up in her Drawing/Reflection Journal throughout the year.
Whew, I had thought: She does have the gene. And then, I think I just focused my energy on academics, ballet, and piano and forgot about art, until now.
So before Kyra got out of class, I popped my head into the art exhibit along with several other anxious parents. Sandwiched between her classmate’s watercolor of a perfect owl and a Picasso-looking chalk pastel vase, I found Kyra’s relief print of a bright yellow truck on brown paper. Not bad, I thought. She’s working in a media I’ve never tried before. Plus, Ms. Jaeger had matted each piece and included a photo of each artist so that the presentation as a whole looked quite professional. But in the distance, I could hear other parents saying to each other what I was afraid to say: “Oh my god! I wish my daughter could draw like yours.”
By the time, my kids sipped their apple ciders from fancy plastic champagne glasses and snacked on salami, cheese, and melon and listened to one of Kyra’s classmates, Charlie Edwards, and an Early Kindergartener provide ambience with at least twenty memorized violin songs, I started to say the same thing. After all, my mother used to hear parents whisper this into her ear and it made her so proud.
That night, I asked Kyra to show me her portfolio and journal again. This time, I studied my daughter instead of the artwork. Her eyes brimmed with excitement. She also asked her dad and Ethan to listen to her story about each piece. Sometimes, she said, “I don’t know what this is?” Other times, she would shrug and laugh because she had no idea what she drew. But here were some of my favorite:
“This is a car with teeth.”
“You can’t tell what this is because it’s a sneaky U.”
“That’s me and you. I put us inside of a heart. And we are getting married.”
“That’s me! That’s Kyra.”
Ms. Jaeger reminds me that there is no right or wrong way to do art. There are many ways to create. Exploration during the learning process is an effective way to facilitate student learning. As students do the process of art, they develop their personal vision. Students learn about themselves through the process of creating representations of their own ideas. As the process of art leads them to make choices and to take creative risks, they gain confidence in their ability to solve problems and experience the joy of freedom within structure.
She says, “Art, taught well, allows a growing child richer self-expression, more varied ways of understanding the world, and opportunities to feel joy and wonder.”