When I was about 10, an uncle who was a “Sunday artist” spent an afternoon showing me how to draw cups and bowls. He taught me about volume and perspective, taught me how to shade with my pencil, and encouraged me to draw with a “light touch.” He was patient and seemed to enjoy himself. I soaked up the attention. My aunts and uncles loved us all, but it was very rare for one of them to pay particular attention to one of us cousins. They were in their world and we were in ours. I now suspect that this uncle wasn’t so comfortable in the adult world, so for an afternoon, he crossed over.
When I was imagining “Explorations in Art” I wanted the young people who came to experience that kind of attention. I have often worked with large groups of children and youth. Let the wild ruckus begin! Sometimes big group art experiences are more about handling materials and general chaos and completing a project than learning about art.
My first ever Explorations in Art student was Lanelle. For the past two years Lanelle has come once a month, sometimes more and occasionally, less. Among her consuming passions are dragons, so we have learned a lot about art by exploring dragons. But we have also explored tractors, wildflowers, pencils, faces, cubes, cylinders, dogs, ski hills. Together with others we have explored art in the city, both in galleries but also in back alleys, restaurants and tattoo parlours. We have visited the horses, skated on the ice rink, climbed the hills and visited Grandmother Willow in all seasons. We play weird games in the car. Lanelle has brought along her sister, her mom, her cousins and once, eight of her friends! We have favourite snacks – hot chocolate, ginger cookies, pizza. I have been promising her mango smoothies. She has promised me a fiddle concert under the willow tree.
One of the guiding principles of “Explorations in Art” is “Teaching is a two way path”. Nothing could be truer. I have a wonderful group of students and I do not doubt for a moment that they are among the very best teachers I have ever had. They inspire me to see the world in new ways. Their interests take me in new directions. They shake me up.
While the one-on-one approach of “Explorations in Art” allows me to offer a student my full attention and tailor our time together according to their various interests, abilities and working rhythms, it also offers an unintended benefit – the very best art companions. It is about relationship as much as it is about art.
As such, the way Lanelle and I create art together has changed. This summer we spent many happy hours creating in the same room…just enjoying the calm, creative, entirely enjoyable, and beautiful world we were inhabiting together. Lanelle is in charge of music – sometime roots music, sometimes calming music and sometimes dance music – for that, we have Marvin Gaye. Sometimes we have to shake it up and dance or do calisthenics. Sometimes we listen to a book. We have the same quirky (and sometimes dark) sense of humour. Sometimes Lanelle is absolutely quiet. She can be incredibly focussed. Sometimes she talks my ear off.
During the spring, we were having a wonderful talk and I had an epiphany. Lanelle is a kindred spirit. Friends for life, I am sure. Renegades. Art buddies. So, this blog is for you Lanelle – with a thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s also for my long ago (late) uncle who took the time. Another thank you.
(Question for Lanelle: How would you paint the bottom of a heart? Have you ever seen a person’s ear fall off because the other person was talking a lot?)