There is no right and wrong when it comes to art. Everyone's an artist. I am an artist. Until last year, I would have said the previous three statements were lies. And then I met my friend Stephanie.
Stephanie is an artist at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA. She is also a gifted workshop facilitator, and the goal of her classes is to "encourage creativity without fear of judgement." Before I attended her workshop, I believed everything about creating art that I had been told as a child. I'm not a good artist, I cannot replicate with my hand what I see with my eye so I should just give it up, my art does not look like everyone else's, I'm not creative enough, etc. etc. Stephanie made me realize that as long as I have the ability to put a crayon to paper, I'm creating art. All that matters is the expression, and there is no right and wrong. Everyone is an artist.
My five year old son loves art, and I have been actively encouraging him to draw and paint. As we walked home from school the other day, I suggested that he draw one of his "stick people" drawings for a neighbor. Most of his art consists of half-stick people with big heads, eyebrows, and giant hands, and they look adorable. His response to my suggestion - "No, because he won't like it." "Why wouldn't he like it?" I said. "Because the lunch lady didn't like it, and she told me I had to redraw my stick person again." (I have since come to find out that the lunch lady is also a part time teaching aid.)
I explained to my son that everyone has an opinion about art. I also told him that the only way art was "wrong" is if you are told to draw a cow and you draw a tree. When we walked into the house I pulled out his folder, and there was his stick person picture. The front side was his normal drawing of himself in his Halloween costume. As I flipped the page over, there was the picture he had been made to re-draw. An unnatural, balloon shaped form, it didn't resemble a person any more than his stick figure. And it certainly lacked the "soul" of the stick person.
That night I called to discuss my situation with Stephanie. She explained that this kind of situation makes kids stop drawing altogether. Because they can't express themselves the way they want, or are trying to conform to someone else's idea of art, it becomes too difficult and they give up. Then they end up in her class 30 years later, wanting to reignite the creative spark that was extinguished in childhood.
I decided to go to the school and share my feelings with the teacher, and we had a nice discussion. When I told her what had happened, she said she encourages the students to try to make realistic looking people, not just stick people. In her mind, she is just trying to help them become "better", or more "realistic" artists. I myself wondered where the line is between teaching more "realistic" ways of drawing, and stifling creativity. The teacher seemed to listen as I explained what I learned from Stephanie, and she said she would have a discussion with the art teacher to get her opinion.
The teacher then proceeded to show me some of the other student drawings that looked nothing at all like people. Some were lady bugs, some were blobs, some looked like square snowmen. "See," she said to me, "Your son's looks great compared to these." She then told me that several students were never able to start the drawing project, because they were perfectionists. The entire front and back of their page was scribbled out, because their attempt to draw themselves didn't look the way they wanted it to.
I tried to point out to her that maybe the reason some of the students couldn't draw at all was because they were afraid to make lady bugs or square people. I'm not sure if the correlation ever dawned on her, but it was crystal clear to me. A five year old should draw because he loves to draw, not worry because he can't make an exact replica of himself on the page. I felt really sorry for the kids that were afraid to draw, and I was really proud of the kids that drew lady bugs and snowmen as their self portraits. I'd take a lady bug over a fear of drawing any day.
As for my son, the next chance I get we are going to sit down and draw a whole army of stick people. Just because we can. We're artists after all, and that's what artists do.