Ever since I can remember I have loved drawing, painting, sculpting things from play-dough. Any opportunity I had to take an object and make it into something else was for me. I loved digging into my imagination and translating that jumble of images into something tangible.
When I was eight years old, I took an art class at the Portland Museum of Art. One day, we were asked to paint a real person. A model. I remember this class so vividly – the model sat on a stool with an umbrella, posing seriously as fifteen elementary school children painstakingly drew her.
I felt that I had a different kind of responsibility with this picture. It wasn’t just something I had dreamed up in my imagination, it was a human being that I was representing to the world. I remember drawing and redrawing the handle, not being able to figure out the physics of how it could fit into the center of the umbrella itself. You can see from my drawing that I never did figure that out, but I certainly tried my best.
Part way through the class, we hung all our pictures on the wall and stepped back to admire each other’s work. Then we gave each other constructive criticism to use as we finished our pictures. Someone pointed out that the background was boring, so I added a sun (clearly this would create the appropriate weather condition for umbrella-holding). Someone else noticed that I had forgotten the shadow under the model’s chair. Through other people’s eyes, I was able to see the things I couldn’t, and it made my picture better. In return, I offered my suggestions to help others improve their work.
I was really proud of that picture. The teacher must have thought it was okay too because she asked my mom later if the museum could keep it for their collection of children’s art. Instead of answering, my mom replied, “Why don’t you ask the artist?”
In that moment, I felt I had a HUGE decision to make, and no one could make it for me. Should I let the museum have my picture and risk never seeing it again? Or should I keep it so that my family and I could enjoy it later? I decided that my family would probably enjoy it more than strangers, so I decided to keep it. It has hung on the wall of my parent’s home ever since.
This memory is significant for two reasons. First, it represents the first time I was cognizant of the artistic process as something dynamic: a combination of close observation, trusting and supporting my peers and the confidence to realize I was able to tackle something new.
It was also the first time that I felt like a real artist. Having an adult, someone I respected, value my work, was a huge confidence boost. In addition, being respected enough as an artist to be given control over my work forced me to step into that more mature role.
I see this same growth in the playwrights that YPT works with. In the classroom, students are given the opportunity to write from their imagination and experience, learn from their peers’ constructive criticism and offer their own perspectives. They learn to communicate not only through words on the page, but to work as a team. And when their words are reflected back to them through adult actors, they are forced to take responsibility for their work. They become playwrights.
Arts education helps students express themselves creatively, but it also teaches patience, teamwork, and responsibility. These are the values I have carried into my adult life, and they are the ones I want future adults to hold. That is why arts education matters.
Click here to learn how you can help keep the arts alive in DC schools.
And be sure to join YPT tonight at GALA Hispanic Theatre for our final performance of the season!
YPT Community Engagement Associate