"What is it that I am doing here? Where is the impact? I want something new, something exciting. I want to unveil beauty and thoughts that have never been seen. If I see one more still life of a vase, I'm going to lose it. The excitement feels gone but there seems little to do that I can change. And nothing is wrong or bad, but there has to be more. How do I pull out the more from my students?
The students that came out of Granger Valley often did well in life, but they tended to stay on the safe side of living. Nearly all of them would graduate high school, go on to some state university, marry and live the typical American dream. Two and half kids; two cars; nice home; family pet; corporate America. It's what they had grown up in. It's what they knew. However, Ms. Larson had always been known to push the students to reach for their dreams, and from every class, one or two students usually went for it. They would be the ones who upon graduation would look at life, take it by the reigns and dance with it into eternity. Those were the entrepreneurs, the world travelers, the people movers and society shakers. That 0.25% of the class were the ones that would change the world. Ms. Larson lived to see those few soar.
Recently though, whether is was the stark feeling of a far off spring in this northern Indiana town or the predictability of what each day would behold, Tammy Larson had grown weary in working so hard to see so little inspiration among her students. The past couple of years, it seemed, the special "one" from a class of students was missing. The world of immediate gratification, the struggling economy, and the push for the education system to play catch up with other countries, had quenched the realm of dreaming and possibilities. It had caused art class to be a matter of appearing "well rounded" and stripped the courses of their pure intent. Students enrolled in Ms. Larson's class, did the work that was asked and moved on. As a person who grew up in the 60s and 70s, Ms. Larson valued self-expression and pushing the limits above many other premises. To her, the world and stress would always be there tomorrow, but dreaming today gave hope for tomorrow.
As the warning bell rang throughout the school on this overcast day, students began to pour through the doors and take their seats throughout the studio. Ms. Larson put the pen and journal to the side and walked over to where her paint apron hung. Putting on her thumbed and finger splotched apron, which she had always considered to be its own piece of art, she continued to ponder how to breakthrough with these students and how to find breakthrough for herself. She then combed her fingers through her long, wild wavy locks and pulled them back into a messy low bun just above her neck, allowing a few pieces to fall around her face and out of the knot.
DOO DOO DOOOOO. The last couple of students scooted through the door passing off timeliness as they immediately slowed their pace just inside the door jam just as the final bell rang. At their work stations, the students began to pull out their supplies and set to work. They had been working on still life portraits of a cliche display of fruit in the front of the room since the new semester began in January. After mini compositions of still life, they had been asked to now create on a much larger piece of canvas. The assignment was simple - everyone has the same display to work from, but beyond just painting what they saw, she asked that a story or emotion be portrayed in and through their work. Ms. Larson kindly greeted the almost late comers and took roll silently. None of the students had seemed to notice her discontent spirit, and they worked silently all class while she roamed the class providing encouragement and suggestions and continuing to stew over what to do.
The rest of the day passed much the same and she returned home that night overwhelmed with her thoughts. Fortunately for Ms. Larson, it was her husband Mark's night to cook, so upon walking in the door, Mr. Larson greeted her with a kiss and a glass of wine, as they sat down to the salmon dinner he had prepared. Together, they wrestled through the tough aspects of the frustrations she was facing with work - the lack of inspiration in her students, the loss of motivation in herself, the culture that surrounded all of them, the amount of time sown into these students and this career, the amount of time it would take to pursue something else, what success for her students looked like in her eyes, if she could teach them one thing what would she want it to be, etc... The list went on and on as the hours of the night swept passed them. As the Larsons turned in for the night, Tammy felt at least more at peace with how things were, even if no solution had come to her yet.
Eyes wide open, Ms. Larson sat straight up in bed an hour before her normal alarm went off. Inspiration had hit, or something that looked a lot like inspiration. She had no idea if the idea would work, but it seemed better to give it a whirl rather than mope through another day of dreary monotony. She bounded out of bed and got ready for work, taking her breakfast on the go and giving Mr. Larson a kiss on the cheek as she ran out the door. On her way in to
school that morning, Ms. Larson stopped by the Walmart to stock up on a few necessary items for her avant-garde idea.
Arriving to her classroom early, Ms. Larson set to work. She twirled over to her class radio with a song already singing in her head and put on some of her favorite music to set the atmosphere for her inspired heart. In the front of the room, she laid out the newly purchased yellow boxes every child had or had longed for: the 64-pack of crayons with a sharpener in the back. She then retrieved the large 24"x 30" sketch pad and laid it on the table next to the crayons. Once everything was all set for the students, Ms. Larson practically chasséd across the floor to put on her apron and pull her hair back, and with a soft smile on her face, she took a few final deep breaths and returned to her desk. Today was not a day for her journal. No there was too much anticipation. For what? She was not sure, but she felt sure that something was bound to come of this, even if it was just in herself. As she waited through the bell sequence that would invite her students into her room, Ms. Larson filled the minutes adjusting and readjusting the items on her desk and strumming her fingers; her eyes locked on the clock.
DOO DOO DOOOOO. The final bell to begin second period rang as the last couple of students scooted through the door passing off the same timeliness and immediately slowing their pace just inside the door jam. Once again at their work stations, the students began to pull out their supplies and set to work. As Ms. Larson took roll today, she joyfully chirped each students name. The students absorbed in their work, however, took no notice of Ms. Larson's new tone and spirit; nor did they notice that as she took roll she removed the pear, grapes and bowl from the display and left only the apple resting on the small table. She was not sure quite yet what she was hoping to do in the next couple of minutes but inspiration had set in and she was ready to experiment. She called the class to attention: "Brushes down, everyone. We are not going to work on your still life projects any longer, at least not for today. I've noticed in my own life and in your work that even in an art class, the place for true creation and creativity has been squashed. So we are going to change that up. I am going to give each of you a large piece of paper and your own 64-pack crayon box. The ones with the crayon sharpener built in. I have removed a majority of the display and just left an apple. But here's the deal, you can draw whatever you want. If you want to stick with a still life and draw the apple, that's fine. If you want to begin with the apple and go on to create something else, that is also fine. You can draw WHATEVER you would like. All that I ask is that you continue to use concepts and techniques that you have learned previously so that it is 'good art.' Can I get someone to help me pass everything out?"
As two students helped to pass out the unusual materials, the questions began to pour forth:
Why are we doing this?
Can I just work on my project and NOT do this?
Are we going to finish our project?
Can we really draw anything?
How are we supposed to do this?
How much time do we have?
What if I don't finish today?
Do we have to fill up the whole page?
What are we going to do with this?
What's the point of this?
Will we be graded on these?'
Can this be for extra credit?
Can I use colored pencils instead? What about markers?
The students blankly stared at one another around the room. Some shrugged their shoulders; others rolled their eyes, but only one student seemed to take this surprise joyfully. Ariella was one of the smallest in the class, with a timid, yet extremely kind spirit. She resembled the elf from The Santa Clause, with long straight dark hair, a sweet voice, and rosy cheeks. Her hair was pinned back in a half up, half down style with a small turquoise bow holding it in place. Upon receiving her materials, she moved to her station in the back corner. Although not the star student in the class, she always created good pieces for Ms. Larson and preferred to work off by herself. After most of the students recovered from their shock and annoyance, the whole class set to work coloring in their intermediate painting class. By the end of class, most of the students had really taken to their new project and were working diligently. Ms. Larson, who had decided to create her own piece during the class, stood and thanked the students for their work. After taking a poll, it was decided that they would continue with their new projects again next class. For the next week, second period worked on their new projects. Every person focused on their own piece, wanting to perfect it before another's eyes could behold it.
Halfway through the second class, Ariella approached Ms. Larson quietly and asked, "Can I get a new piece of paper?"
Ms. Larson turned to Ariella, suprised by the question. Initially, she wanted to instruct her student that she should work with what she had, but instead she encouragingly said, "I'm sure what you have is good, Ariella. Are you sure you want a new piece of paper?"
A smile spread across Ariella's face, "Yes, I'm sure."
Ms. Larson nodded, "Okay, you can have another piece of paper." With a shrug of her shoulders, she added, "Take as many as you'd like."
Ariella's grin grew even wider. "Thanks!" she whispered excitedly and rushed off to get a new piece of paper.
After the class had worked on this new project for eight classes, Ms. Larson ended class informing them, "Next class will be the final day to work on your drawings. After that, each of you will present your work to the class." Immediately, questions arose once again from the students wondering how they would be graded, what were they going to do next, how long did their presentation have to be, etc... Ms. Larson stilled their fears and said that the grading would be based on whether or not they did the work, not on the level of artistic ability and that they would go from there as to what they would work on next.
Presentation day came, and Ms. Larson was filled with anticipation for what she was bound to see from her creative students. She decided that, to set the standard, she would show her picture first. In her days at work, Ms. Larson had drawn a beautiful depiction of her classroom and each of the students sitting and working on their projects with the apple on a stool in the front of the room. The students loved getting to see a bit of their teachers own work and applauded her.
One by one, students rose from their seats and took the front of the class. They clipped their drawings onto the whiteboard: an apple, an apple tree, a ladybug.. that had started as an apple, a stool in an Old Western bar, Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet, a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal where the inspiration came from the red balloon, etc... Student after student showed their newly inspired drawing and how they had found ways to take what was before them and create something new. Nobody ventured too far from what was set before them. Although some interchanged different media or multimedia into their work, somehow the color red seemed to hold a prevalent place in the piece - acknowledging their source of creation, the apple.
As Ariella's turn came around, the class fell silent; Ariella was holding serveral pieces of sketch paper. She walked in confidence to the front of the class - the confidence that comes from knowing that what you have to show is amazing, but realizing that your thought process is way different than everyone else's, so it also could go all wrong and crush you, so you hope and trust in the amazingness of it all. She found all of the magnets on the board and positioned them first creating a grid of nine. Then one-by-one, she hung the pages, whispering directions to herself. "Okay, so this is number one, so it goes up here and then this one... this one is eight so it goes down here. And then, where's two? Oh, here's two and three, four, five, six.. Almost there. Hmm.. Right. Good." As she stepped back from her now, 72"x90" canvas, the class collectively responded - eyebrows raised, soft gasp, "woah," "huh," "cool," double taking between Ariella and the papers, etc... Nobody could believe what they saw.
Every page held its own beauty, its own landscape of well known landscapes in the world - sunset in the Blue Ridge mountains, the great wall of China, the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, Victoria Falls, the Eifel Tower, an elaborate Times Square, a rocky beach shore line in Maine, the Colosseum. It was a mixture of man-made icons and the icons only heaven could envision. But the individual pictures are not what caught the class's eyes first. The most amazing element was the creation of an apple in how each of the pictures came together. Then, slowly, the eyes adjusted and could see the details of each of the pictures.
Ariella's grin spread across her face. She only spoke one sentence of explanation: "When I was given a blank canvas, why would I create limits for myself, why wouldn't I create the world?"
Ariella returned to her seat as Ms. Larson tried to recover from her awe. There was a list of questions she had for the students and especially for Ariella. With her eyes glued to the true masterpiece at the front of the class, she encouraged the students, "Everyone did a... a great job... on their pieces." She paused again. "I loved getting to see what creation really looks like." Her words were futile though in the presence of the art still hanging on the board. She walked up to it to more closely appreciate the details that went into each aspect of the work. One by one, other students moved toward the front of the class to do the same. As they found intricate details, their fingers with trace the lines that created them. Then they would take a step back and examine again.
Returning home that night, Ms. Larson found herself in deep thought. Her students went above and beyond what she had expected prior to Ariella. But that, that just blew her away. It was everything she could have hoped for and would never have known to wish. It was creation in its purest form. When Mr. Larson asked her about how her day went, she could only repeat Ariella's question, "When we are given a blank canvas, why do we create limits for ourselves, why don't we create the world?"