Friday, April 08, 2016

Live, Learn, Teach...

When I think back over my involvement in the arts, I feel really fortunate to have been able to work with some incredible teachers and mentors.  Even at an early age, I had some really supportive and encouraging people in my life.  Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money and with four kids in the family, resources were stretched.  Of course, at that age, I didn't really understand the obstacles my parents faced.  Now, I can appreciate all their hard work and sacrifices to keep us fed and clothed.  I actually believe that because we didn't always have store-bought amusements, it forced us to think outside of the box and be creative.  My first art teacher, Mrs. Dillard, probably had a sense that there wasn't a large budget for art supplies at home, so she used to put together packets of scrap paper for me to take and use.  She also gave me my first watercolor set and told me never to leave a brush in a cup of water.  She said it would mess their hairdos up and we wouldn't like it if our hairdos got messed up!  I remember one afternoon, I helped her dab the ends in soap and reshape the tips of the abused brushes into a semblance of their former selves.

Later, when I was in high school, I faced some odd opposition to my artistic development.  The head art teacher said he didn't have time or want to instruct me for the college exams.  He said that he didn't think I had what it took.  But when one door closes, another opens.  A new art teacher came to school named Phi Yoba.  He had a ZERO budget and had never worked with me before, but he said, "Let's show them what you're made out of!"  We had to dumpster dive for art materials and worked out of a storage closet, but I ended up passing all the exams with high marks and won a laundry list of awards.

When I was in art school, I had a lot of really amazing professors.  They pushed me and forced me out of my comfort zone.  It wasn't always easy and sometimes the critiques were brutal, but I learned a lot.  One of the most important things that I came to understand is that even if you're the most talented artist, without community and a support group of your peers, you can only get so far.  It's not a competition.  Your fellow artists will propel you to the next level.  Not only will they inspire you, but they'll also humble you and ground you.

Even now, I have so many truly wonderful people in my life who constantly make me think and challenge me.  I am fortunate and feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who are passionate and full of fire!  We don't always get along and sometimes our differing opinions can be humorously polar, but our mutual respect and desire to see everyone succeed drives us to find common ground and make the most of it.

For the past few years, I've been seeing my roles shifting slightly.  People would look to me for advice as an "expert".  Someone even called me a "guru" and I couldn't help but laugh.  I still think of myself as a perpetual student and someone intent on learning.  The world is so full of possibilities and new things to find out.  It sometimes boggles my mind to think of myself as a businessperson, a mentor, and a community advocate for the arts.  It sounds so grown up and so adult.  When I doubt my abilities to make an impact, I think back to my first teachers.  With a few pieces of paper and encouraging words, they left a lifelong impression that has led me down this beautiful and wondrous path.

I think that's one of the reasons why I've made such a mental effort to find ways to encourage young artists and people exploring their creativity.  With the store, we can offer educational opportunities and help bring awareness to things that people might never have known about.  We also create chances for artists to show their work and get their feet wet with the art world.  I've met some established artists who are very territorial and proprietorial about their corner of the art world.  I'm not so much interested in them.  I applaud them for their hard work and ability to achieve what they set out to... but I feel it's almost my responsibility to protect and nurture people who are genuine and show a passion for living a life with art.  When I find myself in the shoes of the teacher, I always try to make people feel good about what they are doing and feel empowered.  I've heard horror stories of how some "teachers" are simply on an ego trip and are more concerned about collecting their fee or selling their work instead of having their students feel successful.  For me, it's important that people feel good about their work and confident in exploring their voice.  I think part of this desire is based in curiosity.  Where will they go next?  How will they make this idea or technique their own?  What makes them unique and their story special?

Later this month I'll be participating in a really cool opportunity to be the juror for the local National Art Honor Society Art Show and be part of the induction ceremony.  It's an honor and a privilege to be asked to be involved.  I'm excited to see what they've made.  Whether or not they intend to pursue the arts as a career, I sincerely hope that each of them knows that there is a creative spirit within each of them and that to honor that spirit will enrich their lives a thousandfold.  I also hope that they know that they have the ability to raise each other up and build a better, more beautiful world.

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