“I’ve learned so much from my mistakes.”
“I can create anything.”
“Making something beautiful is so much fun.”
The two eight year olds shared their insights with me, as they were finishing up their four weeks of summer art classes. I was in their class their last day as a teacher’s aide, but the teaching was all on them, and I was the eager student.
Part of my task today was to ask the kids what they had gotten out of the summer art classes. I wasn’t expecting their deep, insightful responses. After all, they are only eight years old.
Self portraits, abstract design, proportion, perspective, mixing and matching colors with a variety of media, expressing their creative energy, and serious reflection on their work with me, the new teacher’s aide, were all happening in the classroom.
Wearing big grins and laughing, they showed me their portfolios. Today’s assignment was choosing several of their works to exhibit at next week’s county fair, and they took to the task with seriousness and solemn assessment.
“That one isn’t my best work,” one boy said. “This one, though, it shows I figured out my colors.”
The rest of the students also worked quietly, choosing their fair exhibits, and then taking on a new project for the day. Their tables were a rich collection of paints, papers, brushes, and nearly completed projects.
I wandered around the room, emptying and refilling water dishes for their brushes, fetching a clean sheet of paper, and tidying up their used up paper towels and the leavings of their mid-class snack. The teacher was busy offering some tips, demonstrating a new technique, and helping a young girl decide which of her works should go in the fair.
As we tidied up at the end of class, and parents came to pick up their kids, there were smiles and moments of pride, as new work was shown to moms, and bulging portfolio folders were carried out under kids’ arms.
“Thanks,” one young boy said to me. “I had a blast.”
He handed me a fresh watercolor of a man’s face on a paper where the two ends had been crinkled up, framing the face.
“That’s you,” he said. “I thought you needed a portrait, too.”
I teared up, his spontaneous generosity filling my soul. My heart was bursting with all of the enthusiasm and passion I’d experienced with those kids, knowing that this experience had challenged and enriched young lives. Young artists has been nurtured here, kids empowered with knowing that they were creative and imaginative people.
My portrait is now on my refrigerator, brightening the kitchen and rekindling that glow I had when I brought it home to show my wife, and answering her question, “How was your day at art class?”
There’s a familiar slogan that art changes lives. And today, that became real to me, in the faces and smiles of kids, lugging home their new treasures, and the knowledge that they realize they are talented, that they can create their own happiness, for all the world to see.