My Art Lessons

Spotty and spasmodic come to mind as the best descriptions of my art education. In its beginnings, it was do-it-yourself as I perused the classic paintings in the Bible storybook Mama used to read. My memory says it was published by Eerdman’s and entirely illustrated in a full-page painting of classic art for each story. The painting I think of first is Daniel in the lion’s den that I believe to be Daniel's Answer to the King by Briton Rivière. Don’t hold me to exact details on this since I was five or six at the time. I do remember loving all the paintings and spending considerable time poring over them after the story was finished.  

Rural schools I attended had nothing remotely resembling even an art appreciation class, and I missed it in college by using music appreciation to fill my fine arts requirement – keeping a close tie with my comfort zone. My next lessons came as an adult with do-it-yourself lessons again, this time in European art galleries, courtesy of Army designations for home in France, Belgium, and Germany. The biggest surprise in these lessons came in discovering the small size of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

Andy Wood, an extraordinary art teacher in South Polk Elementary School in Louisiana, gave me my next lessons. She knew how to encourage my second graders who were as untalented as their teacher and to bring out the gifts in those with natural talent. After listening to me bemoaning the fact that I lacked ability to follow up on the wonderful art lessons she gave, she said, “You can teach art. You just have to remind the students of two things. Nothing is just one color; there is also a bit of red in a green tree. And artists use all of their space.” She not only assisted me with my second graders but helped me see more in the art I looked at and contemplated. Her mixed media painting featuring a coffee cup hangs in my kitchen.

In recent years, I have found a real art teacher. Grandson Hayden, blessed with both talent and good art teachers, patiently gives instructions to a grandmother who had neither. One year he told me how he’d learned to find the central theme in a miniature part of a picture or photograph and use that for his drawing. He was preparing me for our Christmas present – a piece of art he did of my hand through my husband’s arm from our wedding picture.

Recently, he took me through The Snowy Day page by page, knowing my love for author Ezra Jack Keats and the story in the book, and showed me what artist Ezra Jack Keats intended for the eye to see. He pointed out the assorted color collage that anchors the bathtub on one page. In my favorite instruction, he showed me how the point of Peter’s hat draws the reader’s eye to the opposite part of the page to track the footsteps in the snow.

Hayden, a freshman at the University of Hawaii, plans to add teaching credentials to his major in art. In an unbiased prediction, he will be a good art teacher. He’s had practice already with his grandmother.