Life After Art Recovering Life and Faith by Going Back to Art Class
Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes?
Children came to me as artists, perfect. Instead, teaching children from ages four to twelve made me privy to a profound mystery.
I have. Not because I had jumped out of an airplane or anything like that.
I was watching child artists gradually fade and disappear, certainly never to return.
It happened when I became an elementary art teacher. I saw my life flash before my eyes as my hands and shirt sleeves were smeared and splattered with chalk and paint.
I slowly realized that I also was watching my own life flash before my eyes. I had lived every year that these children were living. Teaching each class was suddenly like a mirror turned back on myself at age five, eight, eleven. I saw myself sitting with my students, growing with them, the child artist in me disappearing under the weight of some mysterious invisible shackles. I understood that my job was not to create artists, but to try to preserve them, to try to help kids hold on to what they already possessed.
I stepped into my first art room on day one with so much excitement churning inside me. Leading children in creative pursuits really is my passion and calling. God’s providence undoubtedly led me to this room. The paper and brushes and charcoal and pastels were begging to be set loose. Famed artist Pablo Picasso once said, “All children are born artists.” It really is true. Those kindergartners stepped eagerly into the room and those tiny hands were just itching to dance all over the paper. Working with kids was not playtime for me. It was actually worshipful. But ever so slowly, I noticed something I had not expected and had not been trained for. The bigger the hands were, the more reluctant they seemed to create. The older children were not liberated like their younger counterparts. It was as if the children were wearing an invisible shackle around their wrists, adding another heavy chain each year. Their natural creativity was being sapped, seemingly by some unseen force. Year by year, the children did not grow in their confidence to create, but shrank. Picasso did not stop at saying that all children are artists. That was only half of what he observed. He continued, “The problem is to stay one as an adult.” I understood the sad reality of that statement. My job description said “Art Teacher,” but I was not creating artists. 21
Most importantly, I began to understand the spiritual dimension of what I was seeing. I saw that God has endowed each of us with his own creative spirit, but somehow that spirit deteriorated very quickly. Understanding this mystery became the heart of Life After Art. I became consumed with the mystery of how you and I stopped being like those little kindergartners in my art class. Suddenly, Jesus’ words to “become like little children” took on new meaning. Finding purpose in life no longer meant “growing up,” but finding out what these little five-year-olds have that I have long lost and forgotten. Life After Art is not really about art. It does not matter if you are an “artist” in the traditional sense or if you prefer math problems to “creativity.” Life After Art is a journey I hope you will take with me, not to discover something new, but to rediscover many things that we forgot, to expand our very definition of the word “creative,” to find out where the amazing, beautiful, unabashedly joyful little artist inside each of us lives… …even to discover the life you and I were created to live.
Praise and Coffee | Spring 2013