I’m not a particularly gifted artist. Not at all, actually. I know that there are some wonderful people who would argue with me, holding up all sorts of arguments about art being subjective and everyone’s an artist, but the fact remains that I can barely draw a stick figure and if you handed me a canvas and a palette of paint and asked me to create something, I might hyperventilate. In fact, I know so little about art, I honestly did not know how to spell “palette” and I am good at spelling (want to see the Spell Bowl medals?).
I do, despite my lack of talent, love art. I love to look at paintings and I love to watch art as it’s created. During my freshman year at UE, my roommate was an artist named Becca. She was very gifted at ceramics and sometimes she would invite me to come to the ceramics studio. I really enjoyed watching her create bowls and mugs and vases on the wheel. I love to watch painters at work because it’s so amazing to observe the process of creating a masterpiece.
I especially love it when children create art. The thing about young children is that they don’t realize that not everyone is artistic. If you ask a child to draw a horse, they pick up a marker and piece of paper and they draw a horse and hold it up for you to admire. If you ask me to draw a horse, I will make up all kinds of excuses as to why I can’t do it and if you press me to do it anyway, I’ll draw something and proclaim that it’s silly and didn’t turn out right.
I went to elementary school in the days when elementary schools had art teachers on staff. Each week, we went to the art room at our scheduled class time. Our teacher taught us to make all kinds of exciting pieces of art. We worked with chalk, we worked with ink, we painted, we colored, we drew, we made turtles out of clay. Our art teacher’s name was Mr. Wild. One of the things I liked about Mr. Wild was that if I were having trouble getting my project to look right, he would scoot me off my stool, sit down and help me fix it while he hummed or sang silly songs. Now, it could be argued that Mr. Wild was a bit of a perfectionist and he should have let me struggle with my own project instead of sitting down and fixing it for me so that it would look better, but I liked this because otherwise I would have taken home a lot of sad looking pieces of questionable art.
There’s one day I’ll never forget in Mr. Wild’s room, though. I was probably in fourth grade or so. We were making flowers. I can’t exactly remember if we were painting them or coloring them with chalk or making them out of construction paper–but the project was flowers either way. I remember that I felt pretty good about making flowers. Despite lack of talent, I do doodle a lot and flowers have always been a favorite doodle. Flowers are also often symmetrical and that made them easier to make.
As I created flowers, Mr. Wild came by to see how I was doing. I felt pretty proud–finally a project he’s not going to have to correct for me! Mr. Wild surveyed my work and explained, “There’s no such thing as a green flower! Flowers can’t be green because the stems are green!”
My heart sank. I loved my green flower. It was the prettiest one of the whole bouquet. It was wrong because it was green?
Baloney. (Or Bologna. However you prefer to spell it.)
First of all, I now know that there IS such a thing a green flower. Second of all, isn’t the point of art to be creative? To create things that haven’t yet existed? Green flowers drawn by children who otherwise lack artistic talent should be praised, not criticized!
There are people who will stand on the sidelines of your life, some of them right next to you, and say negative things. Maybe they think they are being helpful. Maybe they are just miserable and want the company. Maybe they are perfectionists and feel like they need to help you correct your mistakes (like my beloved art teacher). Mr. Wild’s words, although memorable, did not damage me. But he isn’t the last person who has stood over my life and criticized something I thought was valuable or wonderful.
“God doesn’t call women into ministry.”
“You’re not a real mother.”
“You’ll never change the world.”
At the same time, God has graciously placed so many people in my life who have provided a needed counterbalance. People who have encouraged me in my calling, who have validated my choices, who have dreamed alongside me and helped me regain my footing when I failed. I thank God for these people, for their words, for their faith.
Green flowers are beautiful. So are the things you are creating and dreaming. May we be people who celebrate and respect wild creativity, olympic sized dreams and child-like confidence in God-given talents and abilities.