Parents Are Teachers Too
Building Big Dreams
When I was very young, I used to love each Christmas time when the special airing of the Nutcracker would be shown on TV. My mom and I would watch Baryshnikov and others dance across the screen and I loved it. I began to dream of what it would be like to dance like that. My mother noticed I was somewhat pigeon-toed and thought that dance lessons would be just the thing to straighten my posture. I loved the classes so very much. My instructor began talking to me about how far behind I was. At the age of 11, I was already years behind girls who had been dancing since they were 5 years old. I worked very hard, exercised often and soon was ready for being measured for my toe shoes. These are very hard to get. They don’t just sell them to anyone off the streets. The salesman makes a girl exercise at the bar in front of him to see if her ankles are strong enough to support her wait “en toe”. If he feels she is not ready, he refuses to sell them to her.
Have you noticed something about your child that dance or gymnastics could help correct? How about scouting for teaching teamwork and reliability? How about getting your child into music or band? Each of these things helps a child to build confidence and self-esteem.
Killing a Dream
I was with a group from the class, who went to get our toe shoes and one of the 8 of us went away without her shoes. I felt so bad for her. That could have been me. By 12 years old I was en toe. That is when I began to talk seriously about pursuing dance as a career. I talked with my instructor about it and she told me that very few make it to “prima” status in the ballet companies but that if I worked hard I could maybe make it. Unfortunately, my father heard me talking about it one day, and he was alarmed. He was a very practical, hard-working man, and he didn’t want to see me pursue something that would end in failure. These dancing dreams, to him were just that, dreams. He told me that dancers are a dime a dozen and I would starve to death trying for something so whimsical. Since he couldn’t take away my love of dance, he took away my lessons. By 13, I found myself practicing with my toe shoes, all alone in my bedroom. I tried to be persistent but soon lost the drive.
Are you teaching your child that he can or that he can’t? I realize that my dad was saving me from a possible heartache, but sometimes you have to let your children chase a dream. It just might become something special.
I took art in high school and loved it. It soon became my voice. People would approach me and ask if I had drawn that, and I would smile and nod. They asked if I was a real artist, and I would smile and nod. What a wonderful voice I found. It attracted attention and spoke all I wanted to say for me. I began to dream big dreams again of becoming a great artist that people came from all over the world to see. I wanted to paint masterpieces that sold for millions; illustrate books that encouraged children to learn to read more. It wasn’t long before my Dad heard me dreaming again and was again alarmed. Artists don’t make any real money until they die, he told me. He was sure again, I was going to starve to death. The compromise we struck was he would pay for college if I took courses that could help me get a job. Secretarial courses, specifically. And I could take an occasional art class too. However, he noticed that I was very in love with the art. So once again he did what he could to discourage me from this art thing. He stopped paying for college. I managed to get my two-year degree later but he didn’t even come to the graduation.
To Dance To Dream
How do you handle your children’s poor choices? I don’t know if there are any right answers. I tried all these and if one worked it was dumb luck.
I understand what he was trying to do for me. It is true that artists don’t really make any serious money. You have to be seriously deranged or in love with art to pursue it as a career (maybe a little of both). But artists don’t go into art for the money; they go into art because they are possessed by the love of the craft and the drive to do art at any cost (even eating regularly). Dad was trying to prepare me for a harsh world that doesn’t care if you are gifted or talented. He wanted me to be self-sufficient. I really appreciate that about him now. Back then I felt unloved, unworthy, betrayed, and confused for having a passion for something he didn’t approve of.
As parents, I think the more important thing would be to believe in your children and not belittle their dreams. There is a difference in gently directing a career choice and completely dashing dreams.
The drawings of the dancers are by me; proof that you can take the kid out of dance, but you can’t take the dance out of the kid.
There are many famous artists throughout history whose parents felt the same way. Michelangelo’s father wanted him to pursue a career that would replenish the family fortune but couldn’t dissuade him from art, which he thought would ruin them financially. John James Audubon’s father wanted him to join the military and become an officer just as he had done, but the boy couldn’t pass the exams. He kept spending his time out in the forest drawing the birds. Beatrix Potter’s parents wanted her to get married and take her place in upper-middle-class society, but she spent all her time in her room drawing and illustrating rabbit stories. I suppose that puts me in among very good company.
Those Who Can't, Teach
After a while, I found I could teach art to both children and adults, even without a college degree or teaching credential. I wanted to encourage children to try, that creativity came from within and that they could do anything they tried hard enough. Plus, art has the added benefit of having no wrong answers. It’s not like math or science. Even if you make only one mark on the paper, it is still art. So my mantra became “never tell them they can’t do it”. Soon people began calling me “the encourager” everywhere I went. I figure if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything so why not. I always try to find the good in my student’s work and accentuate that. I may point out one thing that could be improved on, but I won't belabor the issue. Besides success in art is less about talent and more about being in the right place at the right time. Because of my father, there are several of my former students pursuing a career in art. One young lady lives in New York City designing for a shoe manufacturing company. Another dear student has become a fashion designer creating theatrical costumes for a drama troupe. One of my three daughters is not working for a video gaming company as a character designer.
My best advice is to become an encourager. It is sort of that old adage, that you catch more flies with honey. A sour disposition and constant nagging that your child will starve to death will only get a sour return and disappointment. I have to say my dad turned me into an encourager because I never wanted another person to feel their limitations but instead, their possibilities.
4 Ways Parents Teach Kids that Consent Doesn't Matter
I know I have a lot to offer the art community. I may not be the next Dr. Seuss or Maurice Sendak, but I do know that I want to share my talent with the world. I want to encourage children to read and fall in love with literature the way my teachers and my mother made me fall in love with it. I want to use art to entice children to read. I think it can happen.
My mother used to read to us and instilled in us a love of literature. Books are wonderful things filled with the lives and loves of people who have gone before us. Because of that, I read aloud to my children, even through high school. We loved to sit around the fire and listen to stories about far away places. My son now writes fantasy books for young boys. That is an amazing accomplishment. If I encouraged even a little of that passion through reading a few books aloud, I feel proud.
Save Someone's Life Today
I have loved working with the senior citizens in my community. It started as simple watercolor classes but turned into art therapy. There is something very calming about petting the paper with paint, like petting a puppy. I have used some of the same lessons as I used with the children. Not that seniors are childish, but they have some of the same skill levels, but they are not in such a rush to finish. Seniors like to take their time and enjoy the process. There have been studies that show that the painting process helps lower the blood pressure, and improves eye-to-hand coordination. It has the added benefit of giving the elderly something to look forward to and builds their self-esteem because they have art to take home afterward.
One family member of a lady who paints with me told me that I had saved her mother’s life. She explained that her mother was just sitting in her room with nothing to look forward to but what was on the television. They were afraid there would soon be another funeral if they didn’t get her out to meet people and find something to do. Now she won’t let anything get in the way of her painting time. I was humbled and touched by her kind remarks. Who knew art could do all that? I’m sure my Dad didn’t know art could do that.
I have begun writing and illustrating books; some craft books, some art history books, coloring books, and children's stories. I wouldn't say I'm great but I am happy with who I am and happy to be doing what I love. Isn't that what life is all about? You can see many of my books on Amazon and on Lulu.
Love of Reading
Looking to the Future
The future of literature is going more and more toward digital venues. But that doesn’t change the fact that books will always need interior illustrations and cover illustrators, even digital ones. Illustrators just need to be flexible and adaptable to the digital market, keeping knowledge of traditional drawing skills and methods. I think Dad would be impressed.