“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

–Pablo Picasso

The boys and I went to the library yesterday. We are so fortunate to have an amazing library nearby–it’s exactly what you could most hope for in a library. Kids are loud and running. They play and read by themselves, with their parents, with their friends. The shelves display a slew of brightly colored books, and the floors are covered with cushions and bean bags and carpet squares. Throughout the room are open-ended, creative toys of every kind imaginable. The children know the librarians by name; we never walk in without Ian asking, “Where’s Miss Monica?”

Along one side of the building, the walls curve like a wave. From end to end, they are covered with displays like a clothesline; sometimes, blown-up copies of a classic children’s book illustrations will hang there, or sometimes, large letters of the alphabet.

When we showed up at the library today, the walls were adorned with a display of artwork from the neighborhood elementary school.

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Ian occupied himself at the train table, Leo dozed in the stroller, and I strolled along those curved walls, looking at piece after piece. Watercolor and colored pencil, pastels and crayon. Realism and cubism and pure fun. See that human model in the picture above, with the red shading? There were dozens of pieces just like that, each in different colors and focused on a different part of the figure. (I kept thinking that it would be cool to hang a series of those in a row down a hallway in my house.)

I have really fond memories of my elementary school art classes. I remember learning about pointillism, patiently creating the image of a fruit bowl with my set of scented markers. I remember drawing random squiggles across a page, and then filling every open space that remained with a different pattern. I remember struggling to come up with enough diverse patterns–what a lesson in creativity that must have been.

One of the men in our current small group is a painter, and you should see the amazing stuff he creates. His paintings look like photographs; it blows me away. Once after Leo was born, we hosted group at our house, and I told Evan, “I feel like I need to take down all my craft projects, if Dennis is going to be here.” It’s true–I have canvas that I’ve swirled color across, song lyrics and Scripture verses I’ve displayed throughout the house, but nothing that–in the presence of someone who actually makes a living creating with paint and canvas–I would call “art.”

My grandmother, Nanny, is a watercolor artist. Her Christmas card is my favorite every year, because she paints a beautiful winter landscape. Right now, I’m looking across the room at a landscape she painted, and we have several other pieces by her as well. They are some of my most prized possessions, the kind of thing I’d want to carry out of our home in the midst of a fire. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching Nanny paint and painting alongside her.

I’m so grateful for elementary school art teachers, who are told by politicians and standardized tests that their subject area is insignificant, their classroom supplies a waste of funding, and yet show up to work every day to tell children the truth about the very way they were made: “You, child. You are an artist.” They create space in which children learn to experiment, to mess up, to express, to practice. It’s a lesson I needed then, and it’s a lesson I need all the more today.

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So, today: let’s be artists. In our kitchens, on our computers, with our words, with our hands. With our paintbrushes and fabric swatches and screwdrivers and frying pans. In our laboratories and cubicles, in meetings and in nature, from 9-5 and in the wee hours. With our kind words and our open hearts.

Let’s do what we were made to do: create something good.

“When we live free, we are able to give freedom. When we live loved, we are able to give love. When we are secure, we are able to offer security. God reveals himself through every artist, and the artist is you.”

Emily FreemanA Million Little Ways

 

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