I think it is important for everyone to create, every day, even if you never share what you make with anyone.
The very earliest memories of doing art work on my own are from when I was five or six. I always got up early, even on weekends, and since the television was in my parent’s bedroom my dad would get up and set me up at his desk with his old water colors and scrap paper. I would spend hours painting landscapes while my parents slept. Soon I had finished my father’s old set and we took a special trip to the art store to get my own first watercolors, they were a set of Pelikan in a light yellow metal case. Over the years I also acquired good brushed, how could anyone fall in love with painting with those horrid plastic bristled brushes they give kids?
The thing was even though I spent hours making wonderful art at home my elementary school’s idea of art left me feeling like I was incapable. Projects worked this way. Our teacher would introduce a subject, then we would get a large piece of paper and we would have to draw one with markers, black outlines first then coloring it in using the colored ones, always Mr Sketch, using up the whole page. There were right and wrong ways to make the drawings and white space was considered lazy. A few weeks later when we had finished the picture we were allowed to choose a color ink to paint the background. Needless to say there was very little room for creativity in these drawings, still those of us who couldn’t make a perfect replica of the teachers were teased by our peers. So by the time I switched schools I thought I was an awful artist, despite the fact I continued to do a lot of watercolors on my own.
What a different experience my next school was. Art was held in an attic room with skylights and a circle of tables where we all sat working on our pieces. Every year we started with charcoal then pastels ink on paper, then gesso on black paper, followed by black and white, and finished the year with acrylics. The projects varies, though there were a lot of still lifes, primarily because the classes weren’t arranged by skill level, rather you had art when it fit your schedule. Since the teacher worked with each of us individually there was no need to separate the students. There was always music playing and boxes of supplies for us to use. My favorite memories of school were rainy days in the room with three huge windows and skylights listening to Gregorian Chants and painting.
If you want to get technical this is called spiral curriculum, meaning you regularly return to the same subjects building on them. I think my art teacher did this instinctual, since she is an artist first. Though the classes were great it was what happened my sophomore year that truly affected my view of learning about art. A few students got together and asked if we could start a life drawing class. A few weeks later, and for the next three years, I spent every Thursday night at school until almost ten drawing, painting and eating. Yes the eating was very important, Thursdays were the day of the Union Square Farmer’s Market so who ever was around in the afternoon before the class started would be given part of the money collected the prior week and go get snacks, though it slowly evolved into a meal. What made the class so special was that it was run by students and that there were teachers who participated, during Thursday we were all artists, this wasn’t a graded class in fact it wasn’t even part of the school schedule.
I should explain my high school a little, it was a small Quaker School in the East Village in New York City. It was a good school but in the 80s and early90s it was still rough around the edges, in a good way [it’s just had it’s 250 birthday]. On one hand our Jazz Band sometimes played in clubs but there wasn’t always enough interest in a baseball team every Spring and it wasn’t unusually for a teacher to decide they wanted to try out for the school musical (my Latin teacher was in South Pacific). Classes were still typical classes you find in most traditional schools though the material was well thought out and generally more balanced, if not liberally focused. But it is the other part of school when I learned the most, actually all these experiences and contrasts are a big part of what has led me to unschooling, but don’t tell my teachers. Actually, most of my personal reasons for unschooling come from experiences with teachers outside of the traditional class room setting, but that’s a different story.