As a practicing artist and visual arts teacher for over twenty years, I have learned – and I have seen – that healthy, well-loved children are born artists. I think this is good because I believe that the imagination and work of artists is needed as we develop (or rediscover) ways of life that are compatible with the health of the planet.
As I tell my students, art is what happens whenever people do something gladly and to the very best of their abilities using their muscles, their thinking brains, and their heartfelt emotions to produce something worthwhile. Artists transform materials (living or non-living) to create objects or experiences that are unique and of value. Given this definition, my students and I can usually agree that it’s an art to use sound in an especially expressive way. That’s music. It can be an art to make a picture. This could be painting or photography. It can be an art to communicate something well in written words. This is literature. Yet, and this is something that I learned from my Italian and Midwestern family and from writers such as William Morris: it is also an art to cook food wonderfully, to garden carefully, to clean a house beautifully, to build a porch skillfully or to fish for bass cleverly. It can be an art to knit a sweater or sew a skirt, to parent a child or to craft a metal tool. It can be an art to help people regain their health or learn something new. There are arts for all of the children that I teach and it is my hope that they will find the ones that they will love and in which they will excel.
Why do I hope this? – Because the practice of the arts will allow them to maintain their connection to the immense creativity of the Cosmos, to their complex selves and to the people around them. With skills in the traditional arts, they will have true gifts that they can contribute to their community regardless of crumbling financial or political systems. They will have a sense of self-respect and sources of enjoyment that are not heavily dependent on money. They will be better equipped to react to challenges and invent solutions. Additionally, they will be keeping alive the precious and diverse heritage of humanity’s ancestors even as they produce work worth sharing with descendants. In the values of the traditional artist, there is often respect for materials, nature, patience, thoughtfulness and craftsmanship. There is an appreciation of quality, integrity and authenticity over and above quantity, speed and soullessness. There is a celebration of the local as well as the universal, of that which is irreplaceable and worth keeping or remembering. I believe that the practice and love of the traditional arts can be an antidote to mindless consumerism, excessive industrialization, alienation and despair. I believe the arts offer us all a path to a beautiful, satisfying and ecologically sustainable world.