What they do is not art.

As part of my fall manifesto, I intended to sign up for an art class with several of my coworkers. It ended up not working out because of timing and scheduling, but a few of us have decided to take a pottery class this spring, starting in March. I am equal parts excited and frightened, because I am not exactly what you call “good at art.” I am one of those students who passed art in middle school because I put in a lot of effort, not because my product was actually any good. And in high school, I don’t think I ever even went in the art room. I’m not great with color and I wouldn’t say I have an artist’s eye. Where I feel most comfortable is the world of words. I see the way that Brian can pick up a pencil and the line and color flow out of him. That’s how I feel about sitting down to a brand new Word document. My house is decorated with words and letters rather than ruffles and frills. I am learning to embrace that while also trying to stretch myself.

(Various and sundry words from around our house.)

This year, because of the art project I have worked on at school, I have had the opportunity to see students come alive through art. There is one student in particular, one all the teachers on the team keep mentioning. The art projects have completely changed his relationship with school, and specifically his relationship with his teachers. I know it has improved his relationship with me exponentially. For that reason, I have begun to see this art project as more than just something fun for students. It is an important out let, even for the ones, like me, who struggle with the creative process.

That’s not to say the project hasn’t had its bumps, even for me personally. At one of our workshops, we used colored tape to decorate boards. I had no idea what to do and ended up making something with the word courage on it. The woman in charge read what I was doing as cougar and (I am sure unintentionally) turned my “art” into the butt of the room’s joke. It was a good reminder to me to be careful and supportive when responding to student work in areas where they are most insecure.

(Courage, not cougar.)

For one of our projects this year, we designed and painted tiles. I painted a penguin on a tile, and, for the first time, felt proud of some art I had created. I keep joking that, for my pottery class, I am going to make snakes (or a coil pot or a pinch pot), but I am looking forward to trying something new.

(I drew that picture and painted that tile all by myself! True story!)

Madeleine L’Engle is very big on the concept of humans being co-creators with God. She often mentions it when talking about the creative process: using the gifts God has given you to put something new into the world. While I very much doubt that anything I create in my pottery class will be considered new or beautiful (more like what Toby said on The Office: “Well, it’s important to support local art, you know? What they do is not art.”), I agree with her that participating in the creative process is important and life-giving.

I’m never going to be an artist. In the past, even going to those pottery painting places has been fraught with peril. But if I am going to say and believe that creating art is important for my students, I want to believe it for myself, too. As someone who has always found school and learning to be relatively easy, it’s good for me to struggle once in a while. Maybe I’ll even have a lumpy vase to show for it.

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