29: Art Appreciation

29: Art Appreciation

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Art Appreciation

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

~Pablo Picasso

“Look at this! MaryLou can’t even draw a straight line.” The art teacher held up my paper for the whole class to see and spoke loudly as he poked fun at my attempt to sketch a landscape in perspective. That mortifying experience made me decide I hated art.

Later in junior high, when art class became optional, I opted out. In high school I chose music classes rather than art classes. I eventually became a teacher and freelance writer, but for many years had as little as possible to do with the art world.

During the first months of my retirement I saw an advertisement for volunteers to act as tour guides for children visiting our city’s art gallery. The retirement advice books I’d read said this was the time to try something completely outside your comfort zone. Volunteering at an art gallery certainly fit into that category for me. I sent in my application.

Because of my experience as a teacher they let me train for the job, and in a few months I became a certified volunteer.

I’ve volunteered on nearly a hundred tours now. I’m always inspired by the delightful and imaginative responses to art by the children I shepherd around the galleries. I’ve learned that if I affirm and express interest in kids’ ideas they grow more confident about responding in a personal way to the art they see. I help with workshops in printmaking, painting and collage. I’ve discovered by praising children’s efforts at creating their own art that I can help them feel like they are real artists. I want them to love art and not have the kind of negative experience I did.

I’ve had the chance to give tours to exchange students from Japan. I’ve guided a group of teens from all across Canada who were attending a national youth conference in our city. I’ve spent a day with twenty-four three-year-olds from a nursery school. I got twenty-four hugs after we’d explored the galleries together and they’d created their own paintings. I’ve done tours for gifted students and for children with learning and behavioral challenges. I’ve given tours to families and school classes, day camps and daycares.

I love hearing children’s positive comments and good questions as we tour the art gallery:

“This is so much fun.”

“Why does that artist use the color blue so much?”

“An art gallery is an awesome place.”

“Why is that statue naked?”

“This is the best field trip I’ve every been on.”

“Is a photograph art?”

“I think I could draw like that.”

In the process of watching so many young people discover the joy of art, my love and appreciation for art has grown immeasurably. I’ve written posts about art exhibits on my blog that have attracted hundreds of readers. One of my blog posts was published in a professional art journal. I’ve even taken online courses in art education from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Now whenever my husband and I travel to a new city he knows we will need to set some time aside for a visit to an art gallery. I’ve written a resource book for tour guides, providing tips on how to approach certain kinds of art with children. But most astonishing of all, I’ve decided I’m ready to be an artist myself. I’m taking drawing lessons!

Being an art gallery volunteer has enriched my life and changed my attitude towards art. I wish my old art teacher were still alive so I could let him know that I’ve turned into an art lover.

~MaryLou Driedger

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