Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I came home the other day to an all too familiar scene: Anna Mae and Lizzie had several papers scattered across the floor of the living room. Another “project” in progress. I could only speculate what the activity was that they might have concocted this time. A game of hopscotch? A paper snow storm? A new obstacle course? Perhaps tracings of some princesses whose names I still have failed to learn? Instead what I found was something unexpected - something I had never seen them create before: Halloween drawings--and they were actually good.

There was a drawing of a cute little cat, a drawing of a witch on a broom, a skull and crossbones, a scary ghost, a happy ghost, a flummoxed ghost (ok that’s my interpretation), a skeleton, two drawings of jack o’ lanterns - one accented with a cat lurking in the background. I asked who drew the pictures. When asking the question, I wasn’t just being goofy (this time). I really was genuinely curious.

Anna Mae quickly responded with a proud grin, “I did.”

Although I wish this was the story of a young, emerging, modern-day daVinci, it’s not. It’s really a personal reminder to me of some simple art supplies of third graders: paper, pencil, crayons, markers…

...and YouTube.

You see, after seeing the drawings, I went through a series of questions trying to better understand how this “talent” could have possibly manifested itself. She said she didn’t trace them and that no one helped her draw them - or as she put it, “Well, I didn’t get help from a ‘real’ person.” And then she unveiled her secret weapons: Google and YouTube. She explained in great detail that she needed some Halloween decorations for her bedroom and wanted to have some good drawings. So, she searched “how to draw halloween pictures” and apparently found a series of YouTube videos, picked ones that were within her ability and ones that she thought would go well in her room and started drawing. In about 45 minutes she had 11 drawings complete.

I remember as a young child breaking open a fresh little plastic container of watercolor paints on our kitchen table draped in newspaper -- positioning myself so I was in the line of sight with the TV off in the corner of the living room. My “art instructor” at that time, was the classic Bob Ross, painting a “happy little tree” on PBS. Bob, made it look so simple. Dip a little green, a little brown, a little dab here, a slight swirl with the brush, feather it out a bit, and - voila! - a gorgeous tree would emerge on his canvas. And after trying to mimic his exact move, I would look down at my paper to always find…. a mossy splattering of random circles that looked more like a swamp than a tree.

So, I had Bob Ross in my day. Anna Mae and Lizzie have YouTube. Although there was something magical in the way that Bob made a beautiful tree appear in plain site from splattered paint, I’m only guessing that others may have also struggled to follow along with his lessons. Anna Mae and Lizzie, on the other hand, simply tap their fingers on a screen next to them to pick from thousands of videos (including Bob Ross by the way) to get the artist they like with the drawing they want at the level they need when they need it.

But, in all that is different, something remains unchanged. You see, the real secret behind Anna Mae’s Halloween drawings isn’t YouTube; it’s her interest in drawing and art in general that was cultivated by “real” people in her life, especially her art teachers. Anna Mae beams when she talks about the time she made stain-glassed ornaments last school year with Ms. Pourcho and was so proud of the fact that she was recognized by Mrs. Albright as the “Grade 3 Outstanding Art Student of the Day.” For me personally, my “difference-maker” was my high school art teacher Mrs. Berry, a free-thinking spirit that somehow convinced me, a left-brained, concrete-sequential, sports-nut to end up taking four years of art in high school.

Although my trees still look like swamps, Mrs. Berry gave me an appreciation of art and genuine love of the creative process. So, although we live in a time when our students have access to tools for “do-it-yourself learning”, the next daVinci will not be because of YouTube. It will be because of teachers like Ms. Pourcho, Mrs. Albright, and Mrs. Berry that continue to cultivate student current talents and awaken new ones.


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