A couple of days before Mother’s Day, I found a watercolor still life stuffed at the bottom of my 5th-grader’s backpack.
“Sammy,” I said. “Is this my Mother’s Day gift?”
“No,” he replied. “It isn’t any good.”
I looked at the wrinkled, crinkled page. He had drawn a vase filled with delphiniums and set upon an outdoor table. He’d painstakingly mixed his paints to add depth and shadows to the vase’s water. He’d drawn tiny, magical faces on some of the flowers.
“I think this is beautiful,” I said.
“Mrs. N. says it isn’t any good,” he replied, referencing his art teacher. “I can’t draw.”
Indeed, he hasn’t drawn very much since 2nd grade. Until then, though, he loved art. As a toddler, he and I would have art afternoons, where we drew and painted and sculpted in clay. In preschool he was blessed to have a trained artist as a teacher, who pretty much ignored the school’s recommended curriculum in favor of drawing and collaging and decoupaging. In kindergarten and 1st- and 2nd-grades, he’d bring home elaborately cut and glued, three-dimensional paper illustrations of the books his class was reading.
But in 3rd grade and beyond, I began hearing more about what he couldn’t do than what he could. And now, he is convinced he cannot draw.
He’s convinced he’s not an artist.
It reminds me of my own experience. When I entered middle school, I chose art as a semester elective. I was so excited to get to spend an hour every day drawing and sculpting and working with textiles.
The excitement was short-lived. The first month of class, my teacher informed me that I wasn’t very good. I never took another art class.
A few years ago, I was home in Kansas City visiting my now-deceased aunt. She was an artist. I grew up surrounded by her oil paintings, and her watercolors grace my walls today. If she’d been born in a different time, perhaps, or a different part of the country, I’m sure she would have had multiple showings of her work.
In the process of downsizing, she was packing away some of the antique silver she had painstakingly collected over the years. I had just started my cooking business, and she was interested in hearing all about clients and parties and menus.
“You know,” she said, wrapping up some antique silver trays, “you’re an artist. You work in a different medium from most, but what you’re doing is art.”
That one statement — a throwaway line, really, from an afternoon filled with chit and chat — completely changed the way I approach my work. I don’t sling hash. I create. I pay attention to colors and textures and themes. To composition and display. Yes, my “art” gets eaten by the end of an evening (at least, I hope so!), but it’s edible beauty.
“Sammy,” I said, smoothing his wrinkled page and asking him to sit next to me on the couch. “I love this. I can see how hard you worked on the colors and how much you thought about what you were doing.
“I’m going to frame it.”
It’s what I do with all my art.