To Art Is Freedom

, , , , , | Hopeless | January 15, 2018

(I am giving a high school lecture about Japanese pop culture. It involves drawing manga. At the end of the lecture, the kids are allowed to create their own art. One of the kids is the typical “bad boy”: he’s never picked up a pencil, never interacted, and he’s in trouble all the time. After the lecture, we chat a few times as I try to give him ideas and get him to work. It isn’t particularly effective. When I am next in the front of the class, the boy suddenly comes up to me.)

Boy: “If I want to draw a superhero, is that okay, too?”

Me: “Of course! You can draw whatever you want!”

Boy: “But how would I draw his face, then?”

(I walk to the whiteboard and grab a marker. I actually repeat the whole lesson I have just given about drawing a basic manga-style face.)

Boy: “I can’t draw that.”

Me: “Sure, you can. How about you try it? This is a whiteboard; if it fails, we can just erase it.”

Boy: “Nah, I can’t do that.”

Me: “Then, do what you can. What can you draw?”

Boy: “Well, this…”

(The boy draws a superhero, barely more than a stick-figure.)

Me: “Not bad. How about you try this?”

(The boy follows the tips and keeps on drawing… and drawing… and drawing. Soon, the whole whiteboard is filled. I even remove my own drawings so he has more space. The teacher sees this and walks up. I know she is very open-minded, and she nods approvingly.)

Teacher: “You know what, [Boy]? Take a picture of this and put it in your report.”

Boy: “I’m not done yet.”

Teacher: “Then by all means, go ahead! Don’t forget to put a picture of it in your report, so I can grade it.”

(The boy continues his work and after class, the boy takes a picture of it. When the kids are gone, we evaluate the lecture, and the teacher tells me more about the boy.)

Teacher: “He lives with his father, who thinks art is a waste of time. This might be the first time he has drawn since elementary school.”

(Elementary school would have been two or three years ago for this boy.)

Me: “He does seem to like to draw.”

Teacher: “And this is the first time I have seen him express himself. I don’t care that he didn’t use traditional inking techniques or even manga-style; he drew!”

(At that moment, the boy pops in from the hallway.)

Boy: “You didn’t erase it yet?”

Teacher: “Of course not! I want to enjoy this masterpiece for as long as I can!”

(It was the last lecture I gave at that school, so I don’t know what became of that boy, but this teacher really inspired me. Even now, about five years later, I use the phrase: “Focus on what you can, not what you can’t.”)

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