Big Fish, Big Pond: the Story of the Artsy Fish who found her Way

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Analytical journalistic piece where I identify inspirations, motives, and trials along my path to artistic development.

Transcript of Big Fish, Big Pond: the Story of the Artsy Fish who found her Way

  • Big Fish, Big Pond: the Story of the Artsy Fish who found her Way

    By: Sarah Sparks

    I have always loved art making, from the first time I drew on the

    sidewalk with chalk to my first swish of a paintbrush on paper. There is a

    reason that every year I would scour the Sears catalog for any arts or

    crafts toy that I could find to add to my Christmas wish list. In many of my

    childhood works, I proclaimed that I wanted to be an artist when I grew

    up, drawing myself with the token beret, standing in front of an easel with

    palette and brush in hand. Art excited me and I knew at a young age that

    my passion lies within the visual arts.

    Early on, it was obvious to others around me that I had a talent for

    creating art. I entered and won many poster contests and class design

    competitions and my work was often chosen for display on the walls. I was

    a quiet child with a keen sense of observation and attention to detail and

    my success led me to strive for realism in my work. I had an intense ability

    to focus on a project for hours at a time, editing and perfecting my work to

    the best of my ability.

    Because of the support of my family, peers, and teachers, I grew

    confident in my abilities and never lost my interest in creating works. As

    Feldman discusses, the social value that is placed on aesthetic

    development and the opportunities to experience or be exposed to art are

    crucial to the development of aesthetic sensibilities (1985). My parents did

    just this, in that they continuously supplied me with new materials to spark

    my creativity and also provided me with new experiences in the arts, such

    as signing me up for KinderArt classes, or other various summer

    programs that developed my artistic skills. My mother was also talented in

    the arts when she was in school and because of this, she really supported

    my interests. I wanted to model myself after her.

    Like most children, I drew images of myself, my family members,

    images from pop culture, such as cartoons, or other various subject

  • matters that were deemed acceptable by my peers. I did not have an art

    teacher in elementary school, only my homeroom teacher who provided

    us with random cultural crafts or opportunities to illustrate along with our

    journaling activities. Even without specific arts instruction, my interest in

    image making flourished during this time period as I practiced developing

    my observation skills and imagination whenever I got the chance. Art

    making during this time was fun because it was instigated, controlled, and

    measured by myself. Without rules, I was able to thrive.

    It was also during this time period that I was identified as eligible for

    the Gifted and Talented program at school, where I was pulled out once or

    twice a week to develop and create projects or activities

    with peers who were similar to my own mental age. It

    was here that I discovered bookmaking, which turned

    out to be of great use for me because I had shown

    interest in writing as well. In my childhood portfolio,

    there are many examples of handmade books that I

    wrote and illustrated from my own imagination. I used

    these books and other art works primarily as a source

    for giving gifts to those who supported my artistic

    abilities as a way of thanking them for the happiness that

    art gave me.

    Upon entry into middle school, I became very

    self-conscious of my appearance, of sharing my

    ideas, and of being accepted by my peers. I was able

    to shine through occasional group projects, where I

    was chosen to design and illustrate posters, and also through my

    involvement with the Pep Club, where I stayed after school for hours

    perfecting my renditions of our school mascot for spirit posters.

    I quit band in 6th grade in favor of taking an art class, which was only

    9 weeks long. However, it was my first class with a real art instructor and I

    was excited and nervous about gaining her approval. She turned out to be

    Est. 1994, a portrait of my mother drawn on Post-It notes. I modeled my artistic self after her abilities.

  • a quirky, disinterested woman, who assigned generic projects that

    introduced us to basic media. I dont recall her walking around the room

    much or engaging in conversation with me about how I could improve my

    work. Because this elective was not offered at multiple levels, I would not

    have art class again until high school.

    I do not have any evidence of projects from this time period that I

    have kept, which tells me that none of the works inspired me or felt

    personal enough to me that I cared to keep them. This time period, for me,

    reflected the U-curve of artistic development that is discussed by

    Gardner, in that my lack of practice of drawing and seeing led to a dip in

    my artistic development during my pre-teen years, possibly motivated by

    the pressure to conform and fit in (1986). I did not want to show my artistic

    gifts in environments where they would make me feel out casted or

    strange, much like other gifted children who will dumb down their

    abilities to avoid asynchronous attention (Silverman, 1997).

    When I entered high school, I made it a point to sign up for an Art 1

    class to further improve on my abilities. It was here that I met Mr.

    Grimsley, who just so happened to be the same art teacher that my

    mother had when she was in high school. He was completely different

    than the art teacher I encountered in middle school, in that he was active

    and engaged in the classroom. He thoroughly explained assignments on

    the board and encouraged conversation to talk about possibilities for

    attacking the design problem at hand. He was supportive but honest,

    pointing out areas of weakness that needed improvement.

    When sophomore year began, I made the decision to take multiple

    advanced level courses to keep up with my other gifted peers- at the

    expense of not having room for art courses in my schedule. I can still

    remember Mr. Grimsley tracking me down in the hallway and asking me

    why I hadnt signed up for more arts courses. He pointed out my ability

    and my need to continue growing this ability and encouraged me to realize

    my talent as a part of my identity. He held me accountable so that I would

  • not waste the gifts that I had. Needless to say, the next two years of high

    school, I signed up for numerous arts courses, including AP Studio art my

    senior year.

    My other two art instructors during high school were very old-

    fashioned in their ways of teaching art. They taught the processes and

    media of art, but never the history, cultures, or movements in art.

    Students were allowed some freedom to interpret projects in their own

    individualistic and expressive ways, but often the works were very similar

    and bland in style.

    It was during this time that my artistic development felt stagnant. I

    could accurately copy images that I saw, but when left without a prompt, I

    was very weak in coming up with my own imagery,

    compositions, or ideas. This came to a head during my

    AP Studio Art course, which I took as an independent

    study. I was left alone often, and found myself

    procrastinating on starting new projects because I

    was uninspired. I often threw works away after

    starting them, because I would hit a roadblock in my

    technique that would frustrate me to the point of


    Once again, Mr. Grimsley came to my

    rescue. He allowed me to take a day off and travel

    to see an exhibit of works at a local college. I came

    back very inspired and fresh with new ideas that

    day. I learned the importance of surrounding

    yourself with inspiration of other artists and

    seeking out opportunities to encounter art, instead of trying to do it all on

    your own.

    In college, I felt very behind in the areas of technology and art

    history because I was not exposed to them in high school. Because I had

    begun college seeking a degree in graphic design, I learned really quickly

    2002- self-portrait in acrylic paint. The unique perspective and mood of the piece characterize my frustrations in my artistic growth during high school.

  • that I had some catching up to do in these areas. I can remember being

    completely frustrated by my beginning level graphic design course

    because I had no concept of how to use Photoshop and my teacher

    assumed that everyone was familiar with the program. I would spend

    hours fighting back and forth with my work, clicking here and there, trying

    to get the simplest of edits for my work, when others knew the secrets of

    maneuvering about the program.

    It was at this low point of wanting to quit that I once again

    remembered the wise words of Mr. Grimsley. Shortly before graduation,

    he had asked me what I was planning on doing for a career and if I had

    ever considered teaching because he thought I would be good at it. I had

    wanted to be an art teacher since childhood, but flying high on my senior

    success in art, I decided I wanted to do art for myself via commercial

    artist or graphic design. At this point of failure, his words rang true in my

    head and I quickly changed my major to art education. I credit him for