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For early and late bloomers.

What about your students who show special abilities and a high interest level in art? Will they choose some area of art as a future career? What about those students who don't show any exceptional talent? Do you think any of them might pursue art in the future?

It's hard to tell if we look at the lives of a number of famous artists. What do we offer both of these groups of kids--the early and the possible late bloomers--that will be of value to them, regardless of their future career choices? Will it be a curriculum that provides them with perceptual and expressive experiences in both two- and three-dimensional media, an introduction to and familiarity with the works and lives of a number of famous artists throughout history, and an acquaintance with the many diverse career fields in the visual arts?

When did some of the now-famous artists first show exceptional ability in art, along with an intense drive to make art? The age at which these men and women first showed evidence of this interest varies considerably. Let's take a look at a few of these now well-known artists.

THE EARLY BLOOMERS As a young boy, the pre-Renaissance master, Giotto, herded his father's flocks and often drew pictures of sheep, birds and trees on light-colored stones with bits of charcoal, dark stones or bits of chalk--or even in the sand with a stick. His remarkable talent was discovered by the great master Cimabue, who later took young Giotto into his studio and taught him about pigments and egg yolks, gesso and more.

Charles Russell, who focused on the American West, drew pictures of the Bible stories his mother read to him, and when he was 4 years old, he followed a man who had a trained bear on a chain. When he returned home, he scraped mud from his shoes and modeled a small figure of the bear--his first sculpture. When he was 12, he received a blue ribbon for one of his drawings at the St. Louis County Fair. He was given a pony on his 10th birthday and decided that one day he would go out West and be a cowboy. Later, in military school, he filled his notebooks with sketches of cowboys and Indians, and was punished for his inattention by walking guard duty.

Toulouse-Lautrec is said to have made a drawing instead of his signature at a christening ceremony when he was about 5 years old. Similar stories are told of Pablo Picasso, who early on "decorated" the walls of his living room with his drawings. His art-teacher father is said to have turned his paints and brushes over to the teenage Pablo when he discovered his son's amazing talents. Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, John James Audubon, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe and Mary Cassatt all showed talents and blooming ambitions early in their lives.

When Louise Nevelson was 9, a librarian asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied, "I am going to be an artist. No. I want to be a sculptor; I don't want color to help me." She, of course, did not become a world-famous artist by just wishing to be one. She received training, studied art and enriched her understanding of herself to accomplish her goal.

Maurice Utrillo, at age 18, was in a hospital when his artist mother, Suzanne Valadon, brought him paints and postcards to use as inspiration.

As a young boy, Horace Pippin preferred drawing the words his teacher called out rather than spelling them. When he was 10, he won a drawing contest advertised in a magazine and received a package of art supplies, including colored pencils, for his prize; he cut circles out of muslin and used these pencils to draw scenes from the Bible on them. He later painted doilies over and over, and we are reminded of this affection in his painting called Victorian Interior, where we find doilies on each chair and table.

Southwestern artist Darren Vigil Gray started painting as a teenager and always wanted to paint. He never wanted to do anything else: "I didn't want to be a carpenter ... electrician ... plumber ... I didn't want to be president."

THE LATE BLOOMERS But not all artists were early bloomers. Wassily Kandinsky had obtained a law degree and was offered a professorship, but left for Munich to study painting. He is credited with being the first artist to paint a completely nonobjective painting. Cezanne's father wanted him to study law, but he insisted on going to Paris and working with artists there.

Henri Matisse also trained to be a lawyer, but while recovering from an illness, he began to paint. He soon gave up his law career, much to his father's horror, who shook his fist at the departing train and shouted that he would surely starve!

Vincent van Gogh decided to be an artist at the age of 27 after having failed at a number of other endeavors, including being an art dealer and a minister. The self-taught artist, Henri Rousseau, retired at the age of 40 from working as a customs official and became one of the foremost primitive painters.

Paul Gauguin's explosive artistic energies caused him to give up family and a prosperous career at a stock brokerage to devote his life to art, fleeing to the French countryside, followed by a brief sojourn with van Gogh in Aries, and later to the South Seas to paint.

Grandma Moses is a well-known American late bloomer, who started out with needlework and moved on to painting at the suggestion of her sister when she was in her 70s. She used old house paint and brushes for her first picture, working on a piece of canvas that had been used for mending a threshing-machine cover. She found toothpicks and the ends of matches useful for painting details. Her keen perception provided her with memories of the rural countryside where she had lived.

When she was 78, she sold a group of paintings she had displayed in a local restaurant to an art collector, the price being $2 each. (Perhaps her love of painting helped keep her young since she died in 1961 at the age of 101.)

MOTIVATE ALL STUDENTS Having a career in art is based on strong inner feelings that tell a person what it is he or she wants to be, regardless of one's age. By becoming familiar with the lives of artists and what has inspired them, with knowledge of their working processes, we as teachers can better plan activities for the students in our care.

We can motivate all students regardless of whether they show special aptitudes in art, since an acquaintance with and some experiences in art activities can relate to their consumerism and appreciation of the world of art, regardless of their career choices.

We as teachers must broaden our students' vision of the extensive range of art careers--which go beyond easel painting alone--to those in sculpture, crafts, architecture, advertising, product design, graphic arts, film, video, computer art, museum staffing, etc.

We honor all of our students--those who show evidence of special abilities and those who may or may not be late bloomers--by individually regarding their art products and processes, taking time to talk with them and share what we may see as positive and progressive steps in their development. We can display the works of all the students, not just the "talented" few, and let them all know their ideas and images are unique and very special.

"Art Works" is a monthly column that provides bits of know-how and reminders of ways to assure the success of your art program. In the coming year, look for advice and suggestions related to learning about, responding to and making art, integrating art into the curriculum, displaying student work, reaching out to the community, and more.--B.H.

Barbara Herberholz is an art-education consultant in Sacramento, Calif., and an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor. She and her late husband, Donald Herberholz, Ed.D., wrote "Artworks for Elementary Teachers," now in its Ninth Edition (McGraw-Hill; 2002).
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Title Annotation:Art WORKS
Author:Herberholz, Barbara
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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