The first time my artwork was on display was in first grade. The homework assignment was to make a collage of pictures that started with the letter h. The teacher stapled all of the collages to the bulletin board. Mine stood out like a giant pimple. All the other kids had cut pictures from magazines and glued them to the paper. I drew all of the pictures on my sheet of paper. The kids commented on it immediately, “That one is weird!” But the teacher said it was “unique.” Then a mean kid said that the pictures were supposed to start with h, but he could see a dinosaur and a spaceship on the weird collage. I quietly mumbled, “Horse and hamburger.” The mean kid went into fits of laughter, “No way!”
The second time my art was critiqued was on New Year’s Eve. I was maybe nine and my sister was about seven. I decided we would each draw a happy New Year poster with a Snoopy theme. The best one would win a prize. I hadn’t even considered what the prize would be. I was the older sister and I drew Snoopy all the time, mine would win. We worked on the posters for hours. Finally I hung them on the wall and asked my mom to judge them. She looked at the posters and said they were both fantastic. “No, you don’t understand. You have to say which one is the best.” “They’re both great!” “PICK ONE! YOU CAN ONLY PICK ONE!!!” “Okay, Heather’s is the best.” It actually was.
I never considered myself an artist. Heather was definitely the one with that talent. But I always drew. I wrote comic strips and doodled on everything. Whenever a teacher would ask if there was an artist in the class who would design a poster or book cover there would always be a kid who’d say, “Ask Tracey. She’s an artist.” “No, I’m not.”
The first time I took an art class was in college. It was an introduction to sculpture. Because I had no art training, my projects were abstract and childlike. I hated evaluation days. The teacher would place a blank sheet of paper in front of each student’s artwork. He instructed the students to critique each project by writing a score from one to five followed by a few words. Man, they hated my work! “Is it a dinosaur or a spaceship?” After all the sculptures were scored by the students, the teacher stood in front of each one, looked at the student evaluations, then gave his personal evaluation. He held up my sculpture and said, “Why did this one get such a low score? I look around the room and see the same thing over and over. This one is creative, unique, interesting. Five!”
I decided to make art my minor. I signed up for every art class offered: glass blowing, painting, drawing, fibers, and pottery. I started to feel like maybe I could be an artist.
By my second year of college, I was really involved in the art scene. During spring break, my roommates went to New York. I stayed on campus and made art. I also went to an art museum with my sister, Heather. It was the first time I’d ever been to an art museum. When I saw the Gauguin painting with all of its oil paint texture, I instinctively reached out and touched it. Then a security guard reached out and touched me. “Don’t touch the paintings!!!” I could tell by the horrified look on my sister’s face that everyone knew this rule, but me. I made it through the rest of the museum without incident. And I was super excited to go back to college and make more art.
When my roommates returned from their trip, they blabbed on and on about all the great stuff they did in New York. I was having trouble listening because my ears were so jealous. Then they started talking about their trip to the Guggenheim. My ears wanted to know everything! They were telling about the Picasso exhibit. But they didn’t talk about color or composition. In fact, they were laughing so hard they could hardly talk at all. The adjectives they used to describe the cubist master’s work; ridiculous, stupid, hilarious. My ears began to steam! I’m pretty sure I yelled, “YOU GUYS ARE RIDICULOUS, STUPID, AND HILARIOUS!” Then I stormed out of the room. They were too busy laughing to notice.
The story I wrote for the Readerville Art Museum is based on my college experience as an artist-want-to-be. I am the box who loves art and pretends to understand it. My college roommates are the goofy horse and jack-in-the-box. I laugh and feel embarrassed every time I read it.
I wish I could take credit for inventing this art project, but I found the idea in a magazine when I was teaching first grade. I made it with my students every year. The kids loved working on this paper sculpture project. Click ABSTRACT ANT PLAYGROUND to get the instructions for this craftivity.