Our Influences on Others by Wilson Bickford

Each school year, I have the opportunity to work with several hundred kids in a "Visiting Artist" program, which is set up by the local arts council. My county is the largest in the state so I cover quite an area and frequent many different schools.

Very recently, I was scheduled for 4 consecutive days to conduct an oil painting lesson with 5th & 6th graders. There would be 100+ kids over the entire session. Upon my arrival on the second day, I was taken aside by a couple of the school staff and informed that "Billy" ( not his actual name ) would be in attendance that day. I was told that ART was his favorite subject and they thought this would be a good experience for him. They also disclosed "Billy has been having some problems and is seeing a counselor because he has been contemplating suicide lately." Being a father and grandfather myself, I was stunned! I thought, "What in the world would make a 10 or 11 year old boy think such a thing?"

The class went on as planned and each child had a nice little oil painting to take home to Mom & Dad. As is always the case at these workshops, the kids were in awe of getting to work with a "real" artist and were very attentive and well-behaved. We genuinely had a great time.
I gave them all a "pat on the back" and some high praise as they were leaving. I also gave a little extra encouragement to Billy.
The next day, I had a different group of students, but Billy's counselor came in to tell me how much Billy had enjoyed his lesson and was inspired by it all. She said that his true outlet was in Art so she was sure our little class had a positive impact on him.

That really got me to thinking. Although we don't always readily realize it, every single one of us influences and impacts upon each other's lives every day. I am able to touch people with my Art, but it can be something as simple as a heartfelt "Thank you" or "I heard you weren't feeling well, but I hope you're feeling better." It doesn't take too much sometimes to brighten someone's day.

Billy was thrilled to get to meet a "real" artist and I hope that our short time together helped to erase some of the negativity in his life. I have no idea of his circumstances or background, but I sincerely hope that I helped to steer him in a more positive direction. Art can do that and I'm so glad (and fortunate) to be a part of it. It's very likely that I may never see or hear of Billy again, but he has impacted on my life as well. It has been a few weeks now and I still think of him and hope he's feeling better about himself.
Who knows?,......... maybe another artist was born that day. I hope so!


On Being an Artist by Valerie (Valry) Drake

My thoughts have been wandering on the subject of being an artist. The idea of calling myself an "artist" is difficult. The majority of my income is derived from my day job. So what qualifies me to claim this title? Or am I being overly ostentatious?

Am I an artist solely because I produce art? Possibly it has more to do with the fact that I consistently produce art. I practice. There is seldom a week that I do not produce some art. If I go more than a couple of days without drawing or painting then I start to dream of paintbrushes and the texture of paint, the feel of the paintbrush sweeping across canvas, the smell of oil paint, and intense colors dancing in dizzying panoramic displays of splashing and blending and swirling. These dreams drive me to stay awake late the next night, often way past midnight even knowing that I must work the next day, possessed by the compulsion, the visceral need, to apply paint to canvas.

One of my basic beliefs about art is that anyone can learn to be an artist, at least to some extent. Each person has a given amount of artistic talent, some more, some less. I will never be a Monet or Picasso. I do not have that much raw talent. However, I am very focused on developing the talent which I do have. I am serious about learning art and I put a lot of time and effort into the learning process. Beside my bed is a book on facial anatomy for the artist (and a pencil and sketchpad), in my car is a book on composition (and a portable watercolor set) and by the sofa (along with my box of colored pencils and my drawing board) is a book on color theory. I regularly study art history, different styles of work, biographies of artists, and I go to art museums and galleries to examine major works in person. In other words, I work at it.

As I progress and learn more about art I become aware of my obligation to help others. That which I have learned I turned around and started teaching. If I have a skill then it is incumbent on me to share that skill. From having a friend's child come to the house and showing her the correct way to handle a paintbrush to teaching classes at venues such as the local Jerry's. I do not believe I have the right to be selfish or exclusionist. I have felt the sting of approaching artists and having them express their scorn of me and my efforts. Some years ago I told a man whom I respected about my dreams of becoming an artist and he offhandedly told me that it was useless for me to pursue the idea. There was even a teacher who rolled his eyes when I tried to express an idea that excited me. From experiences such as these I have learned to be more sensitive to other artists who are at different places in their creative life. I will do what I can to support and encourage every artist or "want to be" artist.

Finally, I take the world of art seriously. I respect the work of other artists, even artists who have a different viewpoint than I do. Graffiti art, tattoo art, temporary installations, guerrilla art, and countless others, all have their place in the creative world. New artists and established artists, people who just bought their first canvas and tube of paint to the local pottery artist whose work is on display in the Smithsonian and has created a White House Christmas ornament, the digital artist and the cartoonist and the quilter - each and every one, if they consider themselves an "artist" is my colleague and I owe them respect.

So I name myself an artist and I strive to live up to my standards. I am proud of creating art. I am proud of the way my art has improved and of the skills I am learning. I am proud that I have an ideal of what I mean by the word "artist". And I am proud to share that title with you.


Art as a Matter of Survival by Cheryl Whitestone

I have been a professional artist for twenty something years. I started painting when I was 10 years old and continued playing in all the 2 dimensional mediums I could get my hands on as a child with no money. My Mom was an artist so I was exposed to her art supplies and her artist friends who also tutored me. I learned sumi painting at 11, watercolors, oils, sketching and everything else, as I tagged along with my mother and her friends. I even went with Mom to do fill-in work on her murals in California, at age 11.

I am old now and still work in every art medium I can get my hands on. Nothing has changed, I guess, except I have more of a mastery of these mediums and the craft of painting. I am not rich in cash but rich in personal fulfillment. Hopefully my ship will come in soon. I have only survived as a professional by being what I have called an "art whore", I will paint anything for anyone, and I have learned how to live on less money than most people would think possible. Of course I would be happy if this situation would change, extra cash would come in handy.

Several years ago I met Joseph Perrin, former, Head and Professor Emeritus, School of Art and Design at Georgia State University, and attended his artist salons in his studio behind his home in Atlanta. It was a great place to preview your latest art work, socialize and get constructive critiques from Joe and all the other artists in attendance. But it was much more than just that, because Joe was an armchair philosopher and he was somewhat of a stand-up comic too. Here is what he said, and handed a copy to all of us one day.
This will make you feel good!

Elements in Your Survival Kit:
The Arts
By Joseph Perrin

Without the arts you can express nothing. Without expression you can communicate nothing. Without communication you can negotiate nothing. Without negotiation you don’t survive.

Without the arts you have no clothes to wear, no house to live in, no buildings in which to work, no cars to drive, no books, magazines or papers to read, no television or movies to view, no music to hear, no pots and pans to cook in etc.
Artist Barnett Newman stated: "I believe that man discovered his godhead in the mud with a stick before he discovered that he could throw the stick as a lance." There is also visual evidence that, in prehistoric times, humankind scratched its hopes and dreams on the walls of its caves. If this is the case, it would indicate that the arts preceded science, technology, business and other vital enterprises in the unfolding of our civilized world.

If the forgoing statements are true, should we not continue to support, and indeed increase our support for the visual, literary and performing arts and do it as a matter of vested interest and survival?

I loved this, I do want to be appreciated and this is high praise. Fellow artists keep up the good work it is a matter of our survival!

Cheryl Whitestone

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