My son earned a Blue Ribbon from his elementary school’s PTA Reflections Arts Program last fall for his submitted work, “Imagination Pox”. When my husband recently picked up our son’s art submission from the school’s Front Office at year’s end, he was told by one of the PTA parents that although “Imagination Pox” did not reach national recognition, it did garner the First Place spot for the School District and that she looked forward to whatever new creations would follow in the coming fall.
Little did she know that our son has since ignored our household’s growing arsenal of unopened art supplies, opting instead to continue on with his martial arts practice, voracious reading of the “Harry Potter” book series and playing video games with his fellow classmates after school. While on summer break, his days have added weekday participation in the local Hip-Hop, Boxing and Beginner Swim classes, along with being dragged along to his mother’s museum, art gallery and donut outings.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday morning, when he failed to advance to the next level swim class… my son, the child who excelled in everything he set his mind to, is afraid of putting his head under water. His refusal of doing what was asked of him during the swim exam, even though he was able to safely enter/exit the pool, float like a starfish on his back and kick his legs without splashing his neighbor, resulted in him in having to repeat the swim course again next week.
Everyone fails, so no big deal, right? We have all summer to learn this swimming thing. If we think back of the last three summers, when trips to the pool were often met with tears and pouts, the strides our son made this summer are huge leaps in the right direction. This would be what others would think, except my son is like me, an introverted perfectionist who would rather focus on what he does best rather than go with what others are doing to fit in. Unlike me, he is only eight years old and has the luck of having my husband and me wanting to encourage him to try again so that he can grow up knowing the lifesaving skill that is swimming.
What should a parent do when the kid is so upset with this minor setback that he wants to give everything up just so he can sulk in his room? Let him be, I suppose, except that we had a scheduled play date with friends at the local splash pad and we were providing the Nerf water guns! So he acquiesced, and in the end, he thanked everyone for meeting up with him even after his terrible day.
Saturday was a purposeful lazy day for us set to run errands of grocery shopping, checking out the closeout sales at the local sporting goods store, enjoying a family meal out, etc. Everyone was in good mood until Sunday morning, when my son realized that Monday was less than 24 hours away, and he and his sister would have to start a new swim session.
The question again — of what should a parent do when your kid is upset about a minor life setback — comes up. Distraction in the company of friends whenever I am sad never worked for me, either, so I had to think fast as to what to do for my fellow introverted child. That’s when I remembered reading about the “Sundays Open Sundays” free art classes offered at Barnsdall Art Park.
To recap, Barnsdall Arts/FOJAC and the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation offer free art workshops every Sunday as an opportunity for kids and families to actively participate and receive free arts education. Ever since my visit to the Hollyhock House, I have always planned to return to Barnsdall Art Park for its recurring Sunday family art classes. As always, life happens, so all the outside social and familial obligations have thwarted my well-intentioned plans to check out the Art Studio.
Two-and-a-half years later, I find myself now having a certifiable reason to go, which was to get my son out of his funk. I reminded him about how he had a block with his “Imagination Pox” before finally completing it, that it took him awhile to arrive at and execute his vision for what it means to “Let Your Imagination Fly” (the theme of the competition), that he was uncertain whether his work was good enough. I also reminded him that when we attended the school show, we were surprised to learn that he won First Place Blue Ribbon in the Visual Arts competition, and that we were, and still are, proud of him and his accomplishments.
I wanted him to remember that everything that matters takes time, practice and patience.
Begrudgingly, he, along with my supportive husband and daughter, took the 35 minute drive away from our coastal abode to partake in “Sundays Open Sundays”. We were greeted with friendly hellos by Sophia and Sheila, art instructors at the Junior Art Class Studio 1, and were given a short history about the theme of today’s studio session: Australian Aboriginal Dream Painting.
The simple dot style of Dot Painting, as well as cross hatching and circles of Australian Aboriginal Art, have a hidden meaning and deeper purpose, which was to disguise the sacred meanings behind the stories in the paintings. Can this be the long established pictorial language of Western Desert Aboriginal People? Maybe.
Followed was a prompt invitation to partake in the the dot painting techniques as we were provided with free art supplies and open seats in the art studio. We were to first draw an animal of our choosing, followed by adding color, ending with the exploration of the dot painting technique with the use of cotton swabs.
“Parents can join, too,” urged Jennifer, another art studio instructor, so my husband and I collaborated with our children’s soon-t0-be masterpieces.
While my four-year 0ld suddenly exclaimed “I’m finished! Now can I go outside?” (followed by my husband taking her outdoors to check out the exterior of the art studio), my son admitted to me that he felt “stuck” with what to do next with regard to how to add more dots “like how the Aboriginals would have.”
Followed was a discussion as to why he chose a vulture as his animal (“Because he’s strong”), why he placed the dots on its chest, wings, beak and claws (“They’re talons, Mom. Vultures are big! Because they give him power.”) and why he thought he needed to add more dots, but didn’t know where (“It just doesn’t feel right,” he exclaimed).
It occurred to me that maybe we should convey a symbol that would represent an invisible power, what, I didn’t know, so I began to add a dot spiral behind the vulture. My son soon followed my lead, making each dot more vibrant with color, and extending the spiral up and around his vulture.
When we completed our collaborative work of “Vulture”, Sophia, one of the art instructors commented on how she appreciated how my son used the dot technique to create a purposeful pattern around the vulture, as if it meant something. My son was dumbstruck, because he absolutely had no idea why they were there other than following my lead. Still, he was contemplative and appreciative of Sophia’s compliment, saying, “Thank you” and not selling his mother out for coming up with the idea of the swirls.
At the end of the studio art session, a collective masterpiece of works created by various families were on display for all to see. During this cute photo opportunity, I realized, upon looking at “Vulture” among its fellow dot-inspired animal creations, that the swirls could be my way of telling my son that his father and I will always be nearby to support and encourage him but it is up to him to fly away and be great at what he aspires to be.
Should I ruin this moment of childhood fun by making an esoteric declaration of what the two-colored swirls represent? No, not now. How could I? I mean, look at the smiles on these guys!
Thank you, Barnsdall Art Park, for this wonderful opportunity for families to come together to either enjoy each other’s company or, in our case, participate in a non-verbal healing session. We look forward to participating in future “Sunday Art Sunday” sessions again very soon.
Update: He overcomes his fear of the water and learns how to swim! Read about the experience here.
Barnsdall Art Park
JAC Studio 1
4800 Hollywood Boulevard,
Los Angeles, California 90027
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