Bev Jackson Cotter: In art, put your focus on creativity

Published 9:16 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

Art is… by Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter


Most people stop doing art after sixth grade and never start again. I wonder why?

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As I meandered through the recent All School Art Exhibition at Northbridge Mall, I couldn’t help but smile. The bugs and dinosaurs and cupcakes were all made with cheerful hands and happy hearts.

On the other hand, the current Albert Lea Art Center exhibition “Aggie’s Dolls” is a totally unique collection of original dolls created by a lady who began to take this particular art form seriously when she was in her 60s. She had been doing art for most of her life, but became totally absorbed in doll making when most people are ready to sit back and relax.

It isn’t just children who need cheerful hands and happy hearts. We all do.

A couple of years ago, Michael and I were contacted by a gentleman who was writing a book about the labor market. His concerns are that even with all of our labor saving devices, we still need a 40-hour work week and we don’t take enough time to enjoy living through the arts, music and other cultural, recreational or family activities. One of the examples he wanted to use was farming, and he needed Michael’s input. Well, I don’t know a farmer who can condense his work into a 9 to 5 day, but we did have some interesting conversations, and we were curious to see just how he would incorporate Michael’s stories.

He did have an interesting story in the solutions section of his book, and it is totally appropriate to the theme of “Art is…”

In a column by Laura Johnson titled, “We all must make time for creativity in our lives,” she writes about teaching art to a group of business executives, brought together to foster creativity on the job.

“A team of corporate executives stares up at me. Behind the polish and power, I see the look of fear.

“I have witnessed this face of panic in many painting classes, but it’s especially palpable in this group. I tell them again, kindly but firmly, to pick up their paintbrushes and begin painting the blank canvases. … They insist that I explain exactly how to recreate the example painting — a colorful tree with flowers. It’s a simple painting, designed to be finished in several hours, just for fun. Yet it seems to terrify them.

“These men and women make important business decisions every day. If I asked them to negotiate a multimillion-dollar deal, they wouldn’t blink. Paint a tree? They balk.

“A week earlier, I taught the same painting to a Girl Scout troop, ages 9 to 11. I needed to race through my introduction, because they were so eager to start. Their eyes gazed longingly at the blank canvases, fingers twitching to grab brushes. Once they began, the girls asked me only for more paint colors. I saw wide trees, skinny trees, tall trees, short trees. None was the same, and not a single girl cared in the slightest.

“Johnson asks: When does this transition occur? At what point among e-mails, meetings, deadlines and long days do we forget the joy of creating?”

So often we hear, “Oh, but, I can’t even draw a straight line,” or “I couldn’t possibly do that.”

Those phrases come from adults, not kids. I have some framed pieces from grandchildren that are precious. They never asked “Is this the right color?” or “How tall should he be?” They just picked up their colored pencils and started right in. They were proud of the pieces they presented to me, and I’m proud to display them.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” When it was first displayed, critics used words like “broken violin” and “explosion in a shingle factory,” but now it is considered one of the world’s masterpieces. Duchamp wasn’t worried about whether the color or line or composition met someone else’s standards. He was too busy creating. It took 40 years for it to be recognized for the valuable piece of art that it is.

May I suggest that you pick up a pencil and make a mark on that blank piece of paper. Then just go from there. Who knows where it will take you?

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center where the show “Aggie’s Dolls” will be on display through June 16.