Every other Friday PM, I volunteer at a free Studio Program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This past Friday, we had the opportunity to work in the Modern Art Galleries! These galleries are my favorite, and this evening was especially special.
We walked in, pushing our carts of art supplies to a brightly lit, white-walled, high-ceiling room. Large-scale abstract pieces hung on the walls, filled with various marks, hued in bright colors. The place was like a lollipop forest. (Obviously, my take.) Soon-to-be Artists were already filling the space as we created a semi-circle of stools around the Presenter’s easel. Both Teaching Artists were sick that day, but both pushed through to teach. (This proves passion.) I always think that when we are sick, but still willing to do the right thing, we become more vulnerable and caring. Maybe it’s our innate need to be nurtured, or our sameness with the humanity around us. I’m not sure. Anyway, the Teachers were in positive spirits despite their ailments.
The place filled, instructions were given, and participants strewn themselves on stools and floor.
Toward the close of the evening, a young couple speaking mainly Spanish strolled in with a little boy of 3 years and a tiny baby. The mom was caring for the youngest, as the father sat down on a bench with the boy. He was holding three crayons and a small pad of paper. At his father’s prompting to color, he began to squeal, discontented. The parents seemed embarrassed, but tired.
I watched as Deborah walked to him and handed him a large artist board with paper attached; she held a few colored (dustless) Conte crayons in her hand. The child looked at her, intrigued. One by one, she handed him a different color. They then moved on to various tools (pencils, charcoal). At that very moment, Maya had been speaking to the entire group about how we no longer allow ourselves to “let go” as adults, but kids instinctively mark on a page however they’d like. They do not need their pictures to look like a certain object, or to blend colors in a specific way. They just mark. They listen to their inner self and go with it, without hesitation.
I looked down at the no-longer-squealing little boy and was hit with the very same lesson in true-life, visual form.
I absolutely LOVE mark making. It behoves me to have zero plan and simply work from my gut! I must fight the urge to critique myself or my final work, noting that those specifications have only been set on me upon adulthood, professional study and comparison to other artists. The little boy in the gallery was content, quiet and happy. Isn’t that enough? I believe we can learn from him and the many abstract painters who came before us.
Come visit me at the Met!
Joan Mitchell (American, Chicago, Illinois 1925–1992 Paris)