Art, as a form of personal expression, has always been close to my heart. As a child, I was constantly sketching with pencil and paper. Every Sunday, my parents would take the three of us, together with our neighbour’s three kids, in our 1968 Volkwagon Beetle, to do art at a wooden house somewhere in Ipoh, where many other children go to learn how to draw and colour.
It was not expensive, as I recall that it cost something like RM24 per child per month to learn there. And the teachers were all real artists! I remember the exhibitions of their works where we could see the various styles of watercolor paintings being displayed. I also remember the outdoor excursions to places of interest like the Ipoh railway station where we put the unique architectural structure onto art block paper and the DR Park (Taman Dr Seenivasagam) where we tried to capture the serenity and beauty of the trees and lakes. There were also art competitions where my brother and I won prizes. Doing art was a very engaging experience then. Learning from watching how the different artist teachers painted, each with his or her unique style, was an unforgettable experience. That was how I had acquired my watercoloring technique which prompted me to win a special school prize for art in Form 5 and obtaining a distinction for art for my SPM way back in 1982!
The satisfaction of self-expression
Yet all that did not push me into making art as my career. It had always been something that I did for self-satisfaction as I had derived a great deal of joy and satisfaction from just doing it. But art took a back seat when my music teaching career took off, and was gradually locked deep into my secret closet for many years, to be forgotten and replaced by a million and one other activities that involved bringing up three little kids in a totally different environment that I had grown up in. Happy to say, my daughters too, displayed very artistic tendencies from young. and for a short spell, learnt under an accomplished artist introduced by a friend. It was from watching them do art with the artist that stirred up in me, a great deal of renewed longing to hold a brush and to apply colors onto paper again. So, one recent morning, I just got the materials together, and started to sketch and color for the first time in so many years. The feeling was both frightful and thrilling! I could not believe my eyes that I could still do it after all these years. Neither could my children believe their eyes that their mom could do that! It was a liberating moment for me – I felt liberated from self-doubts and fear of failure – something that we adults learn to develop over the years of trying to live up to the expectations of others. So much so, that we forget to live up to our own expectations for ourselves.
Children should just do art for art’s sake. Not for exam, not for winning competitions, not for other people, but only for the satisfaction and fulfillment of doing art. Now it has become a central part of our lives and my children and I hope to build our portfolio of art pieces together. Who knows one day we may be able to hold an art exhibition just for the fun of it? We know art works when neighborhood children come and do art at our house. One child revealed that her mom would not buy art materials or let them do art at home, for fear of the children making a mess of the house. But what the mother fails to see, is how much joy and satisfaction her children derive from doing art. They should be looked upon as little artists in their own right. And moms and dads should take it up too, if only to fulfill a long lost yearning to do art!
Everyone can do it!
Today we experimented with doing art with a group of children just for the fun of it. We called it “Raining Art” as we dropped paints down onto the art paper to create a myriad of colourful splats of varying shapes and sizes. At first, the children were very reluctant to try because the concept was too new to them. “You mean, we can do anything and splat paints everywhere?” asked a child. The answer was yes, except for our white walls! That kind of freedom was quite scary at first, and we adults had to do a demo to show them what they could do. But it did not take them too long to warm up to it and as time went by, some of them could not be stopped! My daughter Amrita, even took it one step further – she put paint into a drinking bottle, pierced a hole into the cap, and shook it out onto her paper! The result was an amazing piece of artwork with some amazing blending of colours! Following that, a few kids decided to try their hands on two large pieces of paper, working together to create a common piece of art. The result was far from common as their spontaneous energies in dripping, splatting and sprinkling colors were indeed very captivating to say the least! When it was done, everyone stood around the piece of art in quiet contemplation, each with a deep sense of satisfaction.
Art is a tremendously liberating form of human expression and no one ought to be afraid to try it. Even animals have become successful artists in recent years! For children who have gone through high levels of stress or trauma, art is a channel for them to ventilate their deepest emotions locked away from others. However, it is not uncommon to hear children say that they cannot draw and are afraid to even try. Why are they afraid to reveal their inner selves? Are they so afraid that people might laugh at them that they do not even want to attempt it? Perhaps we have so successfully schooled them to do only when instructed and only according to instructions that children have failed to learn to follow their hearts and be spontaneous some of the time. Forget drawing or colouring within the lines! If a child wants to color an elephant pink, let her! We adults can do them a great favour by not intervening when children do their art. For art is one form where there is no right or wrong answers. Anything goes as long as the artist likes it! To worst thing that could happen is to make art into another controlled activity. Too much structure and control can kill creativity, not just in art but in every other aspects of our lives!