Lightbulb Moment

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I remember an "art" project from grade school where we covered a light bulb in papier mache then, when it dried, slammed it against something to break the bulb, thus creating a maraca. Or maybe it was for social studies. At any rate, eventually you had a thing which, if shook, rattled and this was an important part of education.

James Thurber is reported to have said that, “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” comes to my mind every time someone mentions any art class that was taken before eighth grade. Remember those? Looking back, what exactly were we supposed to learn about art, composition or even art history by gluing elbow macaroni onto construction paper other than that peeling the glue off your fingers later is a lot of fun?

Now, I say this as someone who dearly loved art classes as a child. The reasons were many, including: you got to make a mess, you got to cut things with scissors, there was no right and wrong, and if you had the slightest bit of talent—or just an ability to draw Snoopy honed from many hours spent (to this day) tracing the covers of old paperback books—you got the praise of the teacher, who also had no idea what the educational value was for the glued macaroni but had come to enjoy the smell of paste.

And then came high school art. High school art teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world (right up there with all other teachers, except maybe the coach who always gets stuck with “Health & Hygiene”) because their class consists of three kids who have actual talent and would like to develop it and 18 other kids who are in art class because the main thing they learned in elementary school was that art class is an easy A and 1 kid who still eats the paste. So they do a lot of projects to keep the nineteen busy (involving more noodles) while actually trying to teach the three who have either the talent or desire to take art further, knowing that the only person who will actually make any money off art is the paste-eating kid because he’ll go on to be a graphic artist, drawing outlandish things that are really just how he sees the world after ingesting all that paste.

In my art class at good ol’ Cooper High (no, I was not one of the three with talent), the student that most stuck in everyone’s mind was this guy we called Pearl—which may have been his actual name. He was this skinny kid who always dressed in cammo with the sleeves torn out and carried a hunting knife with him that none of us were worried about (this was the 80s in west Texas and we were all carrying knives) and was always producing artwork that was vaguely threatening to the military-industrial complex but surprisingly attractive for all that. I don’t know what happened to him but I always expected to see him on the evening news, either for having a painting selected for the national gallery or because he was on a roof in downtown taking pot-shots at passing strangers with a 30-06.

Anyway, probably what's wrong with the younger generation is that they are no longer encouraged to play with broken glass.

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