Beyond the finish line

Jack just made this beautiful piece by making a squiggle and then drawing portraits in each section.

Last weekend, Jack had his ‘audition’ at the art high school, doing three drawings under supervision and showing the portfolio of work he’s done over the past few months. He reports that he was quite happy with his work: a still life drawn from memory (oranges slices, a box and bowl of cereal), a portrait of a student who posed for them, and a pastel of a rock show, showing at least three people. However, he said the experience was pretty unpleasant. The art supplies were crummy, the sheets of paper was small, about 5×7, and the teacher who looked at his portfolio was rushed and uncommunicative. It was as I had feared, that the school is so big, had so many applicants, that it would be a very different experience from the schools he’s attended so far.

Art teaching can be terrific. But more often, it is either useless or off-putting. It’s not like teaching math or Spanish, and the emphasis on a right way and a wrong way can be chilling. Jack is also pretty averse to art instruction, though I have fantasies about finding a great extra-curricular program for him, a course designed for kids that are talented and motivated, a teacher that will help expand him, guide him, and keep him fired up. If you have any suggestion on how to find such a person, let me know.

Speaking of your input, Patti and I were so pleased to read all of the solid advice readers sent in regarding my last entry. It helped us to solidify our view — that Jack should go to a strong, progressive, general sort of school and we are lucky to have several great options. Jack has had to write application essays for several of them. One asked him to describe a commitment he had made and how it effected him. He decided to write about his love of art and I thought you might enjoy reading it:

Addicted to Art
I push my pencil to the paper once again and I hear a faint buzzing of the model’s timer and papers begin rustling. I look up and see that “Victoria” is up and stretching her legs. I sigh and put down my pencil to look at what I’ve done so far. Yellow teeth, chin hairs, and two green eyes fill the page. While it seems like I’m almost done with her face, I’m really just getting started. I look up and see about 20 people, each at least 15 years older than me. A sign missing a few letters reads, Li_e Dra_ing Classes! Two hours earlier, my friends had asked me if I wanted to head up to Central Park for a game of soccer. I had turned them down without even thinking. Why? Because art is my obsession.

Art has inspired me to do many things. I draw all kinds of stuff, create t-shirts, and even paint skateboards. There’s nothing quite like the rush you get from hopping on a board fresh with the smell of acrylics and oil. I scratch the art off the bottom then repeat the entire process. My t-shirts designs are drawings I am very proud of and want the rest of the world to see. I draw live models, animals, photographs, monsters, cartoons, and superheroes, just about everything. You name it; I’ve drawn it.

My whole family has been a huge influence on me. I write different designs of my name because my grandmother writes poems and designs art with calligraphy. I work with Photoshop and tried different designs on it, inspired by my aunt, a printer. My father and I talk about art at least fifteen times a day because of our shared interests. My mother studied fashion and
textiles, which has led me to want to learn how to create shirts and work with collages.

Part of the reason I love art so much is because I’m surrounded by it. Living in New York and having galleries, museums, and movies to study and go to has really made it grow on me. I also make art so much because of how it makes me feel. The moment my pen or pencil hits the paper and my iPod starts to play, I forget all about any homework or stress I may have and I am sucked into the page. There’s nothing like going out on a brisk morning and studying the streets around me. Capturing the scene on paper is the icing on the cake.

While I love art, I’m only thirteen, so I have no idea whether or not I’ll commit to it as a career. I know a lot of people who do this as well, businessmen and women who are artists at heart and all share a very strong love for art with no need to make it their jobs. We share ideas, visit museums, and go out together on ‘Ssketchcrawls,’ trips to museums and parks for drawing. Sometimes we even make art to raise money for different organizations and people in need of food or shelter.

I love art (as I’m sure you know and I’m sorry for being a bit repetitive) and I hope that as I grow older, I continue to work at it. Over the years art has expanded my view of the world and taught me discipline. It has taught me to become a better student at art and the world as well. I think that if I keep it a major part of my life, I will do it more and more and hopefully, one day, I will have mastered all different aspects and it will stay with me for my entire life, ‘til death do us part.

If you’d like to buy one of Jack’s t-shirt designs. he’s made a little online store here:

http://www.zazzle.com/assets/swf/zp/zp.swf?cn=238860589517453985&st=date_created&tl=My+Zazzle+Panel&skn=default&ch=jacktea

C

The Mouse Race


In most normal parts of the world, when children graduate from their local middle school (also known as intermediate school or junior high school), they go onto their local high school. Their school choice is pretty much set by their address. New York City, however, given its position as most extraordinary city in the solar system, has to have a far more complex and stressful solution.
Jack, who is now 13, has to submit almost two dozen choices for school next year.
First of all, we had to decide if he should continue to go to private school or return to the public school system. If we had chosen the former, he’d have to take a very long multiple choice math and reading exam, then write essays and be interviewed at however many schools we had visited and thought good candidates. Then, if we he was accepted at one, we would spend over $100,000 to make sure he got a high school diploma.
Because we’ve opted to send him to public school. his choices are multiplied. First we had to go through a directory of NYC High schools that is over 600 pages long, listing choices from the FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety to the Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, from the EL Puente Academy for Peace and Justice to the School for the Future.
Patti, Jack and I, collectively and separately, have gone on scores of school tours, grilled acquaintances for inside info, read books, articles and websites, and finally narrowed down on our list to the mandatory top 12 schools. That’s right — everyone who applies to NYC public high school must rank their top dozen choices to get into even one.
Some of the schools are really amazingand we are so lucky to have them as options (we visited one that just got 12 million bucks from Bill and Melinda Gates, another which takes the kids on trips to Europe) while others are scary and ringed with metal detectors and classrooms full of hooligans and pre-cons.
There’s more. New York also has a group of “Specialized” High schools that includes schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science that are among the very best schools in the country. To even be considered for admission to these schools, Jack had to study for several months and then, last weekend, along with 25,000 other students, took a three hour test with a few insanely hard questions (in helping him prepare for this test I have had to take a nightmarish stroll down memory lanes to my dusty repository of algebra and geometry, knowledge I haven’t accessed once since Carter was in the White House). He also took yet another test for entrance to Bard, which covers all of high school and the first two years of college before the students turn eighteen.
If all all of this sounds like I am a neurotic, over achieving yuppie parent, I promise you, we are merely average in this city. As soon as you enter the maelstrom of high school selection, you inevitably are faced with all these choices and feel you must at least do what you can to give your kid the best options. And, because you have to rank those twelve schools without knowing whether your kid will get his first choice or his twelfth, you must get somewhat involved and get the lay of the land. Every one does it, from bus drivers in Staten Island to investment bankers in Brooklyn to short order cooks in the Bronx. If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. Otherwise, move to New Jersey (shudder).
Alright, I hear you wondering, so what does all this have to do with drawing?
Well, about a dozen of the schools in town are art schools of one kind of another. Most seem to be training people who will end up in making mechanicals or painting signs, anything to divert talented kids who would otherwise be spraying graffiti everywhere. We checked out a couple of these schools and they seemed quite grim, with lousy facilities, unimaginative teachers and slack-jawed students. One school, however, LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts has been top Jack’s list for a while. The guitar player from his band was admitted last year and he raves about it. LaGuardia was the basis for the movie and TV show “Fame” (“I’m gonna live forever…) and it full of amazing singers, dancers, musicians, actors and artists. Each year thousands of the most talented kids in the most talented town audition for entry. Less than 10% get in.
Jack has been working hard on his portfolio for the art program. He has to submit fewer than twenty mounted pieces and then take a test: drawing a figure from life, a still from memory and a pastel painting form his imagination.
Jack loves to draw and had filled many sketchbooks with masterpieces. However, he has never really taken much in the way of academic art and usually resists formal teaching. For his application, however, he has had to sit down and really concentrate on the sort of art neither of us particularly love to make. He has drawn long careful portraits of Patti and me, has drawn a range of still-lifes in various media, had drawn urnban landscapes, done some watercolors and has even attended four hour life drawing studio classes with me, sticking it out for the whole session (no nudes, alas).
I am amazed at his commitment and at the strength of his drawings, I had neither the ability ntr the commitment at his age.
The question of course is, will he get in? And the next question is, if he does, should he spend this much time on art? That’ss an interesting question coming form me — I have always bemoaned my own lack of formal training and would personally love to go to art school. But Jack is also a very good student, getting As and B+s in every other subject and we are concerned with whether the academics at LaGuardia will be enough. The fact is, other schools offer better social studies and writing and math programs, no question. But he loves to draw… Well, we’ll see what’s what this spring when the decisions are made by the Board of Ed and we learn the options
Meanwhile, I am posting the pieces he has made for his portfolio. Would you accept him?

Jack Tea’s Portfolio gallery

Holy Roller Novocaine

signpainter

Most mornings, after breakfast but before we head out for the day, Jack and I flip on our amps, grab our axes and fire it up. One of us plays rhythm, a standard 12-bar blues (E,A,B7) and the other solos, usually with the drive turned up for maximum distortion effect. Fortunately, we have thick floors and forgiving neighbors and for some reason Patti generally ignores or applauds our efforts. After ten minutes or so, we return our Fenders to their stands and go out the door, our fingertips and ear drums still vibrating, adrenaline still coursing through our arms and legs.
After I drop Jack off at the bus to camp, I walk the twenty or so blocks to the office, listening to my iPod. These days my absolute favorite is a new band called The Kings of Leon, three brothers and a cousin from Tennessee who kick serious ass. They are a sleazy, boozy, brawling blend of 70s country rock, satanic heavy metal, surf, and punk, and they channel the spirits of early Stones and Lou Reed and the Strokes , (all of whom I have always loved), and Tom Petty, Eagles, Skynrd, and Zeppelin, (none of whom I’ve paid much attention to) .
Though I think I would have always dug this band, these days I find I can really hear them,. I am aware of each note; I can feel the separation of the instruments; sense what Caleb and Matthew Followill are doing on their guitars; take it all apart and put it back together; and it’s all due to the few months Jack and I have spend whacking our own geetars.
Over the past couple of years, drawing has done the same for my appreciation for art, focusing my likes but quelling my dislikes, broadening my mind and letting me see what I would have formerly walked past or dismissed. I feel increasingly less intimidated by the heavy intellectualism of a lot of contemporary art and get a lot more pleasure whenever I’m in a museum.
You don’t have to be a musician to love music or an artist to love art or a writer to enjoy a novel, but when you try to make it yourself, even in the most rudimentary way, it enhances what you get out of really great Art. In the end, we are all Artists. Some of us have long hair, greasy fu-manchus, and peg leg jeans while others just back up nine-year-olds.

Re-learning to draw

jacks-parrotsMy boy, Jack, 9, has always loved to draw. He draws in the symbolic away kids do, inventing characters in his mind, drawings scenes and battles and maps and worlds. Recently though we have been talking about drawing realistically and from nature.
Last week, we began doing exercises from a great book by Mona Brookes, called “Drawing with Children.” The book’s method is extremely clear and simple and we’ve had a lot of fun working on it together. In the very first lesson, he drew in ways he never has before and, at the end, asked me when we could do it again.
When children draw, they are working things out, play acting, exploring and learning. They are probably being more left brained about it than adult artists are, working primarily with symbols that are not based on observation. Our society assumes that this sort of play should not be interfered with as it may somehow stunt their imaginations. Instead, there’s a risen a myth that children can’t or oughtn’t be taught to draw. When kids reach ten or eleven, they taper off with this sort of play and, for too many people, this marks the end of their drawing life.
Some kids persevere on their own, but against the odds, because they usually have insufficient instruction. It’s absurd, like giving a class full of children access to books but not teaching them to read. We expect kids magically to go from drawing symbols to seeing clearly enough and having the perseverance to train themselves to draw accurately. Some will figure it on their own, the rest will just lose interest. We don’t do that with driver’s ed, or swimming, or mathematics, or even music.
The teaching and the learning aren’t hard. At nine, Jack’s brain is a sponge and Brookes breaks seeing and rendering down to such intuitive fun exercises that he picks it right up. The system is designed to help adults too and Patti has been talking about starting soon too. I can’t wait.
If you’ve been procrastinating about learning to draw, try working through this book with a child (even two year olds can do it). The fun is contagious and it’ll light your fuse.