I recently had a conversation with a teacher from an affluent, urban school that ended with this statement, “Your kids don’t have art in their school? That breaks my heart”. And I felt reprimanded, like I was doing my children a disservice. Should we pack up our things and move to an area where our kids could experience art? Are they missing out? And then I took a breath and began to think.
Living in rural America, options are often limited in our small, rural schools. We may not have art, or photography, or any number of elective classes of large, urban area schools. However, our children experience art, just on a grander scale.
Our children have watched their daddy take a piece of broken ground, mend it, and over time begin to tend it. They’ve seen a tiny seed placed in the ground and watched it grow into a corn field that spreads to the horizon. They’ve watched the dark clouds move across the sky and bring highly anticipated rains that fall from the sky onto dry, parched ground. They know the importance of the rain, the sun, and time.
Our son is learning the art of welding from his grandfather. My father, who has spent a lifetime honing his craft, is patiently passing that knowledge on to my son. I’ve watched them stand together, side by side in the their welding helmets, sweating, practicing over and over that straight bead weld. Knowing that one day, Jack will use this skill to repair equipment to keep the farm running. To keep his daddy in the field, or his brother or sisters. Not an art to pass the time or for sheer enjoyment, but an art borne of necessity.
They’ve watched their grandmothers and great-grandmothers create masterpieces in their kitchens. They’ve heard stories and been taught recipes passed down through generations. Our daughter has learned to make the same pound cake recipe her great-great grandmother made years ago that fed her family during the Depression years. She knows the satisfaction of opening an oven and seeing that rising, golden cake. She’s waited patiently until she could turn it out on a platter and hear the perfect moment when the knife first breaks that delicate, buttery top.
In the cold winter months, our children load up in the truck with their daddy to check heifers. They know the slow steady sway of a momma cow that is close to bringing a calf into the world. They’ve finished a late night supper only to load back up in the pick-up and check that momma one last time before bed. They know the signs of distress. They’ve helped their daddy walk up that momma cow under a starry sky. They wait patiently, shivering in the winter air, blowing frosty breaths. They’ve watched as he artfully helps that momma cow bring her first calf into the world. Helped that calf to breathe its first breaths on this earth. They’ll watch that calf nurse, and grow, and thrive in the dark green grasses of spring.
They’ve stood in the garden, under a plum tree in late spring or a muscadine vine in late summer. They stand with sticky hands, sticky faces, and full bellies as the orchestra of pond frogs and crickets proclaim the start of the most sacred time of day. When the temperature shifts, the day is suddenly cooler, and the sky begins to welcome the evening. By graduation, they will have seen thousands of sunrises and sunsets from the seat of a pickup truck, a tractor, or the seat of an ATV. They will see the work of the master craftsman in the sky at the beginning and end of each day. Colors and scenes that can seldom be replicated on canvas.
So no, my friend, our children do not have art in school. Our children’s life is art and the process lasts a lifetime.
And so now, my response would be, “Your child doesn’t get to experience life in rural America? That breaks my heart”.