As a writer, I sometimes carry my camera with us when we’re “out and about.” And it’s because of this trivial fact that, on an ordinary trip to a suburban mall, our young son snapped this photograph.
It’s ordinary and extraordinary at once, that I would have carried, birthed and helped raise a tiny human being capable of prizing natural beauty.
Years ago while working at a major university, a popular dean related a story to several students. I think of it from time to time, especially when I encounter other suburban parents open to their entire family’s need for creative self-expression. The story was told to him, if I recall correctly, by his own art school chairman.
The chairman, recently retired, was traveling and arranged to catch up with his favorite former student. Once she’d been his star pupil, an exemplary studio art major. Because of this, he’d envisioned a vibrant future for her filled with gallery openings and travel.
On the appointed evening and after a long journey, he arrived at the woman’s suburban household and was greeted warmly by everyone, including her husband and three children.
Over the course of the evening, the gentleman noticed that a conspicuous absence of the young woman’s artwork in the home. He felt a dark cloud over him as he realized that this delightful, talented young woman’s schedule was consumed with tending small children. Plus, there appeared to be no secret studio in the suburban tract home, no place where she could escape to create.
The meal was delicious (she was a skilled cook), the children well-behaved, yet the man felt increasingly strange, uncomfortable even. All of the effort and energy expended by the woman to obtain a degree–all of the effort and energy of her teachers (himself included)–had it been for naught? Had she wasted everyone’s time in pursuit of an art degree?
After supper, the mother turned to her children and said with enthusiasm, “Now, shall we show my teacher our work?” The children bolted up and out of the room, returning gleefully with a jumble of drawings and paintings. The young artists’ and their mother’s delight was almost palpable as they explained their work, just as studio artists are trained to do. The father beamed, too.
As the man realized that the gifts he’d passed to his former student a few years ago were being relayed to the bright-eyed children in a household where creativity and spontaneity were valued, he felt the cloud vanish.
“Who am I,” he wondered later when relating the story, “to say who uses their degree best? And who am I to define a ‘studio’ as anything other than a space where creativity is valued.”
In the SlowBurbs, creativity is valued as a part of ordinary life. That, like the young mother who’d set aside a number of years to rear her children, we’d find ways to nurture creativity daily and freely, setting aside the coulda-woulda-shouldas of others.