Plant An Artistic Seed – by Ruth Tucker

We wring our hands over the education crisis. What’s the solution? Some would say more math and science teachers. Maybe. But what would happen if educators and heads of state all over the world put out a call for more music and art teachers? What if corporate America focused on beauty more than money? Imagine a world of harmony—musical harmony and relational harmony. How might such a world look to an artist? For Adonna Khare this world is filled with strange, albeit recognizable, animals who get along despite their differences. A lion licks a lollipop, a goat walks a trapeze, elephants are entwined with orangutans and fish walk upright.

My hometown of Grand Rapids was all abuzz about art. For three weeks the fourth annual ArtPrize dominated conversation while politics and the price of gas were almost forgotten. More than 1500 artists from all over the world vied for recognition and over $500,000 in prize money. Except for a juried prize, ordinary people determined the outcome by means of electronic voting.

Most artists, including Adonna, never really imagine that when it’s all over they will say goodbye to cheering crowds, $200,000 richer with a first-prize purse. She knew she was taking a risk when she purchased airfare and arranged for lodging, leaving her husband and three-year-old daughter behind in Burbank.

Although spending a month in Grand Rapids was surely not a contest requirement, she needed the time to finish her work. (No rule bans procrastinators.) She arrived in town with a paper mural, 8 feet high and 35 feet long that she had drawn in her garage. For most of the next three weeks she added to it as crowds of people passed by and children joined her cross-legged on the floor, hoping her spirit and techniques might rub off on them. By the time the work was completed it extended onto the wall of the museum and had grown to 13 feet high and 40 feet in length—the square footage of a spacious mobile home.

The crowds loved the drawing and the artist’s homespun spontaneity, and not just because she is an elementary school art teacher devoid of professional arrogance. Above all they recognized her incredible talent. The skin on the legs of the elephants and the fur on the primates conveyed texture and depth and shading that almost made you feel as though you were in the drawing yourself.

But whimsy won the day. Crazy creatures by the dozen crowd together in community while guarding their individuality. Giant elephants mingle with miniature hippos and giraffes. Mammals with wings or with human legs and feet perch precariously on other equally quirky creatures.  All in all, a menagerie garnished with teapots, ladders, pears, rubber duckies, bird mobiles, balloon animals on strings, and lighthouses topped with high-efficiency bulbs.

Her advice for would-be artists does not involve specialized classes or a satchel of tools. Her recipe is simple. Start with a piece of paper or even a wall. Add a pencil, an eraser and a sock and you’re good to go. Growing up in a small Iowa town, Adonna began drawing when she was age three. Art after all is not rocket science. Yes, of course, we need math and science. But plant an artistic seed in a little one’s mind and you’ve crowned her with tender mercies.

Ruth Tucker is a regular columnist for The Plain Truth magazine

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