To The Kids Who Didn’t Get Ribbons Yesterday At The Corner Conference Art Show

To the kids who didn’t get ribbons yesterday at the Corner Conference Art Show:

It was a tough job. It really was. We wanted to give out more awards. We wanted to encourage more of you. There were WAY MORE good pieces than ribbons to distribute. We want you to know that part of that is due to funding. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, visual arts (and you can make the same argument around music and performing arts) always get the shaft when it comes to money. Why is it that an activity that develops visual-spatial skills, creative thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, technical expertise, eye-hand coordination, emotional expression, professionalism, courage, and so many other indefinable but vital skills that are applicable to virtually EVERY JOB in the world (whether it is a “creative” job or not) doesn’t receive as much money as other activities? Administrators, I’m just going to leave that question there for YOU to answer, although I do have a pretty good idea. Regardless, that kind of thinking gave us the judging situation we had yesterday. Because of lack of money, fewer pieces could be submitted per school, which means not everyone that wanted to participate, could participate. On top of that, the number of categories were reduced, meaning that abstract art was judged with portraiture, and watercolors were judged with oil paintings. Recognition could not be given where it was deserved simply because there weren’t enough ribbons to go around.

So, I got that rant off my chest. Now, here is the other part that students who didn’t win need to hear. First of all, it wasn’t YOU that didn’t win. It was a piece. It was a painting, or a photograph, or a sculpture, or what have you that didn’t get a ribbon. The incredible walking piece of humanity that YOU ARE is still there, and should still be creating today, ribbon or not. Every person who created something that is showing at the Sidney High School today created something out of simple raw materials and guts. They took chances. They put themselves out there in a way that most people don’t. I know because I have done it, multiple times. It is a courageous act, putting a handmade piece out there for the edification of the public. The art you create is like your child–it is special and you know the hard work that went into it.

But listen to me, because this is really important–artists throw away dumpsters full of pieces that, for whatever reason, weren’t successful. Not winning, not making a great piece, not achieving the look or the feel that you were going for, not having something turn out–THAT is par for the course in art. It is only after you work and worry and sweat and toil and bleed over pieces beyond end that you will come up with CONSISTENTLY GOOD ART. And after you reach that level, you will still throw away LOTS of pieces. Look at it like this. If you were participating at a track meet yesterday, and normally you win the 400 yard dash by a bunch, but for some reason, you had an off day and lost to four other runners, well, you might be disappointed in your performance. But you’d shrug it off, show up at practice the next day and continue to work hard. You might even work HARDER. Art is the same thing. Show up at practice. And then actually practice. Work harder. The difference between you and that runner is that you get one show a YEAR (funding, Administrators!!!) whereas there might be 15 or more track meets each spring. You don’t have the chance to perform that often.

Now, there is one other thing, and not a small thing. Most people think that with art, you either “got it or you don’t”, in terms of talent. I’m here to tell you, that isn’t necessarily true. Every person who does art is on a path–a creative path. That path IS your practice. We all start on the path with a different skillset, a different way to view the world, different experiences and different goals. We all reach proficiency of certain technical skills at different times on that path. So, yes, there are those students who are completely kicking it in middle school or 9th grade or whatever. There are those who may be born with innate talents you are not. There are those completely rare, magical few who are prodigies. But let me tell you something that is so true, so true: Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work. Meaning, you can have all the innate talent in the world, but if you don’t bust your butt and do the work, do the practice, those who DO work hard consistently will achieve more consistent success. So work hard. Really hard. At whatever it is you want to do. Hard work pays off.

Ribbons. In some ways it seems ludicrous to “compete” in art. It really does. But that is the human paradigm in which we find ourselves–humans can wrap their heads around “winning”. But, on the other hand, recognition for exemplary pieces IS important. So we hand out ribbons, and that is fine. But just as important is the show. Every artist should have the chance to show their work. THAT’S what it should be about. What you personally produce, well, not one other person on the face of the earth could make that the way you did. It is as original as your fingerprint. We need more shows, more opportunities to let artists show what they’ve been up to. We need to get student art out in the community. It needs to be as important as winning football and volleyball and every other activity in which our kids participate.

Working with your hands creating something–that very act is a gift to the world. And mark my words: in a world full of shipping containers of imported stuff made on some cookie-cutter assembly line, hand-made items are going to become more and more valuable. Anything that CAN’T be made with a machine, that reflects humanity, that stirs the emotions IS precious, and will be seen that way in the world.

Keep it up, artists. I loved seeing the show yesterday. I’m going to attend again this evening. I’m going to spread the word. You keep doing the work.