I’ll be real honest.
I don’t have a degree in art.
So, how did I get here?
Sit down. I’ll start from the beginning.
Growing up I was the kid who was painting, drawing, or building something at the kitchen counter while the rest of my family was watching a movie in the living room. I had my spot at the bar in our little kitchen. My mom always kept the drawer and cabinet at my spot fully stocked with art making supplies. She never once got upset with me or my messes. And messes are what I make best, y’all. My artwork still covers the walls of my dad’s office. I don’t think I’ve ever given him a piece of artwork that he hasn’t displayed. And once they are displayed (hung on the wood paneling with a push pin) they never come down.
I don’t come from a family of artists. No one else was making art with me, but I didn’t care. I grew up in rural Arkansas. I wasn’t taken to art museums when I was a child. There weren’t even art museums in Arkansas at the time, and we didn’t do a whole lot of traveling. It didn’t matter. It was like there was something inside me that needed to create in order to feel complete or balanced.
My elementary school didn’t offer art as a specials class, so my first school experience with art was in junior high school. Enter one of my life’s biggest champions, my junior high art teacher. Everything I know about art I learned from this woman. I soaked it up and loved every single moment of my time in her class. I even stayed in her classroom for hours after school to work on ceramics projects and to learn how the kiln worked. I will forever be thankful for this incredible educator and the time she spent with me.
Neither of my parents attended school at a university or have college degrees. They have made an incredible life for themselves from hard work and determination. Being a first generation college student, I felt a huge amount of pressure to not screw up the whole college thing. So, when my parents voiced concern about a degree in art, I listened to their wisdom and got a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
But sometimes I would walk down the hallways of the fine arts building really slowly to overhear what the art teachers were saying. I’ve never wanted anything in my life like I wanted to sit in on one of those classes. Figure drawing, ceramics, graphic design. Those are the classes dreams are made of.
I graduated in the spring of 2005 and immediately went to work in a public school. I continued to be a classroom teacher for 13 years. I never stopped making art. I never stopped creating. I would sneak art lessons into my daily instruction in my elementary classrooms. I was named district teacher of the year of the Bryant School District for my innovative art integrated instructional methods. I ended up taking the praxis exam to add art education to my teaching license and waited for a position to open. When I heard there would be a new elementary school in our district, I immediately started preparing to apply. I didn’t know if a principal would hire me for that position or not, but I had to give it my best shot.
I went into my interview broken out in hives and sweating profusely. This was my make it or break it moment. I needed this. The interview was supposed to last 30 minutes. I accidentally talked about art for an hour and a half.
I had to wait an aching six weeks before I knew if I got the job or not. When I finally got word that I would in fact finally be an art teacher, I cried the ugliest of cries and that little girl inside me, the one drawing at the kitchen counter, got up and did the happiest of dances. Moments like this, moments when we realize our life path is taking a huge turn, our dreams are becoming realities, they take our breath away.
And moments like these don’t happen on their own. No one ever gets anywhere without a little help from others. I will forever be grateful for my parents always doing their best to give me what I needed. For my junior high art teacher who gave me my first taste of art education, and for my current principal who took a chance on me by hiring me to be her art teacher.
I don’t have a degree in art. And I think I’m ok with that.
Our degrees don’t define us. What we believe in, our passions, and what we are doing about them; that’s what defines us.