September 27, 2018

Arts for All - Conversation with Tracy Fox

I was a shy child for a good chunk of my elementary school years. I was reluctant to share my needs and opinions and was fearful of being judged. Even so, there was a lot I wanted to express. My parents recognized this and had me audition for a creative and performing arts program in our public school district.

Entering this program at sixth grade afforded me the freedom to create and share through music, dance, and acting. Empowered to artistically express and do so regularly, I felt equal parts safe and liberated. As my artistic expression flourished, so did my personal confidence and academic performance.

I believe each of us is an artist. If the arts aren't our profession, we may instead funnel our creativity into cooking and baking, decorating, gardening, adult coloring books, or crafts with our children. Or maybe in our adult years we sustain a hobby -- painting, journaling, pottery, singing, photography, playing piano or joining a drum circle.

Whatever your form of artistic expression, you recognize it as that flow, that unique-to-you artistic muscle. Attuned to your inner artist, you create something -- whether tangible or intangible -- and this is something to cherish.

As a mother, I see our daughter in artistic flow when she sculpts creations or writes fiction. Making time for her art frees her from current worries and releases her authentic spirit. And as a parent volunteer who assists with cultural arts programs at our school, I see how groups of children are transformed during artists’ residencies and special assemblies. Creating and enjoying art are innate human experiences that when left unquenched leave children and adults knotted up.

I've talked about the value of arts experiences with my friend, fellow parent volunteer, and professional artist, Tracy Fox. I always appreciate her insights and inspiration -- as someone who has chosen art as a personal and professional mission. In this blogspot, I feature Tracy.

Tracy will exhibit some of her photographs this coming weekend: September 29 and 30 through the ArtSee Open Studio Tour You can see more of Tracy's work here:

What follows are highlights from my recent conversation with Tracy about the value of art in our lives.

JA: Why are you an artist?

TF: For me, being an artist isn’t a choice. A lot of it has to do with paying attention. The collecting aspect of photography is a nostalgic, memory making process. When I create an image through my lens, I compose the image with the final composition in mind –something about the process cements that moment in my mind. I can remember exactly where I was and what was going on by looking at most of my images. For example – with my “Blueberry Spoon” photograph, I see it and remember that I was sitting on a porch in Maine with my family, in a quiet, beautiful location. It’s an anchor for me. But to those who purchase the image, it’s a memory of summer, or in one case, a person told me that the image for her evoked a sense of home.

JA: How does artmaking benefit you?

TF :In my fine art work, I generally choose to photograph things without people; I’m intrigued with light, shadow, space, and shape. In the chaos of my personal and business life, I can see more that my photos are often about quieting the chaos and focusing on smaller things that are sometimes overlooked. I call this series of images “small moments.” That said there was a time when my children were young that I didn’t create personal artwork. I put that on hold – I call it my art hibernation – I was happy taking photos of them, but as they grew, I realized how important it was for me to go back to it. I try to take at least one photo a day and make time for artmaking each week.

JA: You facilitate arts experiences for our local schools and your own kids. How do you see children benefiting from art?

TF: It can be very confidence building. Kids aren’t afraid to try new things, and they can realize new things are fun. Adults don’t do that enough. Art gives us an opportunity to play and a new way to communicate. If I talk about something and you talk about something, we both see something in our heads, and it can be completely different. It’s a way to start a dialogue and get to know people, their stories, and build connections. Even for people who don’t feel that they have the artistic control, engaging in art makes you think about problem solving and things in different ways.

Even things like coloring can be a great art practice, when you sit and color you engage that flow part of your mind. Adult coloring books allow us to play and be artistic choosing color within an established design, and it is more freeing to those who get stuck in the I can’t draw mindset. Playfulness, flow, being in the moment is important. Translated into dancing, reading, anything really, that anchors you to the present, the only moment that exists. Kids are good at living in the moment. Experiential learning is important. When I paint I know I’ve been in the flow when I look up and say “Hmmm…how did I do that?” because I was in it, not judging, not over thinking. If people have the opportunity to try something artistically, even if they don’t feel comfortable, they should be open to experience it. You will learn something. It is a skill that you build in terms of being able to control those art muscles.

JA: I think it's cool that your entire family participates in art together. How do you and your husband structure art-making times as a family?

TF: Sometimes we have art nights, and that takes many different forms. Sometimes we are together. Sometimes we split up and create different things. We take time to make something. We have done an exquisite corpse activity – it’s a drawing technique where you draw and fold paper and each person draws a different part of the figure. We may also play with art words –taking turns thinking of words that relate to art point of view, chrome, stippling, to encourage our children's art vocabulary. We ask our kids to listen when people talk about art. It’s good to know how people approach art. During ArtSee you can see a ceramic artist, a woman who presses flowers. I think most people are afraid that they don’t understand artmaking and art so they don’t engage in a dialogue. But most artists are interested in talking about what they are excited and interested in, and they want to talk about it.

Ask yourself:

How do I free my inner artist?

How might my family experience art together?

I’m always interested in your thoughts and experiences, so please share your comments and personal messages with me related to artmaking. And if you've created something as a family and have a picture, please share those images as well.

Finally, consider joining me for the Art See Open Studio this weekend! Your kids would love the experience too!

More Information:

An essay from Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences) from 1999, referencing artistic expression:

A short and strong PBS piece demonstrating the importance of arts experiences for positive child development: