Sophie Kaufmann: For me – and for you – art is absolutely essential

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“Art is”, as the modernist Pablo Picasso put it, “the lie that allows us to tell the truth”. In other words, art is a fabrication that represents reality. A song, a story or a sculpture conveys ideas, emotions and experiences, quite meaningful through the expression of an artist.

In my life, this meaning appears most often in painting, an art form that I inherited from my beloved grandmother. Through painting and, in particular, through the discipline of learning to paint, I have been trained to pay attention to detail, persevere in what is difficult, and better appreciate perspectives beyond my own.

My understanding of art came through the influence of my grandmother. I have vivid memories of admiring her work, which was mostly watercolors of the people and places she loved. Every time I visited her farm in rural Illinois, my watercolorist grandmother had planned an art project for us to do together.

By teaching me her trade, Grandmother taught me to see the world through the eyes of an artist. Spending time with her was like being singled out for details of the surrounding world. The way people walk, the colors of the clouds or the texture of a rock she found on the ground: she paid special attention to the wonderful details of it all. While spending time with my grandmother, I also started to notice these details.

Not only did Grandma teach me to notice details, but she also taught me how to capture them with pencil and brush and persist until those details were correctly noted. Plan, Draw, Paint: As I learned these processes, I had to sacrifice many hours practicing the proper techniques until I got the result I wanted. I learned to draw objects and scenes as they are instead of drawing them as I thought they should be.

Like any skill learned, painting was frustrating as I lost my patience and gave up on many works of art. However, I found it gratifying to come back to a “failed” piece to finish it. In fact, it may be true that the difficult tracks were often the most rewarding at the end.

Art continued to shape me as I learned to see and create in contexts outside of my grandmother’s farm. For example, in art class I studied body language and how to express feelings by drawing someone’s figure and pose. Now I notice people’s body language and understand the meaning of this physicality. This understanding has contributed to my ability to empathize when making sense of the position of others.

In art class, I also learned to criticize art constructively and to interpret a work through the prism of a peer. By analyzing the works of my peers, I grew in my appreciation of their individual experiences. I also gained new ideas from studying the art of my classmates, which sparked more creativity in mine. This way, I learned that my prospect is better informed and complemented by others.

Art is meaningful, in part, because it builds bridges with people by representing what matters in people’s lives, individually and collectively. Humanity – its differences, its shared experience – is a truth that is represented in art. Art allows us to understand what matters, to transcend the ephemeral.

Art can be a realistic representation or it can be abstract, as in Picasso’s work, but real art accomplishes the purpose of getting people to feel or make sense of an experience common to all. It is this transcendence that makes the process of art worth the sacrifice. Through art, I learned this. Details matter. Perseverance is required. And perspective brings us closer to others.

I argue that we could all benefit from the perspective of others and we could all benefit from beauty.

Sophie Kaufmann is in her final year at Mayo High School. Send your comments on the Teen Columns to Jeff Pieters, [email protected]


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