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"I've met people who you'll never hear a word out of, but they draw amazing pictures." — Rhea Olson, high school student



High school students Rhea Olson (left) and Aubrey Davis think art is important. Photograph by Christine Gonzalves.


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the drama you've been craving

by Michael Goldberg

Monday, March 17, 2003

Becoming An Artist

What it takes is belief in oneself and, hopefully, some encouragement.

How does one become an artist? Though it sometimes might seem that they appear, fully developed, out of nowhere, the reality is quite different. Artists are just like you and me. Perhaps you are an artist. The difference between those of us who are, and those who aren't, is mostly a belief in ourselves and a lot of hard work, taking the talents that each of us has and putting in the work that results in meaningful art, year after year.

I was reminded of this recently when I spent some time conversing about art with elementary and high school art students, and with a talanted Sonoma-based mixed-media artist, Laura Kimpton, who has been organizing a student art show, the "2003 Annual Student Art Show at the Guild," which will be held at the Arts Guild of Sonoma gallery in Sonoma, Calif., in early April. Kimpton hopes the show will encourage young artists to pursue their calling.

But I also knew it from speaking with a number of successful Bay Area artists during the past six months, including Wally Hedrick, Roy De Forest, Jim Melchert, Bill Allan and Viola Frey. Most have pursued art with a vengeance since they were kids. None of them let financial considerations get in the way. They taught art classes or did other work as needed to pay the rent, while continuing to work on their art. As Kimpton said, "I truly believe that if you are a creative person, you can't stop doing [art]. You won't have a happy life unless you do it."

Kimpton, whose 4-year-old daughter Kiley already "makes art all the time," told me the encouragement she got as a child helped her choose to become an artist. "I had a positive art experience when I was younger, before high school, because on the block where I lived my best friend's mother was an artist," she said one recent morning, as she sat in the Guild gallery, taking a break from working on a anti-war mural that covered an entire wall.

Around her, other artists busied themselves hanging paintings and prints on the walls, or arranging sculpture and ceramics on pedestals. "I'd go to her house every day and we'd do art," Kimpton continued. "My two best friends and I — we were all artists. I wasn't encouraged in school — until high school. In high school I was very encouraged."

Kimpton went on to earn a B.A. from the University of Iowa and a B.F.A. in photography from San Francisco Art Institute. But she said it was her friend's mother who made the difference. "Being encouraged by a local artist," she emphasized. "A local artist in the town where I was growing up — she was my art teacher, she was my encourager. She's the one who gave us art supplies. She was making a living from her art, and that has always stayed with me. That one could do that. I never thought that you couldn't do it."

Sonoma Valley High School art students Aubrey Davis, 17, and Rhea Olson, 18, think art is important. "It's an escape, it's a way to express yourself. So many different things," said Davis, who also studies modern dance. "Depends on what you're aiming for. If you're in it to get a reaction, if you're in it to express something that you can't say through words. There are many things that can be expressed through art."

"Creating beauty," added Olson, who said that along with drawing she likes to play the guitar. "I do think it [art] is important. Some people really express themselves through art. Some people never talk. I've met people who you'll never hear a word out of, but they draw amazing pictures."

Olson believes that making art can relieve stress. "They had an art day at Sonoma State [a local college]," she said. "A bunch of students gathered there and they had a bunch of big canvases and spray paint. It was really relieving, especially with the spray paint, 'cause you can just go crazy with it. People were writing things.... They had watercolors. It was an outlet for a lot of people who were really getting into it."

In the U.S. this year, with states reeling from an unprecedented budget crunch, it is likely that already-minimal art programs will be further reduced or eliminated. I was momentarily stunned (though I guess I shouldn't have been) when Heather Kracke, 10, a fourth grader at Dunbar School in Glen Ellen, told me that she has never been to a museum. "It would be cool to go," she added. I certainly hope someone takes her.

During my recent conversations, I was most touched by what Kevin Gaona, 11, a fifth grader at Dunbar School who will have a piece in the student show, told me. He said he turns to art to lift his spirits. "When I feel lonely and sad I take a piece of paper and draw," he said. "It makes me feel better."

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