Monday, April 6, 2009

Art Blog: Artists Changing the World

This is a hard post. In fact, it might be one of the hardest things I have ever written.

In my early artist years, I made art which dealt with social issues. I felt this direction was important. However, I stopped doing that kind of art. If you do art that is controversial, you have to be able to take the heat that comes with it. Apparently, I wasn’t strong enough. I got tired of the finger pointing.

Ironically about the same time I gave up that genre of art work, I took a day job that was all about social issues. I work with kids that are more than “at risk”. Most of my kids come from life situations that are so awful and unspeakable; it is hard to imagine life can be this way. But, it can be.

My day job is a true love/hate relationship. Some days I can't believe they pay me to do this. Other days, I wonder why I am wasting my time. Lately, I have had a reoccurring flashback of Frida Kahlo's painting titled ”A Few Small Nips”. You know the one. She is laying with all kinds of little (life) cuts all over her body. This is the way I feel right now.

I get emotionally attached to my kids. I have taught some of my students for YEARS. This is a very sticky wicket. It is like a mama bird pushing her babies out of the nest. "Fly little bird, fly!" Sometimes my birds do fly albeit just to the next little tree. However all too often, my students have a miserable ending. They land crumpled on the ground. No matter how much I want a positive outcome, I don't have enough time or control in their lives to make a true difference. Just this year, one of my kids died in a really stupid accident. One kid was arrested for burglarizing a bar (less than 500 feet from the police station) DUH!!! Yet another was arrested and sentenced for armed robbery in a pharmacy heist. The list could go on and on.

Then today, my heart sank. One of the kids I have taught for years and years was arrested for murder. Allegedly the story goes; he (and others) drove by a house and sprayed it with more than 50 bullets with an automatic weapon. One bullet hit a little girl sleeping on the living room couch inside the house. She was only 8 years old.

I saw my student's mug shot. I also saw a video of his arrest. This is such a bizarre feeling. I HATE what he (allegedly) did. I feel so sorry for the baby who was murdered. My heart is torn up beyond words! I can't get the whole scenario out of my mind. The entire event is so horrible; it surpasses my grasp on reality.

I feel so useless. My emotions are so mixed. I am an artist. I willingly work with these kids in hopes of some kind of positive result. I always hope their lives will change via ART. Maybe it does. Maybe it does not. This is such a difficult thing to assimilate. I mean, I look at his eyes. “He” is still there. I know him. That person I know would never do something so awful. However, I don't know him in the real world. There is this lingering feeling. I can’t help but think my work as an artist/ educator and my attempts to expose him to the art of life means nothing. Didn’t I have any effect on this kid’s life?

I have realized today, even though I gave my all,
I cannot change the world.

What else is there to say other than this is beyond a sad revelation?


Claudia Olivos and Sergio OlivosM said... sorry for all involved. this includes you. there are no easy answers (as well you know). I have been there- I feel that chilly wind of despair just from reading your words... of questioning.... but all you can do is love. we are only responsible to sow the seed. what happens is not our responsibility- however, people like you feel it deeply. whether "he did it" or not doesn't even matter... it is so stupid- only takes seconds to make a HUGE mistake. and if not he, another young person did it. someone toook the life of a babe. and unfortunatelt someone will again in the future.stupid. wasteful and painful. all we can do is love which it looks like you are doing. then right back into the crowds to shout out hos wasteful and stupid and hurtful it is to kill and hurt another human being. then just hope that the seed you have planted grows to a beautiful fruit tree that will teach others, or a flower that will beutify the earth unselfishly... but knowing that not every seed you sow, will be one that you can reap or see come to fruition. it is a process... and it is the reason that reincarnation as a possibility appeals to me.
Love, hugs and sparkly blessings to you!

Aridan Fashions said...

I'm sorry you are feeling so down. I personally believe that you are doing much more good than you know. We don't fully know how we affect the lives we touch. Our effect ripples out through and to others, and we only see portions of the big picture. But you are a hand reaching out to these kids, giving them another chance to turn around and look at things differently. Only they hold the power to take advantage of that and make changes in their lives. Some will and some won't, and that's the beauty and tragedy of our free will.

deb said...

ditto to everything everyone else already said, you cannot know what difference you make, but I know you make one, I feel it in your passion and commitment. Peace and love Sheree.

Eva said...

I think you are doing a lot of good. And I wonder what happened to this old student of yours.

I had a friend - a great artist - who went to prison. This still did not change the fact that he was a great artist and a sweet human being. In fact I helped him show his work while he was in prison - guilty and all - and this helped his family to heal too. People make mistakes - but this does mean that you failed!

And your old student may be innocent.... or we don't know what all happened to him, besides your teaching. (Not making excuses! Sorry if it sounds like I am.)

I guess I have big feelings for people in the prison system. It's like this country is nurturing this violent mentality and we lock people away. It's a big business too. If you have belief in him, then let it stay alive.

Bill Evertson said...

It sounds like you arrived everyday, worked in the trenches, shared an alternative vision in a world that is fundamentally out of balance. Who can say where the tipping point is? Perhaps not with this young man, but the next? Perhaps not by yourself but by sharing your story.

Lizardo Art said...

I hope you are feeling better. These situations are so hard. Especially when you have seen the good side of someone who might have made a huge mistake.

You ARE having an impact but sometimes we can't see the impact we are having. Sometimes we never know. Doesn't mean we aren't changing the world around us.

Keep doing what you are doing! You're awesome and I admire you!

Moriah Betterly said...

I came across your blog today and I had to respond. I think what you're doing is amazing! It's great that you expose these kids to art and that you give them an outlet! Having said that, you must understand that some of these kids are wrapped up in a life they feel they cannot escape from. Some even feel as though it's normal and right. All you can do is expose them to art, give them the creative outlet and know that for the hour or so they spent with you that day, they were able to be their child self and create. They were safe, loved and nutured. What happens outside of your time with them is beyond your control. You do make a difference even if it's not the difference you were hoping to make. Hang in there.

NSABOB said...

Hello Sheree, I agree with the other comments.I can only say you are doing the best you can. I work in education also as you well know. We don't always know what effect we have on students. I got an positive email from one of mine about three days ago. I know you are making a positive impact on your students. We can't save them all. Just do one day at a time.
Bob Ragland

Sheree Rensel said...

Thanks to EVERYONE for the great comments. I had to take a day to think about all this. Stuff like this is hard on me. I get so emotionally attached to my students. Also, I have taught at that place for 16 years. I have watched many of these kids grow up.
They are not "bad" kids. The reason this kind of thing happens has so many variables. All kids have a hard time now. It is difficult to stay on the straight and narrow with all the ancillary life influences flying around their heads. Then if you add severe emotional problems into the mix, even more negative stuff sometimes happens.

You are all correct. I know I do a great job. I know I make an impact (as most of those who teach do). You just hate to lose any of them. This is a repeated pattern at my school. I would say at least a third of my "kids" end up in prison. To me this is not only sad, it is unacceptable. However, there is only so much we as educators can do.

Yet, I stay there year after year because the majority of the time, these kids make me laugh, add excitement to my life, and help me to feel like I am doing some kind of good for others. None of us does anything we don't want to do. I have stayed there by choice. I work with these kids because they need to be around someone (at least for part of their lives) who believes in them. I really do. Maybe that is why I take stuff like this so hard. Now,I am very philosophical. I am just fine and planning to go back there to the art studio tomorrow. I will probably get lots of hugs and smiles. I have to remember to cherish each moment because none of us knows what will happen in the future.
Thanks again to ALL of you!!

Miriam's Art Journal BLOG said...

oh my goodness...what a horrible turn of heart goes out to all involved.....some people who have affected e the most have affected me in retrospect......years later I will redsicover the treasures they gave me......I use to work with this beautiful french lady....she was 60 and I was 16.....she paid me to do work around her house and I knew in my heart she accepted me in ways I have never that I am a mom to a girl I know and recognize that type of love....she taught me so much....yet at the time I would have not known she was changing my life....when she died many years later I began to realize all that she was to me.....takes clarity in ones life to be able to see all the treasures in ones life....ibviously his mind was elsewhere....but the seed you planted will one day bloom....