Evaluating art is a dicey topic – particularly in relation to how teachers evaluate and assess the visual arts in elementary school classrooms and how that affects our children. Peter Catalanotto’s book Emily’s Art covers this subject appropriately by illustrating a story of a young inspired artist encounter a less than inspiring art contest experience.
The short story before the story sets the stage for what is about to happen. The appropriately named teacher, Ms. Fair asks “Can anyone tell me what a contest is?” After a few guesses it’s agreed that a contest is “to see who is the best”. Then it is announced that the school is having an art contest in which there will be prize ribbons to the best painting in each grade. The teacher goes on to explain that a judge will decide the winners based on which she thinks is the best. One of my favourite lines in the book is: “If I lose the art contest will the judge put me in jail?” But even better might be the line: “No, of course not. Losing an art contest does not make you a bad person… just a bad artist.”
Emily’s story is compelling and heart breaking. The principal’s mother is brought in to judge the art work. She justifies her qualifications by declaring “My cousin is married to an artist” – hilarious! She falls in love with Emily’s painting until she learns it’s a dog (not a beautiful rabbit as she thought) and proceeds to dismiss the art based on a bad experience she had with a dog!
When you consider all of the little kids out there that have been turned off of art because they don’t think they’re good enough or that their painting of a tree doesn’t look like a realist representation of a tree, it’s really sad.
This is most definitely a story worth sharing with your kids. My library copy is overdue. I most definitely will be buying this book for our collection.
I’ll leave with Catalanotto’s dedication which I just love: For all children who paint with their hearts.