Lately I’ve been thinking about my roots, about the influences of my childhood and wondering why I chose the art path. Why art? Why not meteorology? Why not public relations? Even within the realm of art, why not cinematic production? Why not play the violin? My interests were broad. I might have chosen anything.
My first inclination that I had some special abilities was when my mother told me that she looked forward to the time when I would attend school because I had, in her words, “…too many questions.” She told me that though I was only three or four years old, I was distracting her from her house work because she’d have to stop and think about how to answer my questions. She knew that simple, pat answers would not suffice because I would have follow-up questions if her answers were not complete.
Later in my schooling, my parents got a call from someone from the school board who wanted to inform my parents that their boy had scored way above average on standardized intelligence tests. Extra classes or enriched learning of some sort were recommended. But without solving my parents’ problem of poverty, there wasn’t much that could be done in the way of enrichment. But the bureaucrat had done what bureaucrats do. He placed the call, passed along the information, checked the “parents notified” box on the tracking form and closed the file.
That may sound like I am bitter about it. I am not. I wanted to fit in with my family, friends and neighbourhood way more than I wanted to have some well-intentioned do-gooder develop my mind in ways that might have displeased me. I knew kids whose education was being ‘enriched.’ They didn’t seem to be having much fun. They weren’t ‘wild’ like I was. I knew that these same kids would become highly successful financiers, professors, scientists, business people of all sorts. I knew I’d like a degree of success. I’d enjoy being financially comfortable but I wasn’t willing to pay any price to achieve that goal.
In my own family, and in family after family around the neighbourhood, whenever report cards were issued, well-meaning parents would use my school success to taunt their sons and daughters. I often heard the refrain, “If Jimmy can do it, why can’t you?” I knew enough about life to know that despite the good intentions of such parental cajoling, the taunts were unlikely to do more than to hurt their child’s feelings and possibly hurt my relationship with the child too. Happily for me, if any of the children so taunted ever held it against me, I never became aware of it.
I also never joined the high-achieving group of students who eventually became streamed so as to foster their faster, more thorough, academic development. Hence, my learning was characterized by heights of achievement and troughs of rebellious refusal to perform. I wanted to show parents and teachers alike that I could be just as unpredictable, just as lazy, just as lacking in academic motivation as any of my friends might have been. I didn’t want to be held above my friends as some kind of shining ideal to which they might aspire.
In the emotional turmoil of my life, there was one bright spot that was included in the curriculum. That bright spot was art! Everyone in class had fun when the itinerant art teacher came around. Suddenly, everyone in the figurative sandbox was equal! Everyone was smiling! Everyone seemed happy to be making art. When the results were viewed, it was evident that the ability to function well in this specialized realm of thinking could not be predicted by IQ. Low academic achievers frequently outshone high achievers. Art was an area of intriguingly puzzling complexity. Instead of having a fixed, inviolable set of rules, art seemed to have rules to fit the occasion. Even those rules could be broken or at least set aside if art expression demanded that it be so. Art, as a subject area, proved to be the great equalizer. It could be simple – just make a mark! It could also be fascinating for its multi-level abstract complexity. Art could be whatever you made of it. I was happy within the egalitarian embrace of art.
I chose art, but more specifically the teaching of art, as my path out of poverty. Happily for me, when I got to the post-secondary level of learning my attitudes toward learning had changed from rebellion to focussed achievement and my performance just kept improving. After success as an art teacher, I went on to become an award-winning, community-programming television producer for many years before returning to teaching, this time as an ESL teacher.
Over the years I have developed friendships with several artists including Tino Zago in NYC, Johnnene Maddison in London, Ontario, and Jude Roberts-Rondeau in Brattleboro, Vermont. When I have the opportunity to discuss art work with them, I do not feel as if I am the outsider offering uninformed opinion. When I go to see special exhibits at the AGO in Toronto, I bring the experience of many years of art involvement into play as I note how I feel about a given work and how it is that the artist has manipulated visual media to cause me to feel the way I do.
I have many people to thank for helping me along the path to a happy degree of fulfilment. My parents, (Dick and Lois Jacobik), Professor Jack Smith (painting, Southern Connecticut State), Professor David Burnett (Renaissance Art History, Carleton University), my many artist friends and my non-judgmental family all offered their own brands of support.
Now, I have the luxury of being able to provide myself with adequate shelter and more than adequate food, even in retirement. I have led a rich, full life with art as a mainstay, or sub-strate, as a visual artist might put it, and I look forward to much more of this rich experience in the many years to come. Life is good!