On the weekend of March 5th, I drove down to Jacksonville, IL to put up an art exhibit on the walls of Three Legged Dog and to talk to some high schools students about being an artist. My occasional exhibits and art activities in Jacksonville are organized through the wonderful Imagine Foundation. The foundation’s executive director, Clare Lynd-Porter, does an amazing job of bringing constant fresh art into their small town.
Giving a talk to high school students was a new and exciting experience. Aside from myself, photographer Sean Posey from St. Louis was invited to talk to school kids, and together we tried to make it a rater informal but fun presentation. As my paintings were to cumbersome to carry around, I brought some prints for show and tell. The high school where we spoke is located in Beardstown, IL – a very small town in the middle of farmland and cornfields, a half hour drive from Jacksonville.
I love the dynamics of U.S. population shifts. Being an immigrant myself, I always want to know where people in small towns come from, or how long have their generations been here. Hence, it was fascinating to see that tiny rural Beardstown has a very large percentage of Hispanics and French Africans (very large for a small Midwestern farm town, that is). Their high school even assigns French-English translators to go to classes with groups of certain new African students.
Beardstown school is a calm place. Sean and I spoke to 4 different classes, in some – together, and in some – separately. All the kids were so well-behaved, and seemed interested in our stories. However, interactively talking to any group of high-schoolers can be a challenge. Many students don’t want to speak up because of the fear of looking “uncool”. I know I was that way in high school too! But, we still got some good questions – such as “What are your thoughts on censorship in art?”, and “How do your paintings express your emotions?”
And here’s the funniest one. I am talking to a biology class (about my flower paintings, and about how people eat spiders in Cambodia), and two girls are whispering. I say: “why are you whispering? If you have a question, go ahead and ask!” One says: “Are you a widow?”. Me, trying to hold back laughter: “No, I’m not a widow. But why would you ask that?” Girl: “Well, I wanted to ask you what your husband does for a living but my friend told me – what if she is a widow? Then it would be a very inappropriate question!”