Sunday, August 03, 2008
Sargent and arms--er, make that paws
Last weekend brought an activity that our household has been excited about, yet dreading--the annual 4-H Dog Show. Okay, maybe I was the only one really dreading it. I know my 10-year-old daughter was nervous a few days before, but dread might be a bit strong. And truthfully, the dog show is less painful than horse shows used to be to me when I was a horse 4-H participant so many years ago. For one, dogs are smaller (pretty obvious that). Two, The show is shorter: half a day compared to three whole days. Three, the attire is much cooler and easier to deal with--no hats pinned into your head to prevent it flying off in the show ring.
Some things remain the same, however. The challenge of learning to take care of an animal. The fun (!) of dealing with an animal that has a mind of its own in the ring. And the discipline of practicing with the animal for hours and hours during the months beforehand to properly train.
Well, maybe she practiced for hours and hours, or maybe it was only hours. Last year I was more diligent about reminding her to practice (read: nag her into it), but she received a white because our dog is just spirited and almost as big as she is (still--smaller than a horse!). Despite a year of maturing, he is still quite spirited but a much better behaved dog after the work of the previous year. Because she felt like she knew everything after just one year, my daughter chose the route of minimum practice this spring. Therefore, despite big dreams of a receiving a rosette, she was very disappointed to receive another white ribbon. Her little heart poured out while we drove home, which gave me the oportunity to tell her about a man named John Singer Sargent.
Perhaps you have heard of him. Sargent was an American artist who lived in late 19th/early 20th century Europe. He visited America a few times and painted a fresco series for the Boston Public Library, but he was most well-known for his portraits. During his life he painted the aristocracy of Europe (don't miss the dogs!), American presidents, and wealthy American socialites and their families, as well as the everyday people he saw in the cities. Altogether he is credited with more than 900 oil paintings and over 2000 watercolors. Remember, this was a time when watercolors were still widely considered practice paintings.
Wait--did I say practice? Sargent did a lot of practice, including painting plein air over top of previously painted canvases--much to the surprise of some of his artist friends. He was known for his work ethic, which sometimes meant working sun-up to sun-down or seven days a week, and he also left innumerable pencil and charcoal sketches. Some of these sketches are just the practice of a dedicated artists, but many of them are the detailed preparations for larger pieces, like the dramatic El Jaleo. But the key word here is practice, which is what our discussion centered on. No matter what endeavor we undertake, practice with a desire to improve is the key to growth. Something I hope my daughter will better understand after this experience.
She still hasn't decided if she will tackle a third year of dog 4-H, but if she does she will practice more. Regardless of what she decides for the future, we also talked about what an improved dog we have after only two years of work and how he is now pleasant to be around. Any work at all will give a certain amount of results, which encourages me as I practice my own painting this summer in order to teach students this coming year. And for the record, she did earn a blue in fitting and showing--and we know she earned it because not everyone received blues.